February 22, 2014

Twelve forgotten masterpieces

A look at the best Test innings that don't usually make the cut

Dennis Amiss' double-hundred against West Indies in 1974 is arguably the best match-saving innings © PA Photos

I have been doing so many analytical articles that it was high time, I decided, that I should do an anecdotal article. I love doing these articles and I know many readers also appreciate the change in intensity.

I started doing the preliminary work on Test Innings Ratings. My first cut of the tables showed some surprises: innings that were outside the top areas of the Wisden 100 list. I started looking into these and found that some of them were real classics. Some of these, the innings by Clem Hill, Azhar Mahmood and Kim Hughes were in the top ten of the original list. But I felt it was necessary to bring these forgotten and not-so-well-known innings to the spotlight. We tend to talk so much about 270/213/136/155/241/153/281/149/154 et al that we seem to miss out on other equally great efforts. Hence this list of 12 innings. As usual I will offer brief comments on each innings as I go along. These innings are presented in reverse chronological order.

1. Test # 1734.South Africa v England*

Played on 13,14,15,16,17 January 2005
  at  New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg.
England won by 77 runs

England : 411 for 8 wkt(s) South Africa: 419 all out England : 332 for 9 wkt(s) ME Trescothick 180 (1.95) South Africa: 247 all out

After two sizable first innings, there was nothing in the match for either team. Hence there was a need for England to put up a sizable 300-plus total so that their top-quality bowling attack could defend the total. Andrew Strauss was dismissed within minutes and Robert Key (who?) followed half an hour later.

Marcus Trescothick then played the innings of his life on a good bowling track against a very good South Africa attack. Michael Vaughan supported him in a third-wicket stand of 120-plus but soon England was tottering at 222 for 6. In the company of Ashley Giles, Trescothick counterattacked and took their total to 332. He faced only 248 balls and scored two-thirds of his runs in boundaries. Trescothick's HSI (High Score Index) was a creditable 1.95.

The fact that England won by 77 runs was a just reward for Trescothick's wonderful effort.

2. Test # 1716. Pakistan v Sri Lanka

Played on 20,21,22,23,24 October 2004
  at Iqbal Stadium, Faisalabad.
Sri Lanka won by 201 runs

Sri Lanka : 243 all out Pakistan : 264 all out Sri Lanka : 438 all out ST Jayasuriya 253 (2.71) Pakistan : 216 all out

Faisalabad: a batting paradise. Not really, during the autumn of 2004. The first two innings terminated either side of 250, Pakistan having a useful first-innings lead of 21. Marvan Atapattu was dismissed by a snorter from Shoaib Akhtar in the first over. Sanath Jayasuriya then played, what I feel, is one of the greatest innings ever played. I don't say this lightly. This innings deserves to be considered alongside many well-known classics.

Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, with two fifties, supported Jayasuriya, but after Jayawardene departed at 216, Jayasuriya cut loose. He scored three-fourths of a near-century stand with Thilan Samaraweera. Then wickets fell steadily and Sri Lanka slumped to 337 for 8. Jayasuriya added 101 for the ninth wicket in the company of Dilhara Fernando, who contributed a solitary run. Jayasuriya was out after a superlative innings of 253 in 348 balls. The HSI for this innings is an excellent 2.71.

This match is similar to the previous one in many ways. Pakistan were deflated when they were set to score 417 and were dismissed for 216. Unfortunately in my previous Ratings work, this innings lost some of its sheen because of Faisalabad's numbers. I have corrected that now and am using the match level BQI/PQI (Bowling Quality Index/Pitch Quality Index).

3. Test # 1594. New Zealand v England

Played on 13,14,15,16 March 2002
  at Jade Stadium, Christchurch.
England won by 98 runs

England : 228 all out New Zealand : 147 all out England : 468 for 6 wkt(s) New Zealand : 451 all out NJ Astle 222 (1.57)

This is an innings straight from the fantasy land. New Zealand was dead and buried and the fat lady had started to practise her notes. As they were on the third day of the recent Wellington Test a few minutes after lunch, until Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling happened. On that summer's day in March 2002, New Zealand had reached 119 for 3, chasing 550 runs when Nathan Astle walked in.

I think I can insist that that this masterpiece should be in everyone's top 20 innings. Astle scored 222 in 168 balls, crossing the boundary 39 times, 11 of them aerially. Stephen Fleming gave him some support to start with and then Craig McMillan. But New Zealand moved to 333 for 9 when an injured Chris Cairns walked in. Then followed a period of 15 overs in which 118 runs were scored. I can tell you, the England team was shaken. Less than 100 runs were needed when Astle was caught behind. His single-handed effort overshadowed other excellent efforts from Graham Thorpe, Andrew Caddick and Matthew Hoggard. This was not just an innings of a lifetime. This was an innings which is talked of as one of the best sporting moments in their history, in a country in which cricket takes a back seat to rugby.

Trust New Zealand to produce such from-the-edge-of-precipice efforts. As I write this, I do not know how the Wellington Test will end. But if New Zealand win, McCullum's innings would be right at the top, challenging for a top-five position. The similarities between the Kolkata Test and the Wellington Test are many. Will India be at the receiving end tomorrow? PS: Not really. The pitch is still almost perfect, unlike the Kolkata one. McCullum's innings will not get the additional credit for match win. Note that he does not lose anything just because the match is drawn.

4. Test # 1403. South Africa v Pakistan

Played on 26,27,28 February, 1,2 March 1998
  at Kingsmead, Durban.
Pakistan won by 29 runs

Pakistan : 259 all out Azhar Mahmood 132 (1.62) South Africa: 231 all out Pakistan : 226 all out South Africa: 225 all out

This was a Wisden top-ten innings. However, I can never tire of elevating this gem to a pedestal. Azhar Mahmood walked in at 89 for 5. Saw the innings plummeting to 127 for 6, 142 for 7 and 153 for 8. He scored 132 of the 170 runs scored after he entered and added 117 runs with the late-order batsmen, their total contribution being 14. His innings was studded with 24 fours. All against Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers and Shaun Pollock.

That Pakistan won a rare away victory, that too against the formidable South Africa, was again a tribute to Mahmood's wonderful innings. Mention must be made of a nearly equal effort from Saeed Anwar in the second innings, when he scored 118 out of 226.

5. Test # 1444. India v Pakistan

Played on 16,17,18,19,20 February 1999
  at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta.
Pakistan won by 46 runs

Pakistan : 185 all out India : 223 all out Pakistan : 316 all out Saeed Anwar 188* (2.08) India : 232 all out

Now Saeed Anwar is on his own. From 26 for 6, Pakistan recovered to 185 through Moin Khan and Wasim Akram, and still conceded a lead of 38. I am amazed at how similar this innings of Saeed Anwar is to those of Trescothick and Jayasuriya. One fifty as support. Nothing otherwise, and Saeed Anwar carried his bat through the innings, scoring 188 out of 316. The HSI was a creditable 2.06.

The strong Pakistani bowling line-up ran through India for 232 runs, winning narrowly by 46 runs. There is no denying the contributions of Akram, Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq. But the target would have been a nominal one but for Saeed Anwar's magnificent effort.

6. Test # 1129. Australia v New Zealand

Played on 24,25,26,27,28 November 1989
  at W.A.C.A. Ground, Perth.
Match drawn
Australia : 521 for 9 wkt(s) New Zealand : 231 all out New Zealand : 322 for 7 wkt(s) MJ Greatbatch 146* (1.43)

Mark Greatbatch, who later became famous for his attacking scoring as an ODI opener, played one of the greatest defensive innings of all time at the WACA in 1989. The first two innings followed the script and New Zealand started the third innings, 290 behind. Soon they were 11 for 2 and the writing of an innings victory was on the wall.

Greatbatch played a defensive classic, scoring 146 in 485 balls in nearly 11 hours of concentration and took New Zealand to safety at 322 for 7. Even at 234 for 7, New Zealand looked likely to lose. Then Greatbatch added 88 runs for the eighth wicket in 50 overs, in company of Martin Snedden, who faced over 140 balls. Let us not forget that this was against Terry Alderman, Geoff Lawson, Carl Rackemann and Merv Hughes. I would probably put Dennis Amiss, Michael Atherton and Faf du Plessis' efforts ahead of this in terms of match-saving innings.

7. Test # 1065. Australia v England

Played on 10,11,12,14,15 January 1987
  at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Australia won by 55 runs

Australia : 343 all out DM Jones 184* (3.14) England : 275 all out Australia : 251 all out England : 264 all out

A Test match of medium scores was won by Australia because of their above-par first-innings effort. On the opening day and continuing, Australia were struggling and could never come to terms with the pitch and the English bowling attack. Only one batsman, Dean Jones, mastered the conditions. He came in at 8 for 1, saw through steady fall of wickets and remained unbeaten on a final score of 343, which proved to be a match-winning score. There was very little support. This is shown by the very high HSI of 3.14.

The value of the 184* (and 343) can be gauged by the fact that three 250-plus innings followed and the final margin was only 55 runs.

Is this better than the energy-sapping 200-plus innings of Jones in Madras, four months previously, in that tie? I find it difficult to put one above the other. To carve two masterpieces in one season is something very few can boast about.

8. Test # 915. Australia v West Indies

Played on 26,27,28,29,30 December 1981
  at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Australia won by 58 runs

Australia : 198 all out KJ Hughes 100* (2.60) West Indies : 201 all out Australia : 222 all out West Indies : 161 all out

This, like Mahmood's innings, was in the top ten of the Wisden 100. One of the best innings ever played against the West Indian quartet (it does not matter who were the four) of pace bowlers. In this case it was Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. This was the defining innings of the match. Without Kim Hughes' unbeaten 100, Australia might not have crossed 100 and West Indies would have rolled them over. Coming in at 8 for 3, Hughes scored 100 out of the 190 runs that were added. He faced 200 balls, each one from an express fast bowler. The HSI of 2.6 indicates the lack of support, the next best score being 21.

West Indies secured a lead of only 3 runs and were dismissed for 161 while chasing 219, against Dennis Lillee - who achieved multiple milestones in this Test - Alderman, Lawson and Bruce Yardley. The fact that 40 wickets fell for 782 runs indicates the immense value of Hughes' innings.

9. Test # 788. India v England

Played on 17,18,19,21,22 December 1976
  at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi.
England won by an innings and 25 runs

England : 381 all out DL Amiss 179 (1.15) India : 122 all out India : 234 all out

Touring India was a very difficult task during 1970s, with any three out of the four spinners ready to weave their magic on tailor-made wickets. Amiss may not be considered in the top-five group of England openers but he has played a few away classics and is the only one to appear in this collection twice. England slumped to 65 for 4 and 125 for 5 but recovered due solely to Amiss' epochal innings of 179 and the stands he essayed with Alan Knott and John Lever. He mastered the conditions and the bowlers beautifully.

A first-innings score of 381 was always going to be a huge score and proved enough. Lever destroyed India for 122, capturing 7 for 46. Was this the Vaseline match? Who cares? There was no nonsense of not enforcing the follow-on and England won comfortably by an innings.

10. Test # 732. West Indies v England

Played on 16,17,19,20,21 February 1974
  at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica.
Match drawn

England : 353 all out West Indies : 583 for 9 wkt(s) England : 432 for 9 wkt(s) DL Amiss 262* (4.62)

If I am asked what the best match-winning innings ever was, I might hesitate and take some time. But if I am asked what the best match-saving innings ever was, I will reply in five seconds: Dennis Amiss' 262 in Kingston in 1974. If anyone did not know about this innings, it is time they familiarised themselves with this classic.

England scored a very useful 353, with no big contribution from anyone. Then West Indies declared with a lead of 230. It must be admitted that this was not one of West Indies' vintage attacks, but still, Keith Boyce, Bernard Julien, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs do not constitute a weak line-up. England lost Geoff Boycott at 32 and John Jameson and Frank Hayes before 107. Amiss held the innings together and was unbeaten on 123 at an England score of 218 for 5 at close of the fourth day, still in arrears.

On the fifth day, with no real support, Amiss added 139 to his score out of the 214 added to England's score. At 343 for 8, England looked like losing. Then Pat Pocock scored an invaluable 4 in 88 balls and helped Amiss add 49 runs for the ninth wicket in nearly 30 overs. The last-wicket partnership added a further 40 runs. Amiss faced 563 balls in his near-ten-hour epic.

His HSI is a huge 4.62, the next highest score being 38 and he scoring well over 60% of his team score. Amongst hundreds, Amiss' HSI is bettered only by Charles Bannerman, VVS Laxman, Graham Yallop and Kapil Dev. His HSI is the highest amongst the double-centurions.

11. Test # 320. South Africa v Australia

Played on 20,21,23,24 January 1950
  at Kingsmead, Durban.
Australia won by 5 wickets

South Africa: 311 all out Australia : 75 all out South Africa: 99 all out Australia : 336 for 5 wkt(s) RN Harvey 151* (1.32)

This is one of my favourite Test innings. Australia went 236 runs behind. The follow-on was not enforced. Promptly South Africa were dismissed for 99: shades of Auckland 2014. Australia had the impossible target of 336 to achieve in the last innings against Hugh Tayfield and company, Tayfield having captured seven wickets for 23 in the first innings.

Neil Harvey essayed his career-best innings of 151 and took Australia to an unlikely five-wicket win. It was a tough task when they were 95 for 4 but Harvey added 135 and 106 runs for the next two wickets in the company of Sam Loxton and Colin McCool. Harvey mastered the difficult offspin of Tayfield completely. Because of the good support and the below 50% share of team score Harvey's HSI is 1.32.

12. Test # 56. Australia v England

Played on 29, 31 January, 1,2 February 1898
  at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Australia won by 8 wickets

Australia : 323 all out C Hill 188 (2.41) England : 174 all out England : 263 all out Australia : 115 for 2 wkt(s)

I never tire of talking about Clem Hill's magnificent innings, especially since most people, me included, did not know of this until the Wisden 100 appeared on the horizon. New Year Test at the MCG in 1898, a mere 115 years back. Jack Hearne runs through the Australian top order and they faced utter catastrophe at 58 for 6. Hill played one of the most significant pre-WW1 innings. He scored 188 and was dismissed at 303 for 9. In between he added 165 for the seventh wicket, 60 for the eighth wicket and took Australia to a match-winning 323.

The HSI of Hill's innings was 2.41 since he scored 60% of his team's score and the next highest innings was 46. English bowling was very good: Tom Richardson, Hearne and Johnny Briggs.

Finally a revisit of my own top ten. The core seven innings will always be there. Don Bradman's 270, Brain Lara's 153*, Graham Gooch's 154, Ian Botham's 149, Laxman's 281, Mahmood's 132 and Hill's 188. To which I will now add Jayasuriya's 253, Amiss' 262* and Saeed Anwar's 188*. Okay, let me make it a nice XI by adding Astle's 222. Do I hear "one more"? I will add Harvey's 151* and get to a round dozen.

A request to the readers. This is not a list of the best Test innings. I have only highlighted the innings which have gone off the radar. So please do not come out with comments like "Where is the 153?", "Why is the 136 not included?", "The 188 does not deserve to be included" and the likes.

Please click on the headers to view the match scorecard

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