Tests - bowling August 31, 2010

The baker's dozen again: Bowler performances in fourth innings

A look at top bowling performances in the fourth innings in Tests

Bob Willis: remarkable spell at Headingley © Getty Images

As a follow-up to the epochal fourth innings batting performances, this analysis covers the great bowling performances. Again let me emphasize that this is a predominantly objective selection, based loosely on the Wisden-100 tables, but also incorporating my own perceptions. Let me also emphasize that this covers only individual bowling performances, not team bowling performances. That is for a later article.

The fourth innings bowling performances are quite different to the batting performances. The alternatives in front of the batting teams in the fourth innings are two-fold. Whether the target is 100 runs or 500 runs, the objective is to win if one can or go for a draw. It allows batsmen to play pre-dominantly defensive innings, help their team to draw the matches and be recognized. The bowlers have very few choices. Whether they are defending 100 runs or 500 runs, they have to go for a win. It is not possible to bowl for a draw other than the rare instances of, say, 100 runs in 15 overs or so. Bowlers win matches and this dictum is all the more true in the fourth innings. Truly great teams have invariably had great bowling attacks. Whether the attack is dominated by one great bowler or 3/4 equally great bowlers, this is true.

This also makes the search for non-winning great performances in fourth innings quite difficult. After searching far and wide, I have been able to locate two such performances. Consequently 11 of these 13 performances have been winning ones. Only one has been in a dead rubber situation. There is a fair distribution over the years. One pre-WW1, two are bowling performances in between wars and the rest after WW2 including one during the current decade. The countries are well-represented.

Let us look at the 13 performances. These performances are presented more or less in the Wisden-100 list order. Not that the order matters. Readers should note that the complete bowling spell is indicated by the term "innspell" and a specific unbroken bowling stint is called "spell".

1. MtId: 0437 Year: 1957 Test# 4 of 5 (0-2) South Africa won by 17 runs

Saf 340 all out.
Eng 251 all out.
Saf 142 all out.
Eng 214 all out (Tayfield H.J: 37.0-11-113-9).

South Africa took a useful first innings lead of 89 runs but were then dismissed for 142 by a strong English bowling attack. England, with an excellent batting lineup led by May, Compton and Cowdrey looked poised to score the 230 runs needed. The fearsome pair of Adcock and Heine did very little. Then Tayfield took over and bowled 37 consecutive 8-ball overs and captured 9 English wickets for 113 runs taking South Africa to an unlikely narrow win. The low target, quality of English batting and the number of wickets captured meant that Tayfield's innspell was adjudged the best ever bowling bowling performance in the Wisden-100 analysis. There can be very few dissenters to this conclusion.

2. MtId: 1443 Year: 1999 Test# 2 of 2 (0-1) India won by 212 runs

Ind 252 all out.
Pak 172 all out.
Ind 339 all out.
Pak 207 all out (Kumble A: 26.3-9-74-10).

As matches go, this was a veritable rout by India. Pakistan's poor first innings, coupled with India's effective second innings meant that Pakistan had before them an impossible task of scoring 420 runs on a wicket turning square. I would not normally have placed Kumble's 10-wicket innspell in the top drawer amongst fourth innings bowling performances taking into account all these conditions. However the fact that this was a historic innspell, one of only two achieved by bowlers in 133 years has made me select this. It is also the second best innspell in the Wisden-100 tables. Kumble bowled beautifully taking full advantage of the turn and bounce offered. The miracle was not the 10-wicket haul but the fact that three other excellent bowlers bowled 34 overs and did not pick up a wicket. It was also very sporting of the Pakistan batsmen not to have gifted their 9th or 10th wicket to someone else.

3. MtId: 1804 Year: 2006 Test# 3 of 3 (1-0) Sri Lanka won by 134 runs

Slk 231 all out.
Eng 229 all out.
Slk 322 all out.
Eng 190 all out (Muralitharan M: 30.0-11-70-8).

Two average first innings, followed by a very good Sri Lankan second innings, meant that England had a tough task of 325 runs, albeit on their own home ground. Then Muralitharan bowled his heart out and captured first 7 wickets, before Hoggard was run out. Then he captured Lewis' wicket and there was a swinging last wicket stand which was ended by Jayasuriya. Muralitharan had the outstanding figures of 8 for 70 and Sri Lanka tied the series. This is the only performance of the current decade included in this selection. This was also at Nottingham, not at Kandy or Galle.

4. MtId: 0179 Year: 1929 Test# 4 of 5 (0-3) England won by 12 runs

Eng 334 all out.
Aus 369 all out.
Eng 383 all out.
Aus 336 all out (White J.C: 64.5-21-126-8).

This is the only dead-rubber performance included. England had an unbeatable 3-0 lead against Australia in Bradman's welcome series. Three healthy innings left Australia to score 349 runs to win. White, the slow left arm spinner, bowled 65 overs, almost continuously, against the strong Australian lineup and captured 8 wickets for 126 runs. A margin of 12 runs reinforces the magnificence of the innspell.

5. MtId: 0905 Year: 1981 Test# 3 of 6 (0-1) England won by 18 runs

Aus 401 for 9 wkts.
Eng 174 all out.
Eng 356 all out.
Aus 111 all out (Willis R.G.D: 15.1-3-43-8).

This is more known as Botham's test (and Ashes). However, there is no doubt that the win was set up by Botham but was achieved by Willis with his magnificent innspell, defending a very low total of 130. England, after following on and 82 in arrears at the fall of the seventh wicket, were rescued by Botham, with support from Dilley and Old. Then Willis took over and this was one of the most devastating fourth innings bowling performances ever. Incidentally the first 5 performances occupy the first 5 positions in the Wisden-100 table.

6. MtId: 1243 Year: 1994 Test# 2 of 3 (0-0) South Africa won by 5 runs

Saf 169 all out.
Aus 292 all out.
Saf 239 all out.
Aus 111 all out (de Villiers P.S: 23.3-8-43-6).

This match has some similarities to the Botham/Willis match. The target was even lower at 116. Australia, with its strong batting lineup was expected to waltz through. However SCG always offers help for the faster bowlers and de Villiers took over the defence of the meagre total.He captured the first 4 wickets. Then Donald moved in and claimed the next 3 wickets. Australia rallied through McDermott and reached 110 for 8 and looked like winning. Then Warne was run out and de Villiers dismissed Healy and McGrath to carve out a 5 run win. In some ways this must be the unlikeliest win, comparable to West Indies win by a single run, an year earlier. And let us not forget who was bowling at the other end, the white lightning, Donald.

7. MtId: 0849 Year: 1979 Test# 1 of 2 (0-0) Pakistan won by 71 runs

Pak 196 all out.
Aus 168 all out.
Pak 353 for 9 wkts.
Aus 310 all out (Sarfraz Nawaz: 35.4-7-86-9).

After two low innings, Pakistan posted a competitive total and set Australia an imposing 381 to win. Sarfraz Nawaz bowled, arguably the finest innspell by a Pakistani bowler and captured 9 wickets for 86 runs to win the match for Pakistan. The other batsman was run out. At 305 for 3, Sarfraz dismissed 5 batsmen for 0. The amazing thing was that 38 overs by Imran Khan and Mushtaq Mohd did not produce a wicket. This was an unlikely bowling performance by a pace bowler. Unlike Willis and de Villiers who ran through Australia in fewer overs, this was somewhat like the innspell of White in that Sarfraz bowled 35 8-ball overs.

8. MtId: 1143 Year: 1990 Test# 3 of 4 (0-1) West Indies won by 164 runs

Win 446 all out.
Eng 358 all out.
Win 267 for 8 wkts.
Eng 191 all out (Ambrose C.E.L: 22.4-10-45-8).

It doesn't often happen that a West Indian pace bowler runs through a team. There are other equally fearsome and intimidating bowlers who participate in the clean-up act. This was a rare instance. England were set over 350 runs to win and Ambrose bowled a Willis-type innspell, capturing 8 wickets for 45 and helped dismiss England for 191. Since the attack included Bishop, Marshall and Moseley, this effort is all the more praise-worthy.

9. MtId: 0390 Year: 1954 Test# 4 of 4 (1-0) Pakistan won by 24 runs

Pak 133 all out.
Eng 130 all out.
Pak 164 all out.
Eng 143 all out (Fazal Mahmood: 30.0-11-46-6).

Pakistan were babes-in-the-wood in this series. This was only their second series, both away. They were pitted against the mighty England, led by Hutton, May, Compton, Graveney, Tyson, Wardle and Statham. They trailed 1-0 and everybody expected England to walk away with a 2-0 series win. Three innings below 165 meant that England's mighty lineup had to score only 167 for a win. England reached 109 for 2, confirming all these predictions. Then Fazal Mahmood, the master of swing, took over and took the next 5 wickets for nothing, finishing with 6 for 46. England were dismissed for 143, leaving Pakistan winners by 24 runs. Pakistan drew the series and Pakistan's pace bowling pedigree, true even today, was appreciated. This must be one of the greatest upsets ever in the history of Test cricket.

10. MtId: 0009 Year: 1882 Test# 1 of 1 (0-0) Australia won by 7 runs

Aus  63 all out.
Eng 101 all out.
Aus 122 all out.
Eng  77 all out (Spofforth F.R: 28.0-15-44-7).

This was the famous "Ashes" test. Three very low innings meant that England had to only score 85 for a win. Spofforth took the central stage and bowled 28 4-ball overs continuously, capturing 7 for 44 and the "Ashes" legend was born. It is quite difficult to comprehend a wicket in which 40 wickets fell for 363 runs and a wicket was captured every 27 balls.However we have to admire Spofforth's effort since this represents the lowest total ever defended. This performance just about gets into the top-50 of Wisden-100 table in view of the very strong bowler-friendly conditions.

11. MtId: 0510 Year: 1961 Test# 4 of 5 (1-1) Australia won by 54 runs

Aus 190 all out.
Eng 367 all out.
Aus 432 all out.
Eng 201 all out (Benaud R: 32.0-11-70-6).

This match has come in purely for my nostalgic sake. This was the first series I was fortunate enough to hear on borrowed radio, in a hostel room as the junior-most student, trying to pull the wool over the warden's eyes and ears. And Benaud was my favourite cricketer. England had taken a lead of 177. Then Lawry pitched tent and with the help of some lusty late-order hitting by Davidson, Australia reached 432. England had to score 255 for a win. Everyone knew that it was a battle between Benaud and the English batsmen, led by the imperious Dexter. Dexter was batting at his commanding beat and England reached 150 for 1. Then Benaud essayed one of the finest spells of leg-spin bowling ever, pitching into the rough created by Davidson. He dismissed Dexter and picked up the next 6 wickets. Davidson and Simpson finished the job and Australia ran out winners by 54 runs. Benaud captured 6 for 70.

12. MtId: 0277 Year: 1946 Test# 2 of 3 (1-0) Match drawn

Eng 294 all out.
Ind 170 all out.
Eng 153 for 5 wkts.
Ind 152 for 9 wkts (Bedser A.V: 25.0-4-52-7).

This is the only drawn match in this list. Even though India were only playing their 9th match, they were quite strong with a lineup boasting of Merchant, Mushtaq, Mod, Hazare, Amarnath and Mankad. England took a first innings lead of 124 and set India a target of 278 to win, a tough ask at Manchester against a powerful English attack. The first two wickets were captured by Pollard. Then Modi and Hazare steadied the ship. However Alec Bedser bowled beautifully and captured the next 7 wickets. India were 138 for 9 and looked like losing. However Sohoni and Hindlekar stood firm and avoided defeat. Bedser's innspell of 7 for 52 represents one of the finest closing innspells in a drawn match.

13. MtId: 0149 Year: 1923 Test# 2 of 5 (1-0) England won by 1 wicket

Saf 113 all out.
Eng 183 all out.
Saf 242 all out.
Eng 173 for 9 wkts (Hall A.E: 37.3-12-63-7).

This is the only innspell included from a losing match. After three average innings, England were set 173 for a win. England had Sandham, Wooley, Mead and Fender in their lineup. Alf Hall, a left arm pace bowler, single-handedly almost denied England a win. He captured 7 for 63, dismissing all the top batsmen. He reduced England to 86 for 6 before Mann and Jupp added 68 runs. Then Hall dismissed both batsmen. He could not claim the last wicket and England ran out winners by 1 wicket. It is worth mentioning here that these were 3-day tests.

The other innspells which came under consideration are listed below.

Statham's 7 for 39 against South Africa during 1955 (a real contender).
R.Peel's 6 for 67 against Australia during 1894.
O'Reilly's 7 for 27 against England during 1934.
Hoggard's 7 for 61 against South Africa during 2005.
McGrath's 8 for 24 against Pakistan during 2004.
Snow's 7 for 40 against Australia during 1971.
Kluesener's 8 for 64 against India during 1996.
Cowans' 6 for 77 against Australia during 1982.
Fazal Mahmood's 6 for 66 against West Indies during 1959.
Underwood's 7 for 50 against Australia during 1968
Warne's 8 for 71 against England during 1994.
Ambrose's 6 for 24 against England during 1994.
Dean Headley's 6 for 60 against Australia during 1998.
Whitney's 7 for 27 against India during 1992.
Kumble's 7/63 against Pakistan at Kolkata in 2005
Gibbs' 6 for 60 against India during 1968 (Drawn match).

In the famous 1-run win by West Indies against Australia during 1993,
the wickets were shared by Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh. Ambrose's 4 for 46 is still
an excellent individual effort.

In a later article we will see team performances in fourth innings. That will do
justice to the multi-pronged bowling attacks.

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