January 9, 2012

Follow my lead

Michael Clarke's triple-hundred at the SCG inspired our selection of these captains' knocks

Graham Gooch
Headingley '81 will be remembered forever; Headingley '91 deserves to be. That's when Gooch played arguably the greatest captain's innings of all time, defying the legendary West Indian pace attack - Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh - for seven and a half hours to carry his bat for 154. No one else made more than 27 for England on a spicy pitch, but Gooch's heroics ensured that they had enough to beat the West Indians for the first time at home since 1969. "It was a match-winning innings against all odds and the perceived world champion attack of the day," wrote Frank Keating in the Guardian.

Don Bradman
Bradman's baptism as Australia's captain didn't start smoothly: after his side was twice caught on drying pitches, it lost the first two matches of the 1936-37 Ashes series. So the Don rolled his sleeves up: 13 and 270 in the third Test (won by 365 runs), 26 and 212 in the fourth (won by 148 runs), and 169 in an innings victory in the fifth, which gave Australia the series 3-2. It remains the only time any side has come back from 2-0 down to win a Test series.

MS Dhoni
What do you do if you're captain but having a bad trot with the bat at an important time? If you're Mike Denness, you drop yourself in the middle of an Ashes series. But if you're Dhoni, playing in a World Cup final, you promote yourself in the batting order (ahead of Yuvraj Singh, whose tournament batting average was over 90), and clatter 91 not out, winning the game with a six into the stands.

Graeme Smith
Smith has a claim to be the best producer of captain's innings around: he has scored four centuries in successful fourth-innings run-chases, more than anyone else in Test history. The best of them was his rock-solid 154 not out, in almost six hours, which guided South Africa to victory at Edgbaston in 2008 after they had been wobbling at 93 for 4.

Denis Atkinson
In Bridgetown in 1954-55, the West Indies captain, Atkinson, came in with his side 143 for 5, chasing a huge Australian first innings of 668. They soon lost another wicket, and the follow-on loomed large. But Atkinson (previous Test best 74) dug in, with wicketkeeper Clairmonte Depeiaza. They batted through the fourth day, and although Atkinson was out early next morning for 219, their seventh-wicket stand of 347 (which remains a Test record) easily saved the follow-on - and in the end West Indies saved the match.

Percy Sherwell
Big-moustached Sherwell, a mining engineer, captained on his Test debut against England in Johannesburg in January 1906. And it was a tough initiation: he came to the crease in the final innings at No. 11, with South Africa still needing 45 for their first victory over England, who had won all the previous eight meetings between the two, mostly by huge margins. But Sherwell was not cowed, contributing 22 to a last-ditch stand with Dave Nourse: "Amid ever-increasing excitement the runs were hit off, South Africa thus winning by one wicket," observed Wisden. Sherwell, who skippered in every one of his 13 Tests, wasn't really a No. 11, though: when South Africa toured England in 1907, he opened at Lord's and scored 115.

Kapil Dev
Imagine the embarrassment: facing an unranked non-Test team, your much-heralded top order lurches to 17 for 5. That's what happened to Kapil against Zimbabwe in Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup. India's captain had the answer, though: smash the bowlers into the rhododendrons a few times. Kapil blitzed six sixes (and 16 fours) as he careered to 175 - exactly 100 more than he managed in any other ODI innings - and lifted India to a total that proved more than enough. Oh, and they went on to win that World Cup.

Mike Atherton
England's chase of a notional 479 in Johannesburg in 1995-96 seemed to be all over when they limped to 145 for 4: South Africa seemed certain to win the second Test and go one up. But they reckoned without England's captain, Atherton, who refused to budge. Although he later lost Robin Smith, Atherton entrenched himself with the similarly stubborn Jack Russell, and they defied the South African attack - which included a rampaging Allan Donald and the young Shaun Pollock - for more than four and a half hours to force a draw. Atherton was actually in for ten hours and 43 minutes for 185 not out, which remained his highest Test score. Not for nothing did the Aussies dub him "Cockroach" (because he was hard to stamp out).

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
The Nawab of Pataudi junior was arguably India's greatest captain; and he produced arguably their greatest captain's innings, in Melbourne in 1967-68. Playing despite a pulled hamstring muscle that obliged him to hang almost exclusively on the back foot, Pataudi top-scored with 75 in India's indifferent first innings, and added 85 in the second. Lindsay Hassett told the Indian journalist KN Prabhu: "That's the way Bradman used to attack the bowling." Earlier that year in England, Pataudi had produced a similar effort, on two legs, to score a defiant 148 in the follow-on at Headingley.

Imran Khan
Talk about the 1992 World Cup and you remember... England losing to Zimbabwe but beating everyone else (until the final, at least), New Zealand's innovations (pinch hitters, and opening the bowling with spin), the rain rule that ruined the Sydney semi - and Imran's speech about "fighting like cornered tigers", delivered shortly after his side had survived in the tournament only because rain didn't allow England enough time to win after skittling Pakistan for 74. They made the most of their reprieve, of course, surging to the final, where, in front of a huge crowd on a balmy Melbourne evening, Imran took the last wicket and lifted the trophy. But it's easy to forget that when Pakistan were struggling with the bat early in the day - they were 24 for 2 - Imran marched regally in at No. 3 and made 72, the highest score of the match.

Brian Lara
Mainly because of its size, it's hard to ignore Lara's 400 not out against England in St John's in 2003-04. It meant he reclaimed the record for the highest Test score, something no one had done before (Matthew Hayden had briefly borrowed it with 380 against Zimbabwe six months previously). Lara was West Indies' captain then - and got a bit of stick for batting on for perceived personal gain when there might have been a win to be had. Mind you, he knew that the pitch at the Antigua Recreation Ground was pretty good - it was where, ten years previously, he had set the old record of 375, also against England. Graham Thorpe had the privilege, if that's the right word, of fielding through both knocks.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011.

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