Go fourth and win

The top run-chases in Tests

Will Luke and Martin Williamson

October 23, 2008

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Successful fourth-innings run-chases are a rare commodity, but two have now come in two months. This Cricinfo XI was originally written when New Zealand knocked off 317 to beat Bangladesh in October


Ramnaresh Sarwan and Glenn McGrath during their heated exchange in the Antigua Test of 2003, which West Indies won, chasing down the biggest target in history © Getty Images
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West Indies v Australia, St John's, 2003 - 418
Few gave West Indies, a side on the decline, any hope of achieving the biggest ever run-chase, especially when they wobbled to 74 for 3 on the penultimate day against the might of Australia. Stuart MacGill was no replacement for Shane Warne, but he did remove Brian Lara - attempting another out-of-the-ground six - and with him, so Australia assumed, went West Indies' chances. Not so. Shivnarine Chanderpaul (who had a broken finger) and Ramnaresh Sarwan stood firm with a calming fifth-wicket stand of 123, and Australia began to panic in their own inimitable fashion - not helped by Glenn McGrath and Sarwan's enraged verbals. Sarwan and Chanderpaul fell in quick succession, and the match was beautifully poised for the fifth morning: Australia needed four wickets, West Indies 47 runs. As it turned out, the unlikely pair of Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes showed hitherto hidden powers of concentration to calmly knock off the runs, sealing the most unlikely and memorable of victories.

India v West Indies, Port-of-Spain, 1976 - 406
The Test that heralded the start of two decades of relentless pace bowling by West Indies. Set a record 406 to win, India, led by hundreds from Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath, cruised home with six wickets to spare. West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, whose attack had included three spinners, who took a dismal 2 for 220 between them in the fourth innings, was left seething at the impotency of his bowlers. For the series decider he went for four pacemen plus a lone slow bowler, who in the event only bowled ten overs. India were literally battered into submission by hostile, quick bowling and Lloyd had seen the future... and little of it was pitched in the batsman's half of the track.

Australia v England, Headingley, 1948 - 404
While Don Bradman's Invincibles are remembered as the side who swept all before them in the first post-war Ashes tour in England, their unblemished record almost came unstuck at Leeds, where Norman Yardley declared after two overs of the final day (extending England's innings to allow them to use the heavy roller on an already-crumbling pitch) to set Australia a seemingly impossible target. But England's bowling and fielding fell apart, with even the ever-dependable Godfrey Evans missing an easy stumping off Arthur Morris, and Bradman twice dropped. Both went on to make hundreds - Bradman's taking his record in Headingley Tests to 963 runs at 192.60 - and Australia cruised home with 13 minutes to spare.

Australia v Pakistan, Hobart, 1999 - 369
What made Australia's chase so extraordinary was their method of recovery from a slippery 126 for 5. Justin Langer dropped a heavy, stabilising anchor - well, someone had to - which allowed Adam Gilchrist near-total freedom. He exploded to one of his most thrilling hundreds, carving 149 from just 163 balls as Australia reached 369, the fourth-highest in history. It was not without controversy, however. Wasim Akram was left spitting nails at Peter Parker's decision to not give Langer out caught behind early on the fifth morning. The bowler was inconsolably incensed, and the disappointment rubbed off on Pakistan's morale. Thereafter, their tactics were strangely negative, allowing easy runs for both Langer and Gilchrist. Steve Waugh hailed it as one of Australia's greatest wins, while a devastated Wasim refused to turn up for the post-match press-conference.

Australia v West Indies, Georgetown, 1978 - 359
The background to this Test was anything other than normal. Australia were a virtual C side, decimated by defections to World Series Cricket and led by the veteran Bob Simpson, while West Indies had lost Lloyd, their captain, and most of their frontline players in a WSC-related dispute with their board. When Australia slid to 22 for 3 inside an hour, chasing 342, the game seemed done and dusted. But West Indies had six debutants and lacked bowling experience in depth. Graeme Wood and Craig Serjeant made the most of their chance, adding 251 in four-and-a-half hours, both going on to make their maiden hundreds. The balance shifted when Australia lost three wickets late on the fourth day, including Wood run out in the final over, which left Australia requiring 69 with four wickets in hand overnight. On the final morning, though, West Indies bowled poorly, dropped chances, and took only one more wicket.


Another crucial miss for England as Don Bradman is dropped at slip during his hundred in Leeds in 1948 © The Cricketer
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England v West Indies, Lord's, 1984 - 342
Until 1984, England had just about managed to keep a finger hold in series against Lloyd's all-conquering West Indies, but that changed with the Lord's Test of that summer. David Gower's side enjoyed that rarest of beasts, a first-innings lead, and declared, setting West Indies 342 to get in 330 minutes. Gower had been lambasted in the media for taking his batsmen off for bad light the evening before, when runs were coming easily, but there was little he could do in the face of a brutal fifth-day onslaught by one man. Gordon Greenidge had 84 runs in his six previous innings against England, but he ripped the form book to shreds by making 214 not out, adding an unbeaten 287 for the second wicket with Larry Gomes as England were thrashed by nine wickets. Gower, the first English captain to have lost after declaring in 36 years, was typically laidback, stating "it was a shame to lose". The series was lost 0-5, and West Indies won 12 of the next 13 Tests between the two countries.

Sri Lanka v South Africa, Colombo, 2006 - 352
A mental watershed for Sri Lanka cricket: the marriage of talent with, at last, mind. The making was a classic, nerve-jangling Test in Colombo, where Sri Lanka nudged and crawled to the daunting target of 352 with one wicket to spare. Their captain, Mahela Jayawardene, was unbeaten on a masterful 117 going into the final day, and Sri Lanka had a four-wicket cushion with just 19 runs needed. But South Africa had other ideas, springing into life despite the absence of an injured Makhaya Ntini. The pressure told on Jayawardene, who attempted a huge shot and was caught at slip, while AB de Villiers did a Jonty at gully to remove Chaminda Vaas. With two needed, Muttiah Muralitharan - a frighteningly unpredictable No. 10 - attempted to hit Andrew Hall into the road, leaving South Africa needing just one more wicket. Lasith Malinga held his nerve, however, to seal a genuine nail-biter.

Australia v India, Perth, 1977 - 339
Bobby Simpson, nearly 42 years old, was the difference in a match that swung unpredictably each day. His resilient 176 put Australia on almost even terms with India's first innings of 402, and though India's batsmen again promised riches in their second innings, they fell marginally short. From the commanding position of 240 for 1, with Sunil Gavaskar (127) and Mohinder Amarnath (100) going well, they lost 8 for 90. Australia set off in pursuit of 339 in reasonable fashion, though they required a night-watchman in Tony Mann late on the fourth evening after the openers fell. This was a blessing in disguise, however, as Mann went on to score his first and only hundred. At 295 for 4, Simpson and Peter Toohey were guiding Australia home before a brilliant piece of fielding from Madan Lal sent Simpson packing, shortly followed by Kim Hughes, setting Australian nerves jangling, but they still crept across the line. Australia went on to win the series 3-2, Simpson topping the averages with 539 at 53.90.

Australia v South Africa, Cape Town, 2002 - 331
This was Warne's 100th Test, and he made absolutely sure his name was scrawled all over the scorecard for posterity. His cavalier 63 in Australia's first innings ensured a big first-innings lead in a thrilling stand with Gilchrist. Then, though he took six wickets in South Africa's second dig, they came in 70 overs of grunt, leaving Australia to chase a daunting 331. Well, Australia had won four on the trot: why not make it five? Langer (58) and Matthew Hayden (96) took them close, but it was Ricky Ponting who sealed a brilliant victory with a sublime hundred. To steal the glory away from Warne, who was (inevitably) there with him at the other end, Ponting hit the winnings runs and reached his hundred with the same stroke, off Paul Adams. It was all too easy, too clinical.

Australia v South Africa, Durban, 1950 - 336
One of Test cricket's great comebacks was completed by Australia at Kingsmead when, after being bowled out for 75 and conceding a first-innings lead of 236, they dismissed South Africa for 99 and then knocked off the 336 required with five wickets and 25 minutes to spare. The game turned on Dudley Nourse's decision not to enforce the follow-on in the light of forecasts of rain, but it backfired, although when Australia slipped to 95 for 4, it seemed he would get away with it. Neil Harvey played a brilliant innings of 151 not out, consistently using his feet to negate the potency of the spinners - an innings that Wisden remarked, "left a lasting impression upon all who witnessed it".

South Africa v Australia, Durban, 2002 - 335
By this game Australia were knackered. In back-to-back series they had walloped South Africa five times in succession. There was nothing left in the tank, nothing for them to prove. Nevertheless, South Africa's run-chase to knock off 339 was still a feat of character, a trait not often associated with the Springboks at the start of the new millennium. Both sides struggled in their second innings, but Australia's first innings of 315 (Gilchrist smashed 91 from 107) gave them the upper hand. South Africa were finished, weren't they? Well, not quite: Herschelle Gibbs had one last trick up his sleeve in a patient and, for once, mature hundred - his best. He couldn't last the full distance: a careless slap off Mark Waugh, who had just removed Graeme Smith, left the onus on Jacques Kallis, whose 61 carried South Africa to an impressive, if meaningless, win.

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Will Luke Assistant editor Will opted against a lifetime of head-bangingly dull administration in the NHS, where he had served for two years. In 2005 came a break at Cricinfo where he slotted right in as a ferociously enthusiastic tea drinker and maker, with a penchant for using "frankly" and "marvellous". He also runs The Corridor, a cricket blog where he can be found ranting and raving about all things - some even involving the sport. He is a great-great nephew of Sir Jack Newman, the former Wellingtonian bowler who took two wickets at 127 apiece for New Zealand.

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