Whenever the tag of the greatest-ever Test series is up for discussion, the likes of the 1960-61 West Indies tour of Australia, the 1981 Ashes, the 2001 Border-Gavaskar Series and the 2005 Ashes, often come up. It is generally exceptional performances by certain players (Andrew Flintoff, VVS Laxman, Ian Botham) or great fightbacks from teams who are up against an insurmountable task that bring these series to life.
However, there seems to be a bias when looking back at such great series. The bias referred to here is towards contests which end with one necessary winner. One team lifting the cup, one side prevailing over the other, one team’s players being declared superior over the other.
At the same time, draws are a reality in Test cricket. In fact, the history of the game has seen many interesting draws, where no one team could trump the other in an engaging contest. This stands true for the series as a whole as well. The same has been proven in recent years too.
Exceptional drawn Test series over the last 3 decades
1. Ashes 2019
The word 'Ashes' is enough to draw the attention of any cricket fan. However, the context behind this Test series was what made it a hit even before a ball had been bowled.
The return of Steve Smith and David Warner to Test match cricket against arch-rivals England, the rise of pace sensation Jofra Archer as England’s new superstar, and the fact that Australia had not won a single Test series in England since 2001 added to the drama.
Australia, however, went in with a rotation policy that paid dividends in the end, as they drew the series 2-2, and retained the Ashes urn. But this was not before Two enthralling Tests at Lord's and Headingley. At Lord's, Steve Smith went up against Jofra Archer and had to take several blows before retiring hurt after a particularly nasty bouncer hit him on the neck. Eventually, it was Marnus Labuschagne's knock that helped Australia maintain their lead going into Headingley.
The third Test featured the great escape from Ben Stokes and Jack Leach, who came together at the fall of the ninth wicket to complete a gargantuan 359-run chase. At one stage, defeat seemed all but certain for England in this Test. However, these two defied all odds to add 76 runs for the final wicket. But there was to be no Ashes 2005 style fightback as Australia won the fourth Test to retain the Ashes. Nevertheless, it was one of the best Test series in recent memory.
2. Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2003-04
India were up against an Australian side that had not lost a home series since 1992. Although they missing the services of McGrath and Warne, they still had the likes of Langer, Waugh, Hayden and Gilchrist. It was obvious that Australians were the overwhelming favourites going into this series.
However, Rahul Dravid and co had different ideas. After a rain-affected draw at the Gabba where Sourav Ganguly's 144 helped India come away with a draw, the teams faced off in Adelaide.
At the end of Day 1, Australia were 400/5 thanks to Ricky Ponting's majestic innings. India though, responded in style, on the back of some relentless bowling by Anil Kumble, and then a Kolkata 2001 redux performance by Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. India won by four wickets after Ajit Agarkar picked up 6 wickets in the second innings.
Australia, however, came back in style to win the next Test and the final game ended in a draw.
Irrespective of the fact that the series did not yield a winner (India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy), there were exceptional performances from Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Matthew Hayden and Sachin Tendulkar for everyone to remember.
3. Frank Worrell Trophy 1999
West Indies had returned home after a rout at South Africa's hands, and had general team management issues to contend with. Australia, on the other hand, had been buoyed by a success in the recent Ashes series and were looking to repeat the exploits of their 1995 success.
It seemed like the same would be repeated after West Indies were rolled over in the first test match. However, Brian Charles Lara turned the series around almost single-handedly, and West Indies were able to hold Australia 2-2 in an exciting contest.
The third Test at Bridgetown was one of the greatest Tests ever played. West Indies conceded a 161-run lead but shot Australia out cheaply in thanks, largely, Courtney Walsh's 5 for 39. Though they were spirited in the chase, at 8 for 248 the chase seemed all but dead. But Brian Lara put on a scinitillating display and ensured that West Indies crossed the line with one wicket in hand.