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Going for glory and falling just short

Nathan Lyon sets off in celebration after sealing Australia's win Getty Images

This article has a nice story behind it. Normally I start preparing for my articles two weeks before publication and last week I had in front of me two serious analytical articles relating to Tests and ODIs. I was undecided on which one to go for. Then Adelaide happened. A wonderful but foolhardy chase was enacted and India finished losing by a margin of around 15% of the target. I changed my mind instantly and decided to look for such matches and do an anecdotal article around this theme, especially since I remembered India had played a similar Test against New Zealand earlier in 2014. As you all know I am a sucker for anecdotal articles.

First, the criteria for selection: fairly simple and obvious. I wanted Tests with fourth-innings chases in which the losing team scored in excess of 300 but lost by fewer than 50 runs. The 50-run margin is to ensure that there was an intriguing chase that failed narrowly. The 300-run score is to ensure that the target was substantial. I do not want to include an awful match like the 2004 Mumbai disaster, played on a mud track, in which a 100-run target proved beyond a top team.

I expected around 25-30 matches from which I would have to make a further selection. But I found, to my surprise and delight, that only 14 Tests qualified. That made my task easy. No selection needed. These Tests are presented in a chronological order. Let us first get some history in. I would rather start with Archie Jackson or Wally Hammond than Virat Kohli or Brendon McCullum.

1. Test #113. Australia vs South Africa.

On 7,9,10,11,12,13 January 1911at Adelaide Oval*.South Africa: 482 all outJW Zulch105SJ Snooke103WW Armstrong42.49 1034Australia: 465 all outVT Trumper214*CB Llewellyn31.04 1074South Africa: 360 all outGA Faulkner115WJ Whitty39.25 1046Australia: 339 all out (4.05)RO Schwarz15.03484South Africa won by 38 runs.
* Please click on the venues to view match scorecards

This was a very even match. Two huge first-innings scores meant that there was only a difference of 17 runs between the two teams. South Africa set Australia a target of 378. Three fifties and some brave batting at the end by Tibby Cotter meant the loss was only by 38 runs. The scoring rate was in excess of 4.0, which was amazing in a Test played over a hundred years back.

2. Test #160. Australia vs England.

On 16,17,19,20,21,22,23 January 1925at Adelaide Oval.Australia: 489 all outJ Ryder201*R Kilner74.47 1274England: 365 all outJB Hobbs119Australia: 250 all outFE Woolley25.21774R Kilner29.37514England: 363 all out (2.45)Australia won by 11 runs.
Jack Ryder's famous double-hundred at No. 7 took Australia to a big first-innings total. England conceded a substantial first-innings lead, required to score 375 runs and they fell short by 11 runs. Almost everyone contributed, with the top score being 75. The bowlers shared the wickets. This was also quite a slow innings.

3. Test #179. Australia vs England.

On 1,2,4,5,6,7,8 February 1929at Adelaide Oval.England: 334 all outWR Hammond119*CV Grimmett52.1 12 1025Australia: 369 all outA Jackson164MW Tate42.0 10774JC White60.0 16 1305England: 383 all outWR Hammond177RK Oxenham47.4 21674Australia: 336 all out (2.21)JC White64.5 21 1268England won by 12 runs.
This was a very balanced match in terms of innings scores. All four innings were between 300 and 400. Two 300-plus first-innings scores meant that Australia had a lead of 35. The Australian innings included one of the all-time great innings: 164 by Archie Jackson. Then Wally Hammond played an equally great innings of 177 and Australia needed to score 349 and fell 12 runs short. This was Don Bradman's debut series and he scored 40 and 58. Jack White won the match singlehandedly for England with an almost unbroken spell of eight wickets.

4. Test #626. Australia vs India.

On 19,20,22,23,24 January 1968at Woolloongabba, Brisbane.Australia: 379 all outIndia: 279 all outAustralia: 294 all outEAS Prasanna44.49 1046India: 355 all out (2.43)ML Jaisimha101RM Cowper53.08 1044Australia won by 39 runs.
The next such match was after 40 years. India conceded a first-innings lead of 100 runs but dismissed Australia for 294. They needed to score nearly 400 runs but fell short by just 39 runs. ML Jaisimha scored an excellent century. India were 310 for 5 at one time and looked like causing one of the greatest upsets ever.

5. Test #722. England vs New Zealand.

On 7,8,9,11,12 June 1973at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.England: 250 all outBR Taylor29.07534DR Hadlee19.06424New Zealand :97 all outAW Greig10.40334England: 325 for 8 wkt(s) decl.DL Amiss138*AW Greig139New Zealand : 440 all out (2.34)BE Congdon176V Pollard116GG Arnold53.0 15 1315England won by 38 runs.
New Zealand were in a pitiable condition when they replied to England's average first-innings score of 250 with 97. I am almost certain that the follow-on target was 150 but this was not enforced. England's second-innings score was almost totally due to two contrasting hundreds by Dennis Amiss and Tony Greig. The target of 479 looked way out of reach for New Zealand. But Bev Congdon and Vic Pollard probably played their best Test innings ever and New Zealand fell agonisingly short by 38 runs. They collapsed from 402 for 5 to 440 all out.

6. Test #800. Australia vs England.

On 12,13,14,16,17 March 1977at Melbourne Cricket Ground.Australia: 138 all outEngland:95 all outDK Lillee17.52266MHN Walker20.03544Australia: 419 for 9 wkt(s) decl.RW Marsh110*CM Old37.02 1044England: 417 all out (2.78)DW Randall174DK Lillee46.07 1395Australia won by 45 runs.
This was one of the most famous Tests of all time. The Centenary match played almost exactly 100 years after the first Test match. Two very poor first innings batting performances meant that Australia had a first innings lead of 43 despite scoring only 138. Then Rod Marsh scored a magnificent hundred and Australia seemed to be home and dry, setting a huge target of 463. Derek Randall played one of the greatest fourth-innings centuries ever with a magnificent 174. From 346 for 4, England collapsed to 417. Dennis Lillee was outstanding. The winning margin was eerily the same as 100 years back.

7. Test #809. Australia vs India.

On 2,3,4,6 December 1977at Woolloongabba, Brisbane.Australia: 166 all outBS Bedi18.33555India: 153 all outWM Clark24.05464Australia: 327 all outS Madan Lal25.22725India: 324 all out (2.86)SM Gavaskar113JR Thomson26.31764WM Clark34.41 1014Australia won by 16 runs.
This match followed the pattern of a few earlier matches. Two below par first innings meant that little separated the teams. From 7 for 3, the Packer-hit Australians recovered to 327. India needed to score 341. Sunil Gavaskar scored a patient hundred but India finally finished 16 runs short. Bishan Bedi's flamboyant 26 was in vain. The final margin was almost the same as the first-innings lead.

8. Test #816. Australia vs India.

On 28,29,30 January, 1,2,3 February 1978at Adelaide Oval.Australia: 505 all outGN Yallop121RB Simpson100BS Chandrasekhar 39.20 1365India: 269 all outWM Clark27.56624Australia: 256 all outKD Ghavri14.12454BS Bedi26.43534India: 445 all out (2.36)B Yardley57.26 1344Australia won by 47 runs.
This is the only instance of a second match from the same series finding a place in this collection. India played a weakened Australian team in the series decider. However this match was totally different to the first one. India conceded a first-innings lead of 236 but were not made to follow on. They fought back and restricted Australia to 256 all out. However there was a huge chase of nearly 500 runs. Without a single century, India reached 445 and fell short by 47 runs. That was the difference between the two teams in a close series. India faced no fewer than 188 overs.

9. Test #1184. Australia vs India.

On 25,26,27,28,29 January 1992at Adelaide Oval.Australia: 145 all outIndia: 225 all outCJ McDermott31.09765Australia: 451 all outMA Taylor100DC Boon135Kapil Dev51.0 12 1305India: 333 all out (3.32)M Azharuddin106CJ McDermott29.18925Australia won by 38 runs.
Now we come to the modern era. Australia batted poorly and conceded a first-innings lead of 80. The second innings was much better all round. Mark Taylor and David Boon scored hundreds and Australia set India 372 to win. A lovely hundred by Mohammad Azharuddin and good support from Manoj Prabhakar meant that India came within 38 runs of the target. This was a case of the team behind in the first innings batting and bowling well to register a win.

10. Test #1688. Sri Lanka vs Australia.

On 16,17,18,19,20 March 2004at Asgiriya Stadium, Kandy.Australia: 120 all outDNT Zoysa16.03544M Muralitharan 15.04484Sri Lanka: 211 all outMS Kasprowicz24.05834SK Warne20.13655Australia: 442 all outAC Gilchrist144DR Martyn161M Muralitharan 50.38 1735Sri Lanka: 324 all out (4.43)ST Jayasuriya131JN Gillespie20.01764SK Warne21.12905Australia won by 27 runs.
This match was almost a mirror image of the previous match played in Adelaide. A first-innings lead of 89 was conceded. Two wonderful hundreds by Adam Gilchrist and Damien Martyn took Australia to 442. Sri Lanka fell 27 short. One great hundred by Sanath Jayasuriya. I have to mention Shane Warne's match-winning spell. I have rarely seen two Test matches so similar. One can only marvel at the breakneck speed of the Sri Lankan second innings. But unlike in Adelaide, there was no draw option available.

11. Test #1941. Australia vs West Indies.

On 16,17,18,19,20 December 2009at Western Australia Cricket Association Ground, Perth.Australia: 520 for 7 wkt(s) decl.West Indies : 312 all outCH Gayle102DE Bollinger20.03705Australia: 150 all outDJ Bravo17.36424West Indies : 323 all out (3.42)Australia won by 35 runs.
We now move on to the WACA in 2009. This Test imitates the deciding match of the 1976-77 series between Australia and India. A huge first-innings lead conceded, a fightback by the third bowling team, a substantial chase, just falling short. No centuries in the last innings but good batting all round. This would have been a great victory for the down-and-out West Indies team as it would have been for the Indian team three decades earlier.

12. Test #2013. Zimbabwe vs New Zealand.

On 1,2,3,4,5 November 2011at Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo.New Zealand : 426 all outMJ Guptill109CB Mpofu34.0 10924Zimbabwe: 313 all outDL Vettori43.0 13705New Zealand : 252 for 8 wkt(s) decl.KM Jarvis18.01645Zimbabwe: 331 all out (3.06)BRM Taylor117DAJ Bracewell25.02855New Zealand won by 34 runs.
This is a special match in this collection since it represents the only instance of an unfancied team from the lower echelons of Test cricket making a fist of it. Zimbabwe conceded a first-innings lead of over 100 runs despite scoring 313. Then they bowled very well and had New Zealand down at 199 for 7. New Zealand eventually declared at 252 for 8. Aided by a brilliant hundred from captain Brendan Taylor, Zimbabwe fought to the end and fell 34 runs short.

13. Test #2118. New Zealand vs India.

On 6,7,8,9 February 2014at Eden Park, Auckland.New Zealand : 503 all outKS Williamson113BB McCullum224I Sharma33.44 1346India: 202 all outN Wagner11.00644New Zealand : 105 all outIndia: 366 all out (3.79)S Dhawan115N Wagner25.08624New Zealand won by 40 runs.
Now we come to the two Tests India lost during 2014: chalk and cheese, these are. Against New Zealand early in the year, India fell behind by over 300 runs in the first innings. If New Zealand had enforced the follow-on they could as well have won by an innings. But they batted again, this time miserably, and were dismissed at 105. India needed just over 400 runs to win and until the halfway stage, looked like carving out a very unlikely win. Shikhar Dhawan's hundred let them move to 222 for 2, that too at a good pace. Then wickets fell at regular intervals and India finished 40 short. A very brave effort indeed. Over 100 overs remained in the match, so a draw was out of the question.

14. Test #2148. Australia vs India.

On 9,10,11,12,13 December 2014at Adelaide Oval.Australia: 517 for 7 wkt(s) decl.DA Warner145MJ Clarke128SPD Smith162*India: 444 all outV Kohli115NM Lyon36.04 1345Australia: 290 for 5 wkt(s) decl.DA Warner102India: 315 all out (3.61)V Kohli141NM Lyon34.15 1527Australia won by 48 runs.
This was a very different match. At various times India looked like winning, especially in the last innings when India were at 242 for 2. Then three wickets fell and at 277 for 5, the game was in the balance: between a draw and a loss. I think Virat Kohli let his instincts as a batsman take over and smother his responsibilities as captain. The draw was a great option, considering that fewer than 15 overs remained to be bowled. The ODI/T20 instincts won over the pragmatic processes of Test cricket. Milind has taken the wicket value concept one step further and his graphs on score projections, which I will present soon, indicate that this decision should have been taken even earlier, at 247 for 4, especially in view of the fragility of the Indian tail.

Let me sum up the analysis. First, let me state a few interesting conclusions. Then I will discuss these.

- Australia have been involved in the fourth-innings defence of 11 of these matches and won nine.
- New Zealand have been involved in the fourth-innings defence of two of these matches and won both.
- England have been involved in the fourth-innings defence of two of these matches and won both.
- India have looked to chase the fourth-innings target in six of these matches and have lost all six.
- Six of these matches have been played in Adelaide and Australia have won four and lost two .
- The southern hemisphere has hosted 11 of these 14 matches: nine in Australia and two in New Zealand.
- No such Test has been played in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or South Africa.

Now for some explanations. Readers are welcome to share their own views.

- The Australian pitches are of such quality that the deterioration is minimal. Even on the fifth day, the batsmen are able to go for significant targets. At the same time the bowlers also get some assistance. Imagine going for a target of 364 in 98 overs in India.
- Australia, as a team, also offer targets that teams can go for. They do not shut out the opponents. I remember a match a few years back in which Ricky Ponting set a target of 370. Not to forget the 364 target at Adelaide. On the other hand Andrew Strauss set targets of 503 and 502 runs and the opponents drew the matches.
- New Zealand and England have done well in the four instances they defended and won every time. Possibly because of their bowling strength. - India have started well on most of these chases but batting collapses have undermined the chases. They could have won at Eden Park and drawn in Adelaide.

A short paragraph on the ongoing Test series. I am writing this from my neutral stance as an analyst. If India had played with some common sense, tactical awareness and purpose, they could be sitting at 1-0 or 1-1 instead of 0-2. It is quite silly to forget that drawing a Test is a valid and acceptable result. Contrast this with the pragmatic approach taken by the normally aggressive South Africans at the Wanderers. They went on to win the series in Durban.

And when you have the opponents down at 247 for 6, you go back to the bowling mark, bowl purposefully and on the spot and work towards a lead of 100, not engage in silly and provocative banter, pseudo-aggression and concede a lead of 100. Any student of cricket history will know that Australians play hard and never give up. Their shoulders rarely drop. Mr Rohit Sharma, if you cannot walk the talk, it would be prudent to avoid talking. Mr Ishant Sharma, as a vegetarian who has managed visiting over 20 countries, I can confidently say that there is nothing to beat a cheese sandwich or pizza meal, supplemented by fruits, yoghurt and dessert.

Now for the Bradman memorabilia. A commemorative plate created to mark Bradman's 100 first-class hundreds. The ten scores of 250 and above are represented by bats while the other scores by stumps. A beautiful plate to recognise a truly wonderful achievement. To view the scan, please click HERE.