Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Perth, 5th day December 21, 2008

Smith's fourth-innings heroics

Stats highlights from South Africa's historic run-chase against Australia in Perth

Graeme Smith is one of only two batsmen to score three centuries in successful fourth-innings run-chases © Getty Images
The last quarter of 2008 continues to be an excellent one for fourth-innings run-chases: New Zealand started the trend, chasing 317 against Bangladesh in Chittagong exactly two months ago; India raised the bar even further with an outstanding chase of 387 against England in Chennai last week; but South Africa did something even more incredible in Perth today, coasting to 414 to inflict a six-wicket defeat upon Australia and bring up the second-highest successful run-chase in Test cricket. It also means three of the top five such chases have come in the last five-and-a-half years, and two of them in the last ten days.

As was pointed out in last week's Numbers Game column, successful fourth-innings chases have been far more common in the 2000s than in previous decades, and this becomes the 32nd 200-plus chase in these nine years. No wonder, then, that the fourth-innings runs-per-wicket figure in this decade is 29.21, higher than it had been in any decade since 1950. AB de Villiers' match-winning 108 was the 46th fourth-innings century during this period; add 242 fifties to it, and you'll get a good idea of how good this decade has been for batsmen in the last innings.

The pitch in Perth stayed pretty good throughout the five days, which isn't so unusual these days either. The Chennai track had a mean look to it but wasn't particularly spiteful on the final day, which was one of the reasons why India's fourth-innings total was the highest of the match, as was the case in Perth. Till October 2008, this had only been achieved 17 times in the entire history of Test cricket. In the last two months, however, three more instances have already been added, with New Zealand, India and South Africa all getting the highest total of the game in successful run-chases. South Africa have successfully chased 200-plus targets seven times since 2000, the most by any team during this period.

What's also incredible is the apparent ease with which most of the highest run-chases have been achieved - in four of the top five such cases, teams have won losing fewer than five wickets: Don Bradman's Invincibles chased 404 for the loss of only three wickets at Headingley in 1948, while India lost only four in chasing 406 and 387.

More numbers

  • Graeme Smith's century yesterday was his third in the fourth innings of a match, and all of them have led to wins. Most batsmen struggle in the last innings of Tests, but Smith seems to relish the challenge, averaging 56.40 in 26 fourth innings. His last five such innings have been 85, 62, 3*, 154* and 108. Among batsmen who have scored at least 1000 fourth-innings runs, Smith's average puts him in third place in the all-time list, behind two legendary openers, Geoffrey Boycott and Sunil Gavaskar.

    Best fourth-innings averages in Tests (Qual: 1000 runs)
    Batsman Innings Runs Average 100s/ 50s
    Geoff Boycott 34 1234 58.76 3/ 7
    Sunil Gavaskar 33 1398 58.25 4/ 8
    Graeme Smith 26 1128 56.40 3/ 6
    Ricky Ponting 35 1187 53.95 4/ 3
    Gordon Greenidge 38 1383 53.19 3/ 6

    Limiting the results to just wins in fourth innings, Smith's stocks go up even higher - with 844 runs from 15 innings, his average is an incredible 84.40, next only to Ricky Ponting's 92.77 (with a cut-off of 500 runs). They are the only two to score three hundreds in fourth-innings wins.

  • Among the three century partnerships in South Africa's run-chase was the 124-run stand between AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis, who are fast developing one of the most prolific batting pairs for them. In 16 partnerships, the pair has put together 1275 runs, including six century stands, for an average of 85. Their last five partnerships read 112, 5, 256, 124, and 124. Among South African pairs who've added at least 1000, de Villiers and Kallis are in second place, next only to Gary Kirsten and Graeme Smith, who averaged 100.36 in 11 innings.

  • Of the six South Africans who batted, five of them topped 50, with Neil McKenzie being the only one to miss out. It was only the third instance of five South African batsmen topping 50 in an innings in Australia, but in both previous occasions, the team had been bowled out.

  • It was Australia's second successive defeat in Perth, after their 72-run loss to India earlier this year. Only once earlier have they lost consecutive Tests here - 1984 and 1985, when West Indies and New Zealand beat the home team convincingly. (Click here for their entire result list in Perth.)

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo