March 11, 2017

They stood on the burning deck

A selection, using the metric High Score Index (HSI), of the finest individual innings to come in unsuccessful chases in ODIs

Dave Houghton's epic 142 against New Zealand in the 1987 World cup ranks as one of the finest innings to come in ODI chases © Getty Images

It is unfortunate that the Indian viewers are not able to view matches currently being played in New Zealand. Notwithstanding the early start time, there were many viewers who watched cricket from 6am onwards. However one has to make allowance for broadcasting equations. The inability to watch becomes more painful when one hears of innings like the one Marcus Stoinis played recently. Just a perusal of the scorecard will indicate that this was among the greatest ODI innings of all time (Yes, it is true: this classic is in the 14th position in my ODI list of greatest innings ever). Why does Stoinis not play for Australia more often?' As I was writing this article, we missed another classic: Martin Guptill's match-winning 180 not out out of 280.

My mind went back 30 years. During the 1987 World Cup, Dave Houghton of Zimbabwe played a similar innings in Hyderabad, when he single-handedly defied the New Zealand team and nearly guided Zimbabwe to a famous win. I may reveal now that the very first article I ever penned was one titled: "A Hobson's choice: Which innings do you choose?" comparing the then (and for that matter, now) three classics: Viv Richards' 189 not out, Kapil Dev's 175 not out and Houghton's 142. Over 200 articles later, I still have that piece with me, unpublished but treasured.

I started thinking that I should do an anecdotal piece on such innings, which I term as the "burning deck innings". There is a lot of magic in watching those innings that failed ultimately but kept the adrenaline flowing right through. Winning is certainly something but a lone desperate show evokes equal empathy. In this article I will look at such "burning deck" innings. This is my relief article, free of tables.

The criteria are simple. These are chasing innings in a losing cause, with High Score Index values above 1.5 and the margins of losses not very big. The Faf du Plessis innings of 126, out of 220, while chasing 283, in the Harare match against Australia, does not qualify. Nor does Guptill's match-winning 180 not out. I created a temporary table of 38 qualifying innings and then selected a baker's dozen for featuring in this article. All the selected innings are in the top 20 of that table.

The HSI concept in ODIs was developed by me back in 2013 and was covered in this article. Since then quite a few innings have excelled on the HSI front. For the innings top score, the formula for HSI is (Batsman score / Next High score) * (Batsman score / Team score-Extras). This is a terrific measure, easy to compute and understand, but one that encompasses the support factor and the contribution of batsman to team score.

Let us now move on to the matches, presented in reverse chronological order. I am happy that the Houghton masterpiece is there, on merit.

1. ODI# 3829. New Zealand won by six runs
January 30, 2017, Auckland
New Zealand: 286 for 9 in 50.0 overs, Australia: 280 all out in 47.0 overs
Marcus Stoinis 146* (117)
Australia, without many of their leading batsmen, visited New Zealand earlier in the year for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. In the first match, New Zealand put up a good, if not formidable, total of 286. Stoinis, playing only his second ODI match, was the best bowler, with a good spell of 3 for 49. Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Lockie Ferguson ripped through the Australian top order and the innings was in shambles at 54 for 5 when Stoinis walked in. The next wicket fell at 67 and visions of a sub-100 total cropped up.

Stoinis went on to play the innings of his life. He had reasonable support from an uncharacteristically patient James Faulkner and a belligerent Pat Cummins. Stoinis added 81, 48, 30 and 54 for the last four wickets. The last batsman was run out when Australia needed seven to win. Stoinis' innings contained exactly 100 runs in boundaries. He scored 146 out of the 226 added while at the crease. The amazing feature of this effort was the last-wicket partnership, which lasted 24 balls and added 54 runs - all made by Stoinis. I do not recollect an instance when a player scored all the runs and faced all the balls in a 50-plus partnership. Josh Hazlewood finished with a score of 0 (0). He was run out going for the run to let Stoinis keep strike. The last 24 balls read: 0, 0, 5w, 6, 6, 0, 1; 0, 6, 4, 6, 0, 1; 2, 0, 0, 0, 4, 1; 0, 0, 0, 6, 6, W. A series of even numbers, punctuated by the perfectly scored odd run. The HSI of the extraordinary innings of Stoinis was 2.23.

David Warner played a magnificent innings in Cape Town as Australia were looking to avoid a whitewash against South Africa © Associated Press

2. ODI# 3795. South Africa won by 31 runs
October 12, 2016, Cape Town
South Africa: 327 for 8 in 50.0 overs, Australia: 296 all out in 48.2 overs
David Warner 173 (136)
South Africa were leading Australia 4-0 when they moved on to Newlands for the last match. A well-paced hundred by Rilee Rossouw took them to a formidable total of 327. David Warner, playing one of the greatest of chasing innings ever, scored 173 in 136 balls and almost single-handedly took Australia within striking distance of the target. He had support in the form of two 35s. Warner was ninth out at 288, run out trying to retain strike. It was rare innings of great control - Warner hit 24 fours and no six. This was a true batting masterclass. The HSI value was a huge 3.04.

3. ODI# 3056. Bangladesh won by nine runs
October 14, 2010, Mirpur
Bangladesh: 241 all out in 48.1 overs, New Zealand: 232 all out in 49.3 overs
Kane Williamson 108 (132)
This was a low-scoring match with two terrific hundreds, one finishing on the losing side. Shakib Al Hasan made an almost run-a-ball 106, coming in at 44 for 3, and took Bangladesh to a fighting 241. This was Mirpur, with good help for spinners, and New Zealand's task was not going to be simple. The two innings followed remarkably identical patterns. The scores of the first four batsmen were 37, 0, 17, 6 and 21, 6, 16, 3 respectively. Kane Williamson entered at 35 for 3 and held the innings together beautifully. There was some support from Grant Elliott and Nathan McCullum, but nothing substantial. He played a lone hand and his 106 kept New Zealand in the game until the end. He was last out with ten runs required off four balls. The HSI was 1.57.

4. ODI# 2991. Sri Lanka won by 16 runs
June 15, 2010, Dambulla
Sri Lanka: 242 for 9 in 50.0 overs, Pakistan: 226 all out in 47.0 overs
Shahid Afridi 109 (76)
In the 2010 Asia Cup held in Sri Lanka, the hosts played Pakistan and struggled to post a first-innings total of 242. No single batsman really took control. There were only three scores over 40. Pakistan started disastrously and slumped to 32 for 4 when Shahid Afridi walked in. First, in the company of Umar Akmal, then his brother Kamran, Afridi played arguably his best innings for Pakistan. There was clean hitting in the form of eight fours and seven sixes. He was dismissed at 205 for 7, scoring 109 out of 173 runs scored while he was at the crease. Muttiah Muralitharan, the crafty genius, went for 71 in ten overs, but he captured the important wicket of Afridi, after which, Pakistan fell away and lost by 16 runs. Afridi's HSI value was 1.88.

The three-run defeat against Australia in Hyderabad was heart-breaking for Sachin Tendulkar, who had led the chase with 175 © Getty Images

5. ODI# 2923. Australia won by three runs
November 5, 2009, Hyderabad
Australia: 350 for 4 in 50 overs, India: 347 all out in 49.4 overs
Sachin Tendulkar 175 (141)
This was an innings I will never forget since I consider this to be the best ODI innings Sachin Tendulkar played. The Australian batting line-up did very well to set India the huge task of 351. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag started well and put on 66. The next three batsmen contributed single-digit scores, and at 162 for 4, it was touch and go. Suresh Raina played an excellent supporting innings of 59 and helped add 137 for the sixth wicket.

India looked like winning when they needed 52 in eight overs with six wickets in hand. However, Raina and Harbhajan Singh fell within the space of four balls and the pendulum swung back towards Australia. Then Ravindra Jadeja played an excellent cameo and India nosed ahead. With 19 needed off 18 balls, and Tendulkar and Jadeja at the crease, it seemed like a cakewalk. Then the unthinkable happened. Tendulkar tried a paddle sweep, there was a top edge, and a catch to short fine leg.

Still the match was there to be won and the rest of the Indian batsmen failed, as they did in the Chennai Test against Pakistan ten years previously. India fell three runs short. I can never forget the desperation on Tendulkar's face. A great player silently mouthing the words: "What more should I do?" The HSI was 1.57.

6. ODI# 2587. Asia XI won by 34 runs
June 6, 2007, Bangalore
Asia XI: 317 for 9 in 50 overs, Africa XI: 283 all out in 47.5 overs
Shaun Pollock 130 (110)
Normally, I would never feature a totally inconsequential almost-exhibition type match in a list like this. A contest in Bangalore between an Asian XI and an African XI, with two more such matches to follow in Chennai. We would have to look far and wide to find a more meaningless match - hat too, in the month of June in India. But this match produced a masterpiece. The Asian XI batted consistently and reached 317, with contributions from almost all the batsmen.

In 20.1 overs the African XI reached 87 for 7. Shaun Pollock had come in at 31 for 5 and was staring at a total disaster. Elton Chigumbura joined Pollock and started playing attractively. Both the batsmen batted with freedom and added 67 in just over ten overs. But the fall of Chigumbura at 154 meant that the African XI was running out of wickets. In came Kenya's Thomas Odoyo, who scored a quick-fire 39. Pollock and Odoyo added another 103 runs in just over 12 overs. Despite the frivolous nature of the contest, an amazing win was on the horizon. Unfortunately Odoyo was dismissed at 257 and Pollock had to attack in a desperate manner. He was last out at 287. His 130 was worth its weight in gold and had an HSI value of 1.55.

7. ODI# 1944. Sri Lanka won by 47 runs
February 10, 2003, Bloemfontein
Sri Lanka: 272 for 7 in 50 overs, New Zealand: 225 all out in 45.3 overs
Scott Styris 141 (125)
During the 2003 World Cup, Scott Styris played, arguably, one of the top ten best World Cup innings ever. Fired by an excellent run-a-ball hundred by Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka reached 272. New Zealand slumped to 15 for 3, Styris having come in at 2 for 2. Styris and Chris Cairns staged a partial recovery and reached 93 when two wickets fell quickly. The situation was desperate at 94 for 5. Despite limited support from the low order, Styris played magnificently and took the total to 225 for 9 when he was dismissed in the 46th over. His 141 was scored out of 223 and had an HSI value of 2.96. The lack of support and the very high percentage of team score contributed to this high HSI value. This gem was unarguably his finest innings for New Zealand and among the five best ever ODI innings played by New Zealand batsmen.

Shaun Pollock made his maiden ODI hundred, in Afro-Asia Cup match in Bangalore, 2007 © AFP

8. ODI# 1876. India won by 14 runs
September 14, 2002, Colombo
India: 288 for 6 in 50 overs, Zimbabwe: 274 for 8 in 50 overs
Andy Flower 145 (164)
In a pool game of the 2002 Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, India, batting first, were in some trouble at 87 for 5. Mohammad Kaif, with a measured hundred, and Rahul Dravid, with a half-century, took the score to a very competitive 288. The Sri Lankan pitches of the tournament were not the usual subcontinental concrete tracks and this seemed enough, especially when Zimbabwe were 43 for 2 in the 11th over. Andy Flower added 84 runs with his brother, Grant. Then Guy Whittall added 71 and Dougie Marillier 39 with Andy Flower. Through all these wickets, Flower was batting in a magnificent manner and he finally fell at 263 and Zimbabwe finished 14 runs short. The HSI of Andy Flower's innings was 2.63, again a combination of below-average support and a high share of the team score.

9. ODI# 1672. Australia won by 28 runs (D/L)
January 17, 2001, Sydney
Australia: 277 for 4 in 50 overs, West Indies: 211 for 8 in 42.4 overs
Brian Lara 116* (106)
With every top-order batsman contributing, Australia put up a good total of 277. This was a huge target considering the Australian attack was formidable with Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Nathan Bracken.

West Indies never got going, and it was as if Brian Lara was batting on a different pitch than his team-mates. He had good partnerships with Sherwin Campbell and Ricardo Powell, however, what was important was the partnership for the ninth wicket, worth 45 runs, with Colin Stuart contributing 3. At 211 for 8, it was an uphill task for West Indies with 67 needed from 44 balls. However Lara was still there, playing a memorable innings. And then the heavens opened up. SCG was flooded, the match was washed out and Australia won by 28 runs. Lara had played an "Unfinished Symphony". The HSI value was 2.37.

10. ODI# 1325. Australia won by 26 runs (D/L)
April 22, 1998, Sharjah
Australia: 284 for 7 in 50 overs, India: 250 for 5 in 46 overs
Sachin Tendulkar 143 (131)
This was a complex match in many ways. Australia won match by 26 runs but India won qualification to the final. The match became more relevant since India went on to win the tournament couple of days later, defeating Australia.

Australia put up 284, thanks to a lovely hundred by Michael Bevan. Then a huge dust storm came and the match was reduced to 46 overs, with India needing 276 to win and 237 to qualify ahead of New Zealand. The rest is history. Amidst mind-numbing noise and crowd support in the stadium, Tendulkar orchestrated a great chase. He was fifth out at 242, just after the qualification target was reached. The other four batsmen he batted alongside scored a total 99. ITendulkar's innings had an HSI value of 2.45.

Marcus Stoinis came at No. 7 and made a belligerent 146 not out off 117 balls against New Zealand in Auckland earlier this year © Getty Images

11. ODI# 909. New Zealand won by two runs
April 18, 1994, Sharjah
New Zealand: 217 for 8 in 50 overs, Sri Lanka: 215 for 9 in 50 overs
Asanka Gurusinha 117* (140)
This low-scoring thriller was also played in Sharjah. New Zealand put up 217. However the Sharjah pitch was a slow one and perfect for the slow-medium Kiwi trundlers. Asanka Gurusinha entered at 24 for 1 and saw the score slump to 41 for 4. Only Upul Chandana and Champaka Ramanayake reached double figures afterwards. Gurusinha held the innings together with a masterful 117. When the ninth wicket fell, Sri Lanka still needed 16 runs. Gurusinha brought it down to ten runs off the last two balls. He hit the first for six but could only get a single off the last ball. I rate this innings among the finest played by a Sri Lanka ODI batsman. The HSI was a significantly high 2.57.

12. ODI# 454. New Zealand won by three runs
October 10, 1987, Hyderabad
New Zealand: 242 for 7 in 50 overs, Zimbabwe: 239 all out in 49.4 overs
Dave Houghton 142 (137)
Finally we come to my favourite match in this collection. New Zealand managed only 242 after having being 143 for 1. Zimbabwe's batting, barring two batsmen, was in shambles, going from 10 for 2 to 104 for 7. At this juncture, Iain Butchart joined Dave Houghton, who was batting sublimely, having come in at 8 for 1. These two added 117 for the eighth wicket when Houghton was out at 221, having scored 142 out of the 213 added while he was at the crease. His innings was at a rate better than run a ball. Butchart tried to bravely carry on, but Zimbabwe fell three runs short. Houghton hit 13 fours and six sixes in a magnificent innings. Even today I rate this as one of the finest examples of skill and courage by a batsman from a less-fancied team. The HSI value was 1.62.

13. ODI# 167. New Zealand won by two runs
January 13, 1983, Melbourne
New Zealand: 239 for 8 in 50 overs, England: 237 for 8 in 50 overs
David Gower 122 (134)
In the 1982-83 B&H Cup, New Zealand met England at the MCG. New Zealand scored a middling total of 239, but they had a potent bowling line-up to trouble England. David Gower opened the innings. The only real substantial support he got was from Ian Botham, who scored 41 and added 98 for the fourth wicket. England were sitting pretty at 190 for 3 when Botham was dismissed and New Zealand tightened the screws. Derek Randall and Geoff Miller were dismissed soon and Gower, trying to match the required rate, attacked Richard Hadlee and found the fielder. Vic Marks and Bob Taylor could not finish the task and England fell two runs short. Gower's 122 was out of 223 and the HSI was 1.66.

It is amazing that the last three matches selected were won by New Zealand by the combined margin of seven runs. And in the first match featured here, played a few weeks ago, New Zealand won by six runs. It looks like New Zealand inspire batsmen to play great innings but don't not allow them to go all the way.

I normally do not add anything after an article is published. I only correct mistakes. However I have received so many comments on two innings that I am obliged to add a paragraph recognizing these two entries. I would not dwell on these innings other than provide the link. I can say that there were terrific innings. One could not be included because it did not meet the criteria. The other was not in an official ODI match.

In the ODI match at Sharjah during 1995, West Indies scored 333 and Sri Lanka replied with 329. Hashan Tillakaratne scored a magnificent 100. This could not be included since the HSI was a low 0.425. But it seems to be fondly remembered by many.

In an unofficial ODI match between Asia XI and RoW XI, played at Dhaka during 2000, Michael Bevan played a mind-blowing innings of 185* while chasing 321. The RoW XI fell one run short. The HSI of this innings is 4.116. Unfortunately it is not an official match. Maybe it should be. I myself had forgotten about this innings. Many thanks to the readers who referred to these two innings.

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

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