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After four or five fairly heavy analytical articles, I feel it is time I did an anecdotal post, this time from the heart. My Resident editor would also be quite happy since he has been pushing me for such articles once in a while. Sitting in cold Minneapolis, this would make Sriram's day.
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 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. In my earlier article I had looked at epochal fourth innings.
The third innings is the most fascinating one of all. 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 strategizing starts. The seeds of the result aimed for are sown here.
One constant factor which is present in most of these winning third innings knocks is that these do not lead to wins by themselves. It still requires great bowling efforts, such as that of Willis, Harbhajan, Trott and Hauritz et al to complete the winning process.
In this article I have looked at a baker's dozen of epochal performances in third innings. Before the reader sharpens his 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.
Let me mention that most of the the top 10 from the third innings performances from the Wisden-100 table find their place here. The Wisden-100 itself is heavy with great third innings performances, with 4 of the top-6 coming in the third innings. There are 10 winning performances, 2 from drawn matches and 1 from lost matches. There is a fair distribution across ages and teams. If I have missed out a team, it is only because I am trying to push in a litre of liquid in a pint bottle.
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. Do not get upset that one specific performance is not in this list or in the nearly-made-it list. Put up your cases in a nice and emphatic manner.
Let us look the performances. These are published in no particular order so that no one says why is this in first position or not in first position.
1. MtId: 1171 (1991) 1 of 5 (Eng: 0-0) England won by 115 runs
Eng 198 all out. Win 173 all out. Eng 252 all out (Gooch G.A: 154*). Win 162 all out.
After two sub-200 innings, England started 25 runs ahead. Then Gooch, an under-rated batsmen if ever there was one, played one of the greatest innings ever against a bowling attack of Ambrose, Patterson, Marshall and Walsh. He scored 154 out of 252. There were two other innings of 27 and nothing else. Look at the % of score, 61.1%. To boot, he remained unbeaten. He added 98 for the seventh wicket with Pringle. England won by 115 runs. I think this innings stands comparison with any of the modern classics.
2. MtId: 1535 (2001) 2 of 3 (Ind: 0-1) India won by 171 runs
Aus 445 all out. Ind 171 all out. Ind 657 for 7 wkts (Laxman V.V.S: 281). Aus 212 all out.
What does one write about this innings. Half the cricket followers would anoint this classic as the best Test innings ever and they would not be far away from truth. The support of Dravid was as important as Harbhajan's bowling on the last day to effect this amazing win. In many ways this innings and win was the watershed in the Indian cricket teams' attitude and start of a new phase of self-belief.
3. MtId: 0257 (1937) 3 of 5 (Aus: 0-2) Australia won by 365 runs
Aus 200 for 9 wkts. Eng 76 for 9 wkts. Aus 564 all out (Bradman D.G: 270). Eng 323 all out.
The first two days were played on gluepot pitches. England declared 124 behind in a bid to cash in on the treacherous nature of the pitch. Bradman countered by sending in his late order batsmen and Australia were 97 for 5. Then Bradman and Fingleton got together and added 346 runs. After that everything was downhill. Australia won by a massive margin of 365 runs. As much a tribute to Bradman's strategic skills as to his batting. It should not be forgotten that Australia were trailing 0-2 with 3 to play. Starting with this test, they won the next three tests and won the series 3-2. The only time this has happened in history of Test cricket, as mentioned in my last article.
4. MtId: 1716 (2004) 1 of 2 (Pak: 0-0) Sri Lanka won by 201 runs
Slk 243 all out. Pak 264 all out. Slk 438 all out (Jayasuriya S.T: 253). Pak 216 all out.
A recent masterpiece. After two middling innings, Sri Lanka were behind by 21 runs. Jayasuriya anchored the innings with an outstanding effort of 253 in 348 balls. He was ably supported by two fifties from Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Jayasuriya's high innings was still nearly 60% of Sri Lankan score. Sri Lanka then won comfortably despite being without Muralitharan. It must be mentioned that this was at the feather-bed in Faisalabad.
5. MtId: 0905 (1981) 3 of 6 (Eng: 0-1) England won by 18 runs
Aus 401 for 9 wkts. Eng 174 all out. Eng 356 all out (Botham I.T: 149*). Aus 111 all out.
A similar test to the 2001 Calcutta classic. England followed on 227 behind. Then the scripts diverge. Unlike Calcutta, England were soon hanging by a slender thread at 135 for 7. Botham counter-attacked and was ably supported by Dilley with 56 and Old with 29. Even then Australia were left with a meagre target of 129. Then Willis took over and England won by 18 runs. "Botham's Ashes" was born.
6. MtId: 1458 (1999) 4 of 4 (Eng: 1-1) New Zealand won by 83 runs
Nzl 236 all out. Eng 153 all out. Nzl 162 all out (Cairns C.L: 80). Eng 162 all out.
This was an away match for New Zealand. Even though they took a first innings lead of 83, they slumped to 39 for 6 when Chris Cairns walked in. He counter-attacked, scoring 80 in 93 balls and added 40 with McMillan and 70 with Nash, departing at 149. He scored 80 out of 110 runs while at crease. New Zealand set England a task of 245 to win but won by 83 runs for a memorable away series win.
7. MtId: 1945 (2010) 2 of 3 (Aus: 1-0) Australia won by 36 runs
Aus 127 all out. Pak 333 all out. Aus 381 all out (Hussey M.E.K: 134*). Pak 139 all out.
I would appreciate no snide comments on this test. Insinuations should not mar the wonderful innings played by Michael Hussey. Pakistan took a lead of over 200 runs and Australia were barely in front with 8 wickets down. Siddle played the unlikely support role to help Hussey add 123 for the ninth wicket. Hussey remained not out on 134 and gave his bowlers some chance against an unpredictable Pakistani batting lineup. They obliged by collapsing for 139.
8. MtId: 1444 (1999) 1 of 4 (Ind: 0-0) Pakistan won by 46 runs
Pak 185 all out. Ind 223 all out. Pak 316 all out (Saeed Anwar: 188*). Ind 232 all out.
Pakistan recovered from 36 for 6 to 185, thanks to Moin Khan. India took a small lead. Then Saeed Anwar played a Gooch-type innings although the bowling was probably not comparable. He carried his bat for 188 and there was only one other fifty, by Yousuf. Saeed Anwar scored nearly 60% of his team's total. As often happens, the bowlers completed the job and Pakistan won by 46 runs. Spare a quiet thought for Srinath who is one of four bowlers who captured 13 wickets in a Test and still finished on the losing side.
9. MtId: 1169 (1991) 4 of 5 (Win: 1-0) West Indies won by 343 runs
Win 149 all out. Aus 134 all out. Win 536 for 9 wkts (Greenidge C.G: 226). Aus 208 all out.
Two very small first innings led West Indies ahead by a mere 15 runs. Then the innings changed completely, thanks to Greenidge's patient 226, lasting over 11 hours. He was well-supported throughout, with five of the first six batsmen crossing 25. Not an innings as attacking as Jayasuriya's but no less valuable. The West Indian pacemen ensured that Greenidge's innings did not go in vain and they won quite comfortably.
10. MtId: 0058 (1899) 1 of 2 (Saf: 0-0) England won by 32 runs
Eng 145 all out. Saf 251 all out. Eng 237 all out (Warner P.F: 132*). Saf 99 all out.
England were behind by 106 runs. Then Warner batted his way through the England second innings and scored 132, carrying England to a total of 237. Even then South Africa needed to score only 132 runs to win but collapsed for 99. Shades of this innings in Gooch's and Saeed Anwar's innings.
11. MtId: 0446 (1958) 1 of 5 (Win: 0-0) Match drawn
Win 579 for 9 wkts. Pak 106 all out. Pak 657 for 8 wkts (Hanif Mohammad: 337). Win 28 for 0 wkts.
This is the first of two innings which helped their teams draw the test from way-behind situations. Pakistan followed on, 473 runs behind, that too at Kensington Oval and few would have given them any chance of avoiding a massive innings defeat. Hanif, the other little master, had other ideas. In an amazing display of stamina, concentration and temperament, he batted for just over 16 hours and scored 337 runs before being 8th out at 649. Pakistan saved the test and this is the innings against which other rear-guard efforts should be measured.
12. MtId: 0732 (1974) 2 of 5 (Win: 1-0) Match drawn
Eng 353 all out. Win 583 for 9 wkts. Eng 432 for 9 wkts (Amiss D.L: 262*). Win DNB.
This was similar to the previous test I have referred to. Only difference being that England trailed by 230 runs. Amiss remained not out with 262 after a near 10-hour vigil and England saved the test quite comfortably. The two interesting points on Amiss' innings were the high % of team score (60.6%) and the lack of support, the next highest innings being Jameson's 38. This innings certainly matches Hanif's effort. The series was kept alive and England manage to save the series by winning the last test.
13. MtId: 1206 (1992) 3 of 4 (Saf: 0-0) South Africa won by 9 wickets
Ind 212 all out. Saf 275 all out. Ind 215 all out (Kapil Dev N: 129). Saf 155 for 1 wkts.
This is the lone third innings effort in this selection which could not save the test. I debated a lot between this innings of Kapil Dev and Asif Iqbal's 146 against England. Finally what tilted Kapil Dev's innings for selection was the fact that his brave effort was performed in South Africa and he helped India set a target of 155. Granted that South Africa achieved this comfortably but at least there was a total to defend. Asif Iqbal's effort is equally praise-worthy and another time I might select that. Kapil came in at 31 for 6 and Asif came in at 53 for 7. The South African bowling was, however slightly better.
Now for the innings which almost made it. All these are wonderful innings and would have graced the top selection list. There are given in no particular sequence. Before readers come in with their own selection, they are advised to check this list also.
155 Tendulkar 1405 (1998) IND vs Aus 180 Trescothick 1734 (2005) ENG vs Saf 144 Taylor 1170 (1991) AUS vs Win 102 Vengsarkar 1047 (1986) IND vs Eng 73 Flintoff 1758 (2005) ENG vs Aus 237 Saleem Malik 1269 (1994) PAK vs Aus 150 Randall 840 (1979) ENG vs Aus 76 Rhodes 1243 (1995) SAF vs Aus 118 Saeed Anwar 1403 (1998) PAK vs Saf 159 Armstrong 76 (1902) AUS vs Saf 152 Chamara Silva 1822 (2006) SLK vs Nzl 146 Asif Iqbal 623 (1967) PAK vs Eng 26 Gillespie 1714 (2004) AUS vs Ind
The last selection might cause a few eye-brows to be raised. I feel that this was an all-time classic late-order innings which saved the day for Australians who went on to win the series. If Gillespie had departed early on the fourth day, India would have won comfortably well before rains opened up. 165 balls on a turning wicket against Kumble and Harbhajan was no mean task. The dead-bat defensive technique of Gillespie is today emulated by another tall, gangly, long-haired fast bowler, Ishant Sharma.
As I have mentioned in my comment, I have started a "Readers' Bakers' dozen". The first cut is presented below. Will be fine-tuned as we go along. Not in any particlualr order.
Thorpe 200 vs Nzl Sobers 198 vs Ind Slater 123 vs Eng Kirsten 275 vs Eng Trumper 159 vs Saf Hammond 177 vs Aus Pietersen 158 vs Aus Laxman 167 vs Aus May 285 vs Win Afridi 141 vs Ind Nourse 231 vs Aus Richards 110 vs Eng Imran 136 vs Aus Compton 184 vs Aus M Crowe 299 vs Slk
and a tribute to the minnows (outside the Xiii).
Andy Flower's 199 or Whittall's 188
Ashraful's 114 vs Slk or Khaled Mashud's 103 vs Win
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systemsFeeds: Anantha Narayanan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Anantha spent the first half of his four-decade working career with corporates like IBM, Shaw Wallace, NCR, Sime Darby and the Spinneys group in IT-related positions. In the second half, he has worked on cricket simulation, ratings, data mining, analysis and writing, amongst other things. He was the creator of the Wisden 100 lists, released in 2001. He has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket, and worked extensively with Maruti Motors, Idea Cellular and Castrol on their performance ratings-related systems. He is an armchair connoisseur of most sports. His other passion is tennis, and he thinks Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman to have walked on earth.