It is not often that farewells in Test cricket end in a fairytale finish, the most recent of instances being when Kumar Sangakkara was dismissed for 32 and 18 in his final Test against India at the P Sara Oval and Sri Lanka were beaten by 278 runs. Not only did Sangakkara fail to get a fifty or a hundred in his final Test but worse still his team failed to produce a win that would have made his exit from international cricket all the more memorable.
At the same time when Sangakkara was retiring, Michael Clarke, the Australian captain was also making his final bow from cricket at the KIA Oval in London 8720 km away against England. Although Clarke made only 15 in the only innings of the match, Australia won the Test by an innings and 46 runs to send their captain off on a high despite the fact that they had surrendered the Ashes to England 2-3.
The most famous and often talked about farewells in Test cricket is the ‘duck’ that Sir Donald Bradman made in his final Test innings against England which was also at the Oval, London in 1948. Bradman was unquestionably the greatest batsman ever produced by the game and his dismissal to the second ball he faced from Eric Hollies was something of an anticlimax as it deprived him of a Test batting average of 100.00 had he scored four runs in his final innings. Instead he ended up with an average of 99.94, a figure which no one has yet got within touching distance of.
John Arlott regarded as the ‘Voice of Cricket’ was into his second year of commentary when he described Bradman’s sad exit:
“What do you say under these circumstances? I wonder if you see the ball very clearly in your last Test in England, on a ground where you’ve played some of the biggest cricket in your life and where the opposing side has just stood round you and given you three cheers and the crowd has clapped you all the way to the wicket. I wonder if you see the ball at all.”
It is said that Bradman was so moved by the reception he got from the spectators and from the England team that his eyes were misty and he failed to spot Hollies’ googly.
Sangakkara when questioned whether he had undergone something similar because the last four Tests he played for his country produced ‘unSangalike’ scores of 50, 18, 34, 0, 5, 40, 32 and 18 he replied, “I just couldn’t see the ball that Ashwin bowled me four times in a row. Every other ball, I saw pretty well. But that’s the way it goes. You can’t always score runs, that’s always going to be the case in your career. Everyone wants to sign off on a high but unfortunately I couldn’t score a fifty or a hundred or do it in that sense. The focus is always very clear when I go out to bat – it is about scoring runs and trying to take the team forward. Unfortunately, my contribution wasn’t enough in this game.”
It is a strange coincidence that Bradman, Clarke and Sangakkara ended their Test careers at the Oval.
Sangakkara would qualify as one of the modern day greats whose place in the annals of the game is guaranteed for posterity. Although he could not go out with a win Sangakkara was quite polite about it. “Unfortunately, we didn’t play as well as we could. India played a fantastic game of cricket. From a personal point of view, I enjoyed every minute of it even though ending up on the losing side is disappointing.”
It is not always that cricketing greats sign off in the Test arena. The incomparable Brian Lara chose the 2007 Cricket World Cup held in the Caribbean to make his exit from international cricket. It is a departure which he would always remember because it ended in one of the most bizarre manner which no cricketer would want to experience.
A packed Kensington Oval in Barbados hoped for a special farewell from their Prince in their game against England. It was a landmark moment since Lara had announced he would retire after the World Cup and this was his last game. But after striking a fluent 18 off 17 balls his innings was unfortunately cut short when a mix-up with team mate Marlon Samuels led to a run out! What a cruel twist of fate that one of greatest left-handers ever to grace the cricket field had to depart in an inglorious manner. And on top of it all being on the losing end in such a thrilling finish (England winning by one wicket with one ball to spare) was not the script that the Kensington Oval crowd would have wanted for their hero.
These classic examples enlightens that how good a cricketer you may be there is no guarantee of a story book finish to your career.