Second time plucky

India fought hard to save the Napier Test after following on. We look at 11 instances where teams managed to stage a comeback after conceding a massive first-innings lead

Siddarth Ravindran and Siddhartha Talya

April 2, 2009

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As VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid trudged back to the pavilion after their epic stand, little did anyone know that they had set the stage for one of the most dramatic wins in Test cricket © AFP
 

India v Australia, Kolkata, 2001
Arguably the greatest comeback in the history of Tests. India were mauled by 10 wickets in Mumbai and when they followed on 274 behind on the first innings, no one gave them a chance of salvaging a draw, let alone of pulling off a miraculous win. Their eventual 171-run victory - just the third instance of a team fighting back to win a Test after following on - set up by an epic stand of 376 between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid marked the beginning of one of modern cricket's most enthralling rivalries. Not only did India end Australia's record 16-match winning streak, they emerged from the series with renewed confidence under Sourav Ganguly and John Wright, who went on to form the country's most successful captain-coach duo. The absence of India's greatest match-winner, Anil Kumble, due to injury paved the way for Harbhajan Singh - who had made up his mind to emigrate to the USA in the event of a failure - to establish himself as one of the country's main strike bowlers. He took 13 wickets in the Kolkata Test, and 32 in the series.

West Indies v England, Jamaica, 1968
A thrilling Test unfortunately remembered more for a riot. The trigger was Basil Butcher's chagrin at himself for getting caught down the leg side, which the Sabina Park crowd mistook as a protest against the umpire's decision. It led to police clashing with spectators, using teargas shells, and failed attempts by the captains, Colin Cowdrey and Garry Sobers, to placate the crowd. Sobers undid the damage caused by Butcher's departure with a match-turning century on an unfavourable pitch after following on, and declared bravely to set England a target of 159 on the fifth day. He had them in shambles at 19 for 4, and the visitors, having to negotiate a further 75 minutes on an agreed sixth day - to compensate for the time lost during the disturbance - just about managed to avert a humiliation, finishing on a pitiable 68 for 8. The result, though, came in handy for England, who followed it up with two draws, and a win in Trinidad, to reclaim the Wisden Trophy.

England v Australia, Headingley, 1981
One of the most unforgettable Tests. The only match in the 20th century that a team won after following on. The victory was made even more special by the dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of two of the game's heroes. Ian Botham (6 for 95 and 1 for 14, 50 and 149 not out) had endured a horror year till then: his captaincy had been uninspiring, his personal form had plummeted (highlighted by a pair at Lord's in the preceding Test), and he was embroiled in a court case for alleged assault. Bob Willis (8 for 43 in the second innings) was not selected in the original squad for the Test after concerns over his fitness, and entered the game fearing it could be his last. The match also featured Richie Benaud's memorable comment, "It's gone straight into the confectionery stall… and out again", after one of Botham's sixes, and boasted perhaps the most famous cricketing odds in history (500-1 for an England win).

South Africa v Australia, Durban, 1950
"We are going to win and you'd better say so," Keith Miller told a dumbstruck journalist, who couldn't have been blamed if he had thought for a moment that the Australian allrounder had completely lost it. Miller's audacious remark came after his team had been skittled for 75, conceding a lead of 236. In a decision as difficult to comprehend as Miller's optimism, South Africa's captain Dudley Nourse opted against imposing the follow-on. The home team, 0-2 down in the series, squandered their best shot at a comeback, and paid the price. Bill Johnston and Ian Johnson tore through their batting - sharing nine wickets - to bowl South Africa out for 99 and give Australia a sniff at an unlikely victory. At 95 for 4, chasing 336, the visitors were still staring at defeat, but a young Neil Harvey produced a masterpiece, shedding his natural penchant for stroke-making, to carve out a gutsy, accumulative 151 and complete a five-wicket win on the fourth day. The series was sealed and it would be another 17 years before South Africa responded in kind.

West Indies v Pakistan, Bridgetown, 1958
What do you do when your side is 473 behind after the first innings with three-and-a-half days left in the Test? Hanif Mohammad knuckled down for more than 16 hours to play what was then the longest innings in first-class cricket. His 337 is one of the finest defensive knocks in Test history, and came against an attack that included the fearsome fast bowler Roy Gilchrist, the spinner Alf Valentine, and Garry Sobers. "It had to be done, so I did it," he says of his bloody-minded effort, which featured only 96 runs in boundaries. He was finally dismissed on the sixth and final day, 27 short of Len Hutton's record score, but not before he had hauled Pakistan to safety.

Australia v West Indies, Adelaide, 1969
Australia held on to the Frank-Worrell Trophy for almost 10 years starting 1968 and the thriller in Adelaide, in hindsight, played the decisive role in kicking off that dominant streak. West Indies underperformed on a placid pitch to be bowled out for 276, and Australia, guided by Doug Walters' century, piled on 533 to leave their opponents staring at the possibility of an innings defeat. However, a collective batting display with crucial contributions from almost every West Indies batsman - Basil Butcher led the reply with 118 - spurred their team to 616, turning the game on its head. Australia were set a testing target of 339, but at 185 for 1 an Australian win seemed the most likely result. However, four run-outs and a double-strike by Charlie Griffith took West Indies to the brink of a series-levelling win, only for them to be thwarted by the last-wicket pair of Paul Sheahan - he redeemed himself after having a hand in three of the run-outs - and Alan Connolly, who survived 26 balls to retain Australia's lead.


The scoreboard shows the famous 500-1 odds, 3rd Test, Headingley,  July 18, 1981
England's famous victory at Headingley was one of the most memorable of all time © Getty Images
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South Africa v England, Durban, 1939 (Timeless Test)
When you need a gargantuan 696 runs to win, and you can't play out time for a draw, even 500-1 would seem decent odds. This, though, was another occasion when England defied the odds, nearly pulling off a scarcely believable victory before the match was called off to allow them to catch a ship to take them back home. Bill Edrich's double-century and hundreds from Wally Hammond and opener Paul Gibb had taken the visitors to within 42 of victory, with five wickets in hand, when rain caused play to be abandoned. After 10 days, and some 46 hours of play, the match was declared a draw.

Sri Lanka v Australia, Colombo, 1992
The first chapter of Shane Warne's Test highlights reel. Australia were under the cosh when they fell behind by 291 runs after the first innings, but six of their batsmen made 40 or more (and extras 58), and they managed to set a target of 181. With Aravinda de Silva in Mad-Max mode, Sri Lanka were coasting towards only their third win since they gained membership of the Test club in 1982. Then de Silva perished to a splendid running catch from Allan Border, to leave Sri Lanka only 54 adrift with seven wickets remaining. The efforts of Greg Matthews and Craig McDermott evened the game; the home side were soon seven down and needed 34. Enter Warne, with the laughable Test average of 346, who spun out three wickets for no runs in 13 balls, and the large crowd which had come to witness a famous home win started jeering the Sri Lankans, who fell 17 short of the post.

England v South Africa, Old Trafford, 1998
England followed on for the second Test in a row against South Africa - the first was the crushing defeat at Lord's. A sleep-inducing double-century by Gary Kirsten alone outscored England's first innings, and with almost two days still to fight out, the possibility of a third successive series loss loomed large for the home side. Alec Stewart, who had succeeded the struggling Mike Atherton, battled hard with 164, and he received solid support from Atherton, but at 323 for 7, with more than 30 overs still left in the match, South Africa were firm favourites. Up against a fierce onslaught from Allan Donald, who took 6 for 88, England's tail put up one of its most memorable resistances. Robert Croft saw out 78 minutes in the company of Darren Gough, but it was his partnership with the No. 11, Angus Fraser, that kept the series alive. After Croft erased the remaining deficit, and two overs were knocked off the requirement, for a change in innings, Fraser was left to negotiate the wrath of Donald in his final over. The cherry on the thrilling finish was a vociferous shout for lbw off the last ball, an inswinging yorker that was just about sliding down leg. The real worth of the tail's heroics was felt a month later, when England won the series 2-1.

Australia v England, Sydney, 1894
Australia's house-of-cards impersonation. At the end of the fifth day they were 113 for 2, 64 runs away from a series lead, with two well-set batsmen, George Giffen and Joe Darling, at the crease. It had been a batting track till then, the sides racking up in excess of 300 in each of the first three innings. Overnight rain, however, altered the nature of the surface, and the uncovered pitch turned into a minefield. The great left-arm spin pair of Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs then rode roughshod over Australia, disposing of the last eight batsmen for 36 runs, to clinch an astonishing 10-run win. It was the first time a team had won after being forced to follow on.

England v West Indies, Edgbaston, 1957
Staring at a deficit of 288 after succumbing to Sonny Ramadhin's offspin and Collie Smith's batting heroics, England marked a turnaround in their second attempt and scarred West Indies for the rest of the series. A mammoth 411-run stand between the captain, Peter May, who piled on 285, and Colin Cowdrey, who made his first century at home, shattered a series of records, including the highest partnership for the fourth wicket, to put England firmly in control and give their team a realistic shot at a win. Fred Trueman, Tony Lock and Jim Laker did the best they could, but West Indies, thanks to some lower-order resistance from John Goddard and Smith, crawled to an embarrassing 72 for 7 in 60 overs to save the Test. EW Swanton in his diary summed up proceedings: "I cannot summon the memory or the knowledge of any previous game wherein the fortunes have changed with such utter completeness from one side to the other." Despite the result, though, the advantage had been ceded and England cashed in, winning the rubber 3-0 to regain the Frank Worrell Trophy.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo; Siddhartha Talya is an editorial assistant

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