Batting August 23, 2010

Baker's dozen of epochal fourth innings

A look at the finest fourth innings batting performances

Brian Lara: arguably played the greatest fourth innings knock © Getty Images

The first innings of a test match is a completely open-ended one. What should one aim at? What is a good score? Should one consume time or attack more? Is 225 for 1 at close of play on the first day better than 300 for 4 or vice versa? No one can forecast with any degree of certainty the answers to these questions.

The second innings at least is more defined. There are some targets to aim at. If the opponents score 500 or thereabouts, the first target is to avoid follow-on. If the score in front is around 350, the normal target is to overhaul it. If the first batting has scored 200, the second batting team has to be wary of a difficult pitch but, in general, looks for a substantial lead.

The third innings is clearer. If a team has followed on or trails by a substantial deficit, the first target is to clear the deficit and then build on setting a reasonable target. If the two first innings are comparable, then a substantial target score has to be aimed at. If the team is batting with a substantial lead, then it is only a question of timing the declaration, leaving enough time to win. However the third innings is the one where serious strategising starts. The seeds of the result aimed for are sown here.

However the fourth innings is the purest one. Whatever the team started with is the winning target. It could be 1 or 836 (both are actual targets in test matches). This number is clearly available to both teams. While time/overs/weather are factors, this target never changes. There is no D/L creeping in Tests somewhere there, moving the goal-posts. The innings played which we never forget are also outstanding fighting ones. Great defensive innings, often as valuable as attacking match-winning innings are played in the fourth innings.

In this article I have looked at a baker's dozen of epochal performances in fourth innings. Before you sharpen your keyboard skills to shoot off a comment, note the adjective used. "epochal", not "greatest". These are my selections, mostly using objective analysis such as Wisden-100 tables, but also incorporating some from the lower reaches of the table, innings which were truly great. I have tried to take innings which matter, avoiding dead-rubber situations such as Butcher's 173. I have also avoided situations where two great innings were played, each supporting the other (Bradman/Morris, Gilchrist/Langer, Gilchrist/Katich et al). Finally I have selected only one innings per batsman.

Let me mention that the top 7 from the fourth innings performances from the Wisden-100 table find their place here. In addition I have selected 6 more performances. There are 7 winning performances, 4 from drawn matches and 2 from lost matches. There are two innings from pre-ww1 days. Only in the period between the two wars is there no innings selected. This is a reflection of a batting (read Bradman) dominated era. There is one innings from the 1950s.

As I have already said this is my selection, 75% objective and 25% subjective. Readers will have their own favourite fourth innings and are welcome to send in their comments referring to these innings. The only requirement is that you have to take the trouble of looking up the concerned scorecard and give some details. Rather than posting comments such as "What about Inzamam's 95", the comments which are likely to get published are the ones where a better insight into the concerned innings are provided.

Let us look the performances. These are published in reverse chronological order so that no one says why is this in first position or not in first position.

1. MatchId: 1760 Year: 2005 Match drawn.
England:      444
Australia:    302
England:      280 for 6
Australia:    371 for 9 (Ponting 156)

This was the third test in the 2005 Ashes series. The series was tied at 1-1. England got a healthy lead of 142 and then declared leaving Australia to get 423 to win in about 100 overs. Australia lost Langer early. Then Ponting played probably his best match-saving innings for Australia and scored 156. He was dismissed when there were still nearly 5 overs left. However the Australian last wicket pair of Lee and McGrath saw through 27 balls and earned a very honourable draw.

2. MatchId: 1658 Year: 2003 Pakistan won by 1 wkt.
Bangladesh:   281
Pakistan:     175
Bangladesh:   154
Pakistan:     262 for 9 (Inzamam 138*)

If ever Bangladesh is threatened with demotion from Test cricket they should show a video of this match, lost only because of an out-of-the-world innings by Inzamam. Bangladesh scored 281 runs and took a lead of 100+ runs. They were then dismissed for 154, leaving Pakistan the relatively easy task of scoring 261 for a win. The strong Pakistani batting lineup was expected to win comfortably by 6/7 wickets.

From a comfortable position of 62 for 1, Pakistan lost wickets regularly and were soon down at 164 for 7. Inzamam was steady as a rock and added 41 with Shabbir and 52 with Umar Gul. The 9th wicket fell at 257 but Inzamam scored the winning run and carried Pakistan to a wonderful one wicket win. Only the cricket-challenged crowd would dismiss the innings as against minnows. It was far from true and Inzamam's wonderful innings has to be accorded due respect, as also the Bangladeshis.

3. MatchId: 1594 Year: 2002 New Zealand lost by 98 runs.
England:      228
New Zealand:  147
England:      468 for 6
New Zealand:  451 a.o (Astle 222)

The first innings were low-scoring ones and England got a lead of 81. Then they declared leaving New Zealand to score 550 to win in about 190 overs. Astle came in at 189 for 4 and played arguably the most attacking and defiant innings in Test cricket. He scored 222 in 168 balls against a potent English attack of Caddick, Hoggard, Giles and Flintoff. New Zealand scored at nearly 5 runs per over. Chris Cairns came in at no.10 and added 118 for the tenth wicket with Astle.

Only those who did not watch the telecast would say this was an innings in which nothing was at stake. I watched every ball and I could clearly see that the English players were desperate. Met us not forget that there was Chris Cairns, a top all-rounder at the other end. The commentators kept on saying that Astle could not continue this, but he did. For the last two wickets Astle added 150 runs in 15 overs. One more hour of this mayhem and New Zealand would have won.

4. MatchId: 1453 Year: 1999 West Indies won by 1 wkt.
Australia:    490
West Indies:  329
Australia:    146
West Indies:  311 for 9 (Lara 153*)

This classic was rated the second best innings ever in the Wisden-100 list. Australia scored big in the first innings and took a lead of 161 runs. Then Walsh and Ambrose dismissed Australia for 146, leaving West Indies to get 308 for a win. Lara entered at 78 for 3. There was some support from Adams but soon West Indies were 248 for 8. Then Ambrose lasted for nearly 90 minutes and 39 deliveries and helped add 54 for a win. When he was out, West Indies still needed 6 runs for a win.

Walsh, with a 7.5 batting average somehow lasted 5 balls and Lara scored the winning boundary off Gillespie. The bowling attack was a very good one comprising of McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and MacGill. Lara sculpted probably the greatest of fourth innings chasing wins. It stands second only to Bradman's 270 in the Wisden-100 list. I was privileged to watch every delivery of this classic.

5. MatchId: 1442 Year: 1999 India lost by 12 runs.
Pakistan:     238
India:        254
Pakistan:     286
India:        258 (Tendulkar 136)

Two low scoring first innings totals meant that India had a small lead of 16. Pakistan had a much better second innings and set India 271 runs to win. Shahid Afridi scored 141 out of this total. India were 6 for 2 when Tendulkar walked in. Soon India lost more wickets and were 82 for 5. That too against a potent attack of Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain. Everything seemed over. However Tendulkar and Mongia added 136 runs when Mongia played the wildest shot imaginable and departed.

By now Tendulkar's back spasm was getting worse and he tried an attacking stroke and was dismissed when 16 runs were still needed. The Indian tail batted like novices and lost the last three wickets for 4 runs. Tendulkar took the team to a 95% level but could not finish the job. This innings has a lot in common with Inzamam's innings and Lara's innings. It must be mentioned that the Pakistani tail and West Indian tail supported their respective senior batsmen in a much better manner.

6. MatchId: 1360 Year: 1997 Australia won by 2 wkts.
South Africa: 209
Australia:    108
South Africa: 168
Australia:    271 for 8 (Mark Waugh 116)

Yet again a case of two low first innings scores meant that South Africa took a first innings lead of 101 runs. Then McGrath, Warne and surprisingly Bevan dismissed South Africa for 168. Australia needed to score 270 for a win against a reasonable attack, led by Donald. They were 30 for 2 when Mark Waugh entered. Although he lost partners regularly, he played a master class of 116. Other than Elliott, he received scanty support.

The only blot was that Mark Waugh was dismissed at 258 (shades of Tendulkar at Chennai). However this was the Australian tail, made of sterner stuff. They added the required 13 runs and added value to Waugh's innings.

I could have easily added the Gilchrist match-winner against Pakistan during 1999. The only negative (okay, not the correct term, let me say diluting) factor was that Gilchrist and Langer supported each other very effectively.

7. MatchId: 1315 Year: 1995 Match drawn.
South Africa: 332
England:      200
South Africa: 346 for 9
England:      351 for 5 (Atherton 185*)

This was the ultimate defensive innings. There might have been better and longer defensive efforts in the earlier innings. However when we come to the last innings of the tests, this is at the pinnacle.

South Africa made a useful 332 in their first innings, and after securing a good first innings lead of 132, set England a winning target of 478 runs in a million overs. Atherton opened the innings and was there 11 hours and 165 overs later. He faced 492 balls in an amazing display of concentration, temperament, technical excellence and sheer guts. That too against a powerful attack led by Donald and Pollock. This innings stands comparison with similar efforts like Hanif, Gavaskar and Barrington.

8. MatchId: 0990 Year: 1984 West Indies won by 9 wkts.
England:      286
West Indies:  245
England:      300 for 9 decl
West Indies:  344 for 1 (Greenidge 214*)

While Astle's was the ultimate attacking innings, Greenidge's match winning 214 was the ultimate attacking and winning innings. Two middling first innings meant that England led by 41 runs. Then England declared at 300 for 9 very early on the fifth day, leaving West Indies to score 342 for a very unlikely win. England would have hoped to win comfortably with Willis, Botham and Foster in their ranks. What followed was straight off the "twilight zone".

Haynes got out soon. However Greenidge went on the attack. Gomes provided attacking support. Greenidge scored 214* in 242 balls and West Indies won by 9 wickets with nearly 15 overs to spare. They scored at over 5 runs per over and still had the fearsome duo of Richards and Lloyd padded on. Botham, who captured 8 wickets in the first innings, conceded nearly 6 runs per over in the second. The margin of victory and the resources yet available makes this one of the most incredible victories ever.

9. MatchId: 0854 Year: 1979 Match drawn.
England:      305
India:        202
England:      334 for 8
India:        429 for 8 (Gavaskar 221)

England took a first innings lead of 103 and then declared at 334 for 8 leaving India more than 150 overs to score the massive 438 to win. India finished day 4 comfortably placed at 76 for no loss. On the fifth day Chauhan helped add 213 with Gavaskar and then Vengsarkar added 150 with Gavaskar. India were 366 for 1 at one stage and the highest chase ever appeared still within grasp. Then Vengsarkar was dismissed. Kapil Dev came in and went.

The body blow was when Gavaskar was dismissed at 389. Then Viswanath and Yashpal left going for the win and India had to shut shop for the most honourable of draws. they fell 9 runs short. Gavaskar's effort matches his last Test innings of 96. Neither produced a win, but were jewels in his crown.

10. MatchId: 0498 Year: 1960 Match tied.
West Indies:  453
Australia:    505
West Indies:  284
Australia:    232 (Davidson 80)

Contrary to the rest of the matches presented herein, this match produced two huge first innings. First Sobers anchored West Indies to 453 with an attacking 132. Norman O'Neill responded with 181 and with very good support from other batsmen, Australia posted 505 for a first innings lead of 52. West Indies scored 284 leaving Australia to score 233 for a win.

Australia slumped to 92 for 6 and a West Indies win was on the cards especially as the bowling attack was Hall, Worrell, Sobers, Ramadhin and Valentine. Then the two all-rounders, Davidson and Benaud added 134 for the sixth wicket and Australia were coasting for a win. Davidson was unfortunately run out for a top-drawer innings of 80. Two more run outs followed and the first tie resulted. Davidson's 80 ensured a memorable result. Not to forget his other innings of 44 and 12 wickets in the match.

11. MatchId: 0320 Year: 1950 Australia won by 5 wkts.
South Africa: 311
Australia:     75
South Africa:  99
Australia:    336 for 5 (Harvey 151*)

This was a peculiar match. After a good South African first innings of over 300, there were two sub-100 innings with the spinners Tayfield and Johnson dominating the bat. Australia started the fourth inns needing to 336 to win and no one would have given them even 10% chance against Tayfield and Mann. They started poorly and Harvey walked in at 59 for 3. Then he produced his best innings for Australia with a 5 hour match winning knock of 151.

He was well-supported by Loxton and McCool. Tayfield and Mann bowled 100 overs between them and took only 5 wickets on a wearing pitch. Harvey dominated the bowling completely.

12. MatchId: 0088 Year: 1906 South Africa won by 1 wkt.
England:      184
South Africa:  91
England:      190
South Africa: 287 for 9 (A.D.Nourse 93*)

The first three innings were sub-200 efforts and the net result was that South Africa had to score 284 to win on a wearing pitch. They lost wickets steadily and only White stood firm. Their top batsmen, Sinclair and Faulkner departed and South Africa were 105 for 6 when Nourse walked in. He added 121 priceless runs with White and these two were well on the way to a win when White was out at 226. Vogler and Scwarz followed soon and South Africa were 239 for 9, staring at the barrel.

Nourse stood firm and with the support of Sherwell who scored 22, added 48 for the last wicket to win a memorable match by 1 wicket. The English attack was led by the deadly Blythe.

13. MatchId: 0074 Year: 1902 Jessop G.L 104 (England won by 1 wkt)
Australia:    324
England:      183
Australia:    121
England:      263 for 9 (Jessop 104)

This was the famous "We will get 'em in singles" match. This match is almost identical to the previous match in every manner. A big Australian first innings letting them get a substantial lead of 141 and then an Australian collapse for 121 leaving England to get 263 for a win. England tumbled to 48 for 5 when Jessop walked in. He played the only he could have. He attacked the bowling and added over 100 with Jackson. Then he himself fell at 187, having scored 104 out of the 139 added while at crease.

The innings lasted an hour and quarter and I estimate he faced no more than 50 to 60 deliveries. Jessop fell while still 76 runs short. however Hirst took over and orchestrated the win with a fluent 58, possibly uttering the famous words mentioned at the beginning.

Given below are some of the other innings which came to my attention and could easily have been included.

Sutcliffe      135 vs Aus (1929)
Headley        223 vs Eng (1930)
McCabe         189* vs Saf (1936)
Mitchell       189 vs Eng (1947)
Hazare         122 vs Win (1949)
Nurse          168 vs Nzl (1969)
Randall        174 vs Aus (1977)
Vengsarkar     146 vs Pak (1979)
Gavaskar        96 vs Pak (1987)
Miandad        102 vs Win (1988)
De Silva       143 vs Zim (1998)
Jayawardene    123 vs Saf (2006)
Smith          154 vs Eng (2008)
Shakib-al-Hasan 96 vs Win (2009)

Once more let me repeat my requests to readers.

Comment on these innings, by all means. However do not find fault with the list. These are my selections based on very strong objective criteria and some subjective inputs. Three months later my baker's dozen might look different.

Please send your own entries. However only entries where there is some insight into the innings will be published. You have to take the trouble of telling me (and the other readers) more than a number and a name.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems