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One man looms large over the Test batting shortlist, which also features two triple-hundreds, and plenty of battles against spin
January 10, 2013
Click here for the Test bowling shortlist
329 not out v India
second Test, Sydney
In the first week of 2012, Clarke was still, by own admission, a man looking to earn the respect of his country. Three days into the SCG Test, with a mammoth 329 not out, full of fluency and resolve, he first his got side out of trouble (37 for 3) put them in the lead, and then streaked away from India to invite the possibility of an innings victory. As his score grew and grew, surpassing milestones this way and that, Clarke's eyes were less on the record books than on the scorecard and the Members Pavilion clock. He wanted as much time as his team could get to try to bowl India out on a surface that had been anaesthetised of the life it had early on day one. As it turned out, with the innings victory wrapped up on day four, Clarke may as well have batted on for the records, but as the rest of the year showed, he is not one man to regret missing them.
311 not out v England
first Test, The Oval
"To score runs like that you need attitude, you need good technique, you need knowledge and you need spot-on concentration," said Graham Gooch, the batting coach of Hashim Amla's opposition at The Oval. For more than 13 hours and the equivalent of about 88 overs faced by him alone, Amla showed all that and then some. He starred in two back-to-back partnerships of over 200 runs, became the first South African to score a triple-century, and batted England out of the contest for the Test No. 1 ranking.
196 v Australia
third Test, Perth
Another contest for No. 1 and another gem from Hashim Amla. In a Test that had featured two team innings of 225 and 163, Amla produced an audacious counterattacking 196 off just 221 balls, knocking the wind out of Australia. He often toyed with the bowling and field placings by moving across the crease with impunity to flick to the leg side or drive handsomely through the off. He gave South Africa enough time to bowl Australia out and to become the first team since West Indies in the early '90s to beat Australia in consecutive series in Australia.
186 v India
second Test, Mumbai
On a pitch offering substantial assistance to the spinners and on which other batsmen struggled for fluency, Pietersen created the illusion that he was operating on a batting paradise. Only when others, some of whom are considered experts in such conditions, prodded and struggled was the true nature of the wicket exposed. This was also an innings that came after England had conceded 327 - which seemed 50 too many on that pitch - in a Test that could have been England's sixth loss in seven Tests in Asia. Also, Pietersen was coming back from his controversial exile from the England team, and had in the previous Test got out to ridiculous shots to left-arm spin.
180 v England
first Test, Galle
To understand the significance of this knock, look no further than the next best score in the innings: 27. Jayawardene was at the crease in the third over, after James Anderson struck twice in two balls, and he was the last man out, after Sri Lanka had posted 318 on a difficult pitch. With his patience, shot selection, concentration and technique, he provided the perfect example for his team-mates to follow. What stood out was the counter-attack amid falling wickets. Three times he came down the wicket to thump sixes over long-on - once off Anderson and twice off Graeme Swann - though generally he was content to waiting for the poor ball, which he put away with clinical precision.
157 v England
third Test, Dubai
This was an innings Pakistan needed after having been bowled out for 99 in the first dig. They went on to lose two second-innings wickets before drawing level, but Azhar Ali then laboured for nearly nine hours over his highest first-class score, facing 442 balls - more than any England batsman had faced in the entire series until then - and striking only ten of them to the boundary and one of them over it. While Younis Khan, timing the ball with a grace given to few, rose above the sluggish surface, every other batsman had to slave over every run. Azhar showed that with a decent technique, patience and discipline, runs could be scored in great quantity. It was an immensely valuable contribution to the Pakistan cause.
151 v Sri Lanka
second Test, P Sara Oval
England had lost four straight Tests in Asia and were running out of time in the fifth with the No. 1 ranking slipping out of their grip when Kevin Pietersen produced an innings of bravado, genius and theatre. His 151 came from 165 balls with 16 fours and six sixes, and was a flamboyant contradiction of the attritional cricket that had gone before. As he struck 88 runs between lunch and tea to transform the game, he batted pretty much as he pleased. On a dead pitch that experts galore had agreed made strokeplay almost impossible, Pietersen batted as if such limitations were intended for lesser men, banishing the memories of a demoralising winter. England went on to win, the No. 1 ranking was retained, and the foundation had been laid for future success in Asia.
149 v South Africa
second Test, Headingley
All sorts of things were going on with Pietersen off the field when he pulled out this bundle of brashness and brilliance. It was not so much the number of runs he scored - impressive though that was - as the manner in which he scored them. In circumstances where his colleagues prodded and poked, Pietersen thrashed high-quality bowling around the ground as if practising against a village team. Even a bowler as skilled as Dale Steyn was pummelled. As Allan Donald, South Africa's bowling coach and one of Pietersen's childhood heroes, said afterwards: "It reminded me of when I ran into Brian Lara. It was in the category of a genius."
142 v Sri Lanka
second Test, P Sara Oval
Before the start of the series Taylor had been told by his coach that he was no good as Test captain. He had then led his side in a defeat in Galle, and nobody would have shed tears for him had New Zealand been blanked by Sri Lanka. The captain had other ideas. It is often said of batsmen who defy difficult conditions that they appear to be playing on a different pitch from their peers, but the temperament and tone of Taylor's partnership with Kane Williamson made it seem like New Zealand were batting in a different universe from their incompetence in Galle. Taylor had spoken of being positive against spin bowling ahead of the series - a feat he achieved in this match, yet he hit no fours off the spinners, not even off part-timer Tillakaratne Dilshan. It is a statistic that spoke of the will of a man who wished to make a break from a bleak past.
176 v India
first Test, Ahmedabad
It was widely believed that the rest of the England side would need a special innings from Kevin Pietersen to assure them that spin in India is not unplayable, but it was Cook who showed them the way this time. England needed all the showing they could get after they had been bowled out for 191 on a flat, low and slow pitch. Cook scored his third century in as many Tests as captain - an amazing display of patience, concentration and stamina that lasted 556 minutes. England lost the Test by nine wickets but now knew there were no monster spinners in India. They went on to win the series and Cook capped it off with centuries in the next two Tests.
Faf du Plessis
110 not out v Australia
second Test, Adelaide
Until Adelaide happened, du Plessis was just a T20 star who couldn't even find a place in the South African T20I side. Until Adelaide happened, he was just an AB de Villiers clone. Until Adelaide happened, South Africa were an uncertain No. 1 in Tests, having conceded 482 runs on the first day of this Test. After Adelaide happened, du Plessis was a bonafide Test star. In the second innings, to fight out a draw that would keep South Africa alive, he played 376 balls - each almost worth a figurative run - batted for close to eight hours, and helped South Africa escape with two wickets standing. After Adelaide happened, the opposition bowlers were so exhausted that two of them didn't recover in time for the next, series-deciding, Test, which South Africa won.
102 not out v South Africa
third Test, Wellington
Hampered by the loss of Ross Taylor, New Zealand had only nine wickets to play with for a draw on the final day at the Basin Reserve. Conceding just 23 runs, Morne Morkel reduced nine to three. One of those three was Kane Williamson, who held New Zealand together after they had fallen to such scores as 1 for 2, 32 for 3 and 83 for 5. Not having to contend with hooping outswing or biting turn, Williamson tuned his mind solely to blunting South Africa's favourite weapon in the Test: bounce. Picking the lifters early, he ducked everything South Africa pitched in their own half. If the balls were fuller - just short of a length - he'd climb on tip-toe, elbows always high, and punch it down into the off side. Yorkers came into vogue later in the day, but having seen Morkel unleash hell with those at the other end, Williamson was prepared, digging them out dutifully, turning down runs into the outfield to keep himself on strike.
Click here for the Test bowling shortlist
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Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Sidharth Monga
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