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The Joy of Six: happy endings in sport | Nick Miller | Sport

1) Hussain bows out with match-winning hundred

The decision had already been made when Nasser Hussain went out for his final Test innings. An international career that spanned 14 years had seen him become perhaps the pivotal figure in the last few decades of English cricket. It was Hussain’s brilliant captaincy that had pulled England up from the nadir of being ranked last in the world and laid the groundwork for Michael Vaughan, the 2005 Ashes and all that. Vaughan got the glory, but he had Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss at their peaks: Hussain’s first Test as captain featured Aftab Habib and Alan Mullally.

Hussain deserved to go out on top. The night before the final day of the first Test against New Zealand in 2004 Hussain, who had given up the captaincy the previous year, told the coach, Duncan Fletcher, that he was done, that the next day would be his last. Strauss was making his debut, had scored a century in the first innings and Hussain knew that he was the future. Hampering his progress would be irresponsible.

Still, he quite literally did that in the second innings, running Strauss out when he was on 83. “God, I can’t go now,” thought Hussain, thinking that the public would never forgive him if his last act was to prevent Strauss becoming the first Englishman to score two centuries on debut. He had to do something to make up for it, which he did with a flourish. Hussain’s last three shots all went to the boundary: the second brought up his century, the third won the Test.

“It was like someone upstairs saying, ‘You are doing the right thing and this is your reward,’” Hussain wrote in his autobiography. “As I walked off with Thorpey to the acclaim of Lord’s, my team-mates came down to congratulate me and the MCC members in the Long Room patted me on the back as I walked through to get the to dressing room. It was the most amazing time of my career, and it confirmed my decision for me.”

2) Double joy for El Guerrouj at the last

This Joy of Six is not necessarily designed for careers that ended happily, or even perhaps end on that athlete’s terms. Rather it is to provide a few examples of sportspeople whose last act was one of glory, who didn’t see their career drift away into ever diminishing returns.

Hicham El Guerrouj did not run straight off the track and into his dotage, medals flapping around his neck. There was in fact a two-year lag between his final race and retirement, two years in which he tried to compete but was scuppered by an increasingly debilitating series of injuries. A virus prevented his participation in the 2005 World Championships, a back problem in 2006.

But that final race was at the 2004 Olympics, as El Guerrouj became the first man in 80 years to complete the 1500m and 5,000m double. If glory is contained in the winning of close contests, then this was among the greatest feats of all time: El Guerrouj won the 1500m final by a yard or…

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