Among batsmen with 50-plus Test average in their final innings, Sunil Gavaskar’s epic 96 remains the highest

What a sign-off! Sunil Gavaskar’s 96 on a minefield of a Bangalore pitch against a world class Pakistan attack was worth far more than is numerical value © Getty Images

One certainly hopes that Ricky Ponting goes out with a scintillating performance at Perth. However, Arunabha Sengupta looks at the greatest careers and finds very few memorable farewell performances.

We grow up on a steady diet of heroic tales – witnessed on silver screen or recounted with dreamy eyes as facts twisted into legends.

We like to believe that the great sportsmen ride into the sunset like the heroes of the Wild West movies, in a blaze of glory.

And as Ricky Ponting waits to appear in his last Test match, we expect the last pristine rabbit pulled out of the hat of the erstwhile magician. The last fascinating twist in a glorious tale. The last great hurrah.

The truth is that cricket owes no one a happy ending. If we go through the record-books and look at the greatest of batsmen in Test cricket, we find very few with ideal farewells.

We all know about the Eric Hollies googly that breached Don Bradman’s defence to bowl him for a duck at The Oval – ensuring the famed average of 99.94. However, Bradman is not alone in poor returns in the final Test after a superlative career.

Here we have listed the best batsmen who have played the game and do so no more. Of all those who ended up with an average of over 50, only Greg Chappell with 182 runs managed a hundred in his last match.

True, several of them had no idea about the finality of the matches. Graeme Pollock could not have predicted the two decade isolation of South Africa, but nevertheless scored just 1 and 4 in his last Test. Eddie Paynter had no way of knowing the degree of devastation that the Second World War was about to inflict on the world, but could manage only 9 and 0.

But, even those who were fully aware of the occasion often did not fare too well. Herbert Sutcliffe toted up three and 38, George Headley, after scoring two in his first farewell Test, made an ill-advised comeback six years later to scratch around for 16 and one. Garry Sobers got a duck in the first innings and was bowled by Derek Underwood for 20 in the second.

Among the ones who did well apart from Chappell, Gavaskar came the closest to getting a hundred on that minefield at Bangalore. Steve Waugh performed his last rescue act for Australia.

And even though the last innings of Viv Richards and Wally Hammond look flattering, they hide the fact that the last phase of both these colossal careers were depressingly mediocre.

Final Test scores of batsmen with 50-plus average

Batsmen Tests Runs Ave 100 50 Last Test
Inn 1 Inn 2
DG Bradman (Aus) 52 6996 99.94 29 13 0
RG Pollock (SA) 23 2256 60.97 7 11 1 4
GA Headley (WI) 22 2190 60.83 10 5 16 1
H Sutcliffe (Eng) 54 4555 60.73 16 23 3 38
E Paynter (Eng) 20 1540 59.23 4 7 9 0
KF Barrington (Eng) 82 6806 58.67 20 35 49 46*
ED Weekes (WI) 48 4455 58.61 15 19 51 9
WR Hammond (Eng) 85 7249 58.45 22 24 79
GS Sobers (WI) 93 8032 57.78 26 30 0 20
JB Hobbs (Eng) 61 5410 56.94 15 28 47 9
CL Walcott (WI) 44 3798 56.68 15 14 53 22
L Hutton (Eng) 79 6971 56.67 19 33 53  
GS Chappell (Aus) 87 7110 53.86 24 31 182 DNB
AD Nourse (SA) 34 2960 53.81 9 14 4 4
BC Lara (ICC/WI) 131 11953 52.88 34 48 0 49
Javed Miandad (Pak) 124 8832 52.57 23 43 31 DNB
R Dravid (ICC/India) 164 13288 52.31 36 63 1 25
J Ryder (Aus) 20 1394 51.62 3 9 30 57*
A Flower (Zim) 63 4794 51.54 12 27 30 13
SM Gavaskar (India) 125 10122 51.12 34 45 21 96
SR Waugh (Aus) 168 10927 51.06 32 50 40 80
ML Hayden (Aus) 103 8625 50.73 30 29 31 39
AR Border (Aus) 156 11174 50.56 27 63 17 42*
IVA Richards (WI) 121 8540 50.23 24 45 2 60
DCS Compton (Eng) 78 5807 50.06 17 28 0 5
RT Ponting (Aus) 167 13366 52.21 41 62    

The final phase of Ponting’s career has been morose as well. In the last 25 Tests he averages 35.04. In the last 50 it is 39.39

One sincerely hopes that his great career will have a fitting swansong.

However, as mentioned above, cricket does not owe anyone a happy ending. And neither will the glittering career lose any sheen if the last match does not produce runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)