West Indies bowler Curtly Ambrose celebrates after bowling out England for 46 © Getty Images
West Indies bowler Curtly Ambrose celebrates after bowling out England for 46 © Getty Images


By Madan Mohan


Stunned reactions greeted Sri Lanka’s capitulation on Sunday in the Test match played at Cardiff with out-of-the-blue innings victory for England. With both teams amassing mountains of runs in their respective first innings, Sri Lanka were expected to play out a dull draw.


What ensued underlined why we call cricket “a game of glorious uncertainties”. They neglect to tell you that on such days, it’s pretty inglorious from the point of view of the other side. Nevertheless, time and again, with the batting outfit feeling complacent in the ‘knowledge’ of playing out an easy draw or whittling down a low target, dramatic collapses have brought back life to matches given up for dead.


A few notable ones from the last 20 years:


1. England vs West Indies, Trinidad, 1994


It was his terrifying last innings spell in this Test that made Curtly Ambrose notorious for demolition jobs. England were expected to make short work of 194 with 15 overs to go on the fourth day. But by stumps, they were 40 for eight and the formalities were completed post-haste on Day Five with only six more added to the score. Ambrose bowled all of 10 overs to collect his six wickets for the innings. Catch this if you have never watched Ambrose bowl at his most terrifying best. It was cricket’s equivalent of Tyrannosaurus Rex!


2. India vs West Indies, Barbados, 1997


Yes, many a famous collapse in the 90s was engineered by the West Indian bowling line-up. This time, India was at the receiving end and Franklyn Rose gave the house of cards a real shake up, picking up all three top order wickets. Veterans Ian Bishop and that man Ambrose did the rest.


Set 120 to win, India managed all of 81 and only VVS Laxman and Mr. Extras broke into double digits.


3. India vs Australia, Adelaide, 2003


A second innings total of 196 may look quite formidable amidst the company it keeps in this piece, but juxtapose that against the nearly 1100 runs that were scored in the first two innings of this match. At stumps on Day One, Australia’s tally were an intimidating 400 for five. Under the circumstances, Ajit Agarkar’s six-wicket haul in the Australia second innings seemed like an early Christmas gift. It also rang the proverbial alarm bells for Australia. Though they gave India a scare in their target chase of 230, they unbelievably finished on the losing side – stunning when you consider that the home team had scored 556 in their first innings.


4. England vs Australia, Adelaide, 2006


Perhaps, England had no memory of the above classic at Adelaide, but they certainly endured a collapse they would never forget. During the presentation ceremony of the Cardiff Test that inspired this article, Andrew Strauss once again invoked the spectre of Adelaide, albeit in a positive light this time. England were 38 runs ahead after both teams had completed their first innings and finished Day Four on 59 for one. Forcing a result looked out of reach, but a draw would have given cause for hope after the Brisbane thrashing. Instead, old nemesis Shane Warne sent back big fish Strauss and Kevin Pietersen, while Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath chipped in to dismiss England for 129. Not surprisingly, England’s Ashes campaign never recovered from this ignominious finish.


5. England vs West Indies, Kingston, 2009


A collapse that brought back memories of the dreaded 90s and, yet again, hopes of a Calypso resurgence. England, to their credit, have moved on resoundingly while West Indies continue to, well, test their limits. But back to this encounter; England had conceded the first innings advantage to West Indies and had some work to do in their second outing. Still, the scenes that followed resembled a bad dream. Jerome Taylor seems to rarely ever summon up inspiration to produce spells of prodigal quality, but February 7, 2009 was one of the days that he did. His torrid burst returned 5 for 11 and memories of Trinidad 1994 returned as England folded for 51.


If you switched the idiot box off on Sunday anticipating a dreary draw, you probably forgot about these and other collapses in the history of Test cricket that brought about an abrupt conclusion to plodding encounters. Such collapses are, in absolute terms, few and far between but you better not miss it when one such ensues. The thrill of wickets falling in heaps is only increased when you’ve had to endure three or four days of inertia leading up to it.


PS: I rushed to the TV set when the internet informed me that Lanka were six down!


(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake.)