Hansie Cronje 82 from 63 balls, South Africa v Sri Lanka, Centurion, 1997-98
Set a target of 226, South Africa had slipped to 99 for 3 against Muttiah Muralitharan when Cronje unfurled one of the most furious assaults by a South African in Test cricket. He had been out stumped off Murali in the first innings but this time he went after the chief threat in thrilling fashion, playing several of his famous slog sweeps. He started with a square-cut boundary and a lofted six in the second over he faced from Murali, and went on to biff a few more boundaries. The highlight was the way he reached his fifty. With three men on the leg-side boundary, he hit Murali for a four and three consecutive sixes, and held his arms aloft as the third sailed over the boundary. It was the second-fastest fifty in Test cricket then, just one ball slower than Kapil Dev's effort against Pakistan in 1982-83. Cronje took South Africa within 11 runs of the target before he was caught at long-on; in all, he had hit eight fours and six sixes.
Gilbert Jessop 104 in 77 minutes, 80 balls, England v Australia, The Oval, 1902
It was the innings that epitomised cricket's Golden Age, and it remains one of the great knocks in a chase. Set 263 to win, England were tottering at 48 for 5 when Jessop pulled off a brilliant counter-attack. He lofted the fast bowlers three times into the pavilion, hit 17 fours and an all-run five, and added 109 runs for the sixth wicket with FS Jackson, who contributed 18, to pull off a heist: England won by one wicket.
Charles Macartney 151 in 172 minutes, England v Australia, Headingley, 1926
Australia were put in to bat on a sticky wicket and had lost Warren Bardsley for a golden duck. Macartney strode out to the middle, and is supposed to have told the bowler, Maurice Tate: "Let's have it!" It was almost anti-climactic. Macartney was dropped on two when he edged the fifth ball of the day to slip. Within a few manic minutes of violent batting, though, he seized the momentum. He played a whole range of shots, charged down the track on a wicket with variable bounce, and played a few late cuts that were described by Raymond Robertson-Glasgow as being "so late they are almost posthumous". He reserved his best for George Macaulay, who he thought was England's most dangerous bowler; after an expensive display of 1 for 123, Macaulay never played against Australia again. By lunch Macartney had scored 112 in 116 minutes. Pelham Warner called it the greatest innings he had ever seen. Macartney's knock helped Australia reach 494, and England were forced to follow-on. In later life Macartney voiced his displeasure against modern batsmen: "I can't bear watching luscious half-volleys being nudged gently back to bowlers."
Viv Richards 110 off 58 balls, West Indies v England, Antigua, 1985-86
Richards loved pummelling England, and this was an awe-inspiring knock even by his own lofty standards. He launched a thunderous assault to break the previous record for the fastest hundred by 11 balls. "It was one of those days when everything, even mis-hits, went to the boundary," he recalled. "In a sense, I did everything to get out, but luckily for me, everything went off the middle of the bat. The crowd was jumping and the car horns were blowing all round the island." Ian Botham leaked 0 for 78 off 15 overs and England ended up losing a Test they could have drawn. Richards' knock allowed West Indies to declare after making 246 runs at 5.72 runs per over and gave them enough time to bowl England out. The Wisden Almanack noted: "Botham and [John] Emburey never had fewer than six men on the boundary, and sometimes nine, yet whatever length or line they bowled, Richards had a stroke for it."
Ian Botham 118 off 102 balls, England v Australia, Old Trafford, 1981
It was the summer Botham became the most popular English cricketer ever. At Old Trafford he fell for a golden duck in the first innings, but hammered 118 with 13 fours and six sixes against an attack of Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Mike Whitney in the second; and England's 103-run victory ended Australia's push to regain the Ashes. England had taken a 101-run lead in the first innings, but they squandered the initiative in the second, collapsing to 104 for 5. Botham then turned the game on its head with an imperious knock in which he reached his hundred in 86 balls. He started slowly, getting to 28 runs in 53 balls, before exploding against the new ball, smashing 66 off eight overs by tea - including three hooked sixes off Lillee and a brutal pull off Alderman that landed to the left of the pavilion. Botham had changed the complexion of the game within an hour of violent batting.
Gordon Greenidge 214 from 242 balls, England v West Indies, Lord's, 1984
England had declared at 300 for 9 to set West Indies a target of 342 to win in less than a day, when a limping Greenidge stunned the hosts with a furious assault featuring shots all around the park. Prior to this knock Greenidge had been struggling, scoring only 85 runs in six innings in England, but he rewrote the form book here with an eviscerating double, with 29 fours and two sixes. He shared an unbeaten 287-run second-wicket stand with Larry Gomes, and England were overwhelmed by nine wickets. "It was Greenidge's day, the innings of his life," Wisden noted, "and his ruthless batting probably made the bowling look worse than it was."
Adam Gilchrist 204 off 213 balls, South Africa v Australia, Johannesburg, 2002
It was the quickest double-hundred at the time. Gilchrist literally toyed with the South African attack, so much so that at one point he decided to target an advertising hoarding, hitting which carried a prize of a bar of gold worth 1.3 million rand. The board, beyond the deep midwicket boundary, was about 30 feet in the air. Gilchrist nearly found it off a delivery from Neil McKenzie and was seen jumping up and down as he watched the ball move towards its target. "Gilchrist was playing with them like a cat keeping a half-dead mouse alive for entertainment," Wisden said. The innings was also special for its off- field context. Gilchrist cried after reaching his hundred and later explained his reaction: "I went out to bat on day one and there were banners asking about, you know, 'Who's the father of your child?' And there were others saying, 'It was Slater, Slater,' and the crowd were yelling out things. So I was pretty upset and emotional." In the end, by his admission, he had no control over what happened: the first time he had cried on the field. "It's the toughest thing I've had to get through in my cricketing career and my public life as a public person," he said.
Roy Fredericks 169 from 145 balls, Australia v West Indies, Perth, 1975-76
Many experts reckon it was the most audacious innings in Test history. Fredericks was so brutal that Lillee and Thomson ended up with combined figures of 251 runs from 37 overs on a lightning-fast, bouncy WACA track. They kept digging it in short to him and he kept hooking them. The faster they bowled, the quicker he scythed through the line. He reached 50 off 33 balls and 100 in 71, and led West Indies to an innings victory. "You can't tell nobody to hook. It's about confidence," Fredericks said later.
Viv Richards 61 off 36 balls, West Indies v India, Kingston, 1982-83
West Indies needed 172 runs from 26 overs to win the Test on the final day when Richards got stuck in with yet another flamboyant innings. His shoulder was hurting but he shrugged it off to launch a stunning assault. He walked in at 65 for 2 and hit a six for his first scoring shot; he hit three more as he indulged himself against the hapless attack. Even Kapil Dev, who bowled well to pick up four wickets, ended up conceding 73 runs in 13 overs. The rest weren't up to scratch: Mohinder Amarnath was hit for 17 runs in an over, and leaked 34 from 2.2; Balwinder Singh Sandhu and S Venkataraghavan couldn't keep Richards quiet either. He eventually got out with West Indies 16 runs short of target, but they won with four balls to spare.
Roy McLean 76 in 80 minutes, Australia v South Africa, Melbourne, 1953
South Africa, considered no-hopers before the series, won the second Test - their first victory over Australia for 42 years - and entered the last day of the fifth and final Test needing 295 to level the series 2-2. At 191 for 4, with the game in the balance, McLean hit a fine, unbeaten 76 (in a partnership of 106). Before he walked out, he had told his captain, Jack Cheetham, "Don't worry, Pop, I'll get them." And so he did, helping South Africa grab a surprise series-levelling win.
JT Brown 140 in 145 minutes, Australia v England, Melbourne, 1894-95
England won the first two Tests before Australia took the next two. Everything depended on the final Test. Set 297 to win, England were precariously placed at 28 for 2 when Brown walked in and immediately imposed himself in the proceedings. He brought up his fifty in 28 minutes, and went briskly on to 88, where he was dropped by George Giffen at slip off Harry Trott. Almost immediately, Brown lifted Trott into the members' pavilion. His 100 came up in 95 minutes, and by the time he was out he had added 210 with Albert Ward and helped England clinch the series. The Sydney Morning Herald noted, "The spectators rose in a body and cheered Brown again and again as he came in after his grand innings."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo