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The top 25 Test batting performances of all time

Brian Lara's thrilling 153 not out against Australia in Bridgetown comes in at No. 5 Ben Radford / © Getty Images

In part one of my analysis of the top 25 batting performances, I covered the history, the original Wisden 100 batting list, the parameters in play at that time, database improvements, and the basis of the current analyses. Please read it. Skipping part one and going directly to the second part will make as much sense as playing Test matches with no first-class experience.

Since all the required background work has been done in the first part, I will go straight to the table of the top Test batting performances of all time. The table is current up to the England-India Test at Edgbaston this month.

1. Graham Gooch, 154 not out v West Indies, Headingley, 1991
This was the Headingley of old - a bowlers' hunting ground. The West Indian quartet was a really tough proposition. The two low first-innings totals meant that England gained a surprising lead of 25. In England's second innings Curtly Ambrose struck immediately, dismissing Mike Atherton, Graeme Hick and Allan Lamb, and England slipped to 38 for 3. Even 150 seemed distant. But Mark Ramprakash and Derek Pringle provided support to Gooch, scoring 27 each, and England eventually finished at a relatively commanding 252.

Against one of the most feared attacks of all time, Gooch carried his bat through for a majestic 154, making over 60% of England's total. He faced 331 balls, almost all against the four pace giants and with no laws protecting the batsman from short-pitched bowling. The value of his innings is enhanced by the fact that an average bowling attack of Devon Malcolm, Steve Watkin, Phil DeFreitas and Derek Pringle dismissed a strong West Indian team for 173 and 162.

The next highest score in England's second innings was 27. The Pitch Quality Index (PQI) was 34, indicating the challenging conditions. From 124 for 6, Gooch more than doubled England's score.

The innings ticks all the boxes and it is deservedly in top position. I can say with certainty that whatever the method used and weights applied, Gooch's masterpiece will always be in the top three. It is heart-warming to note that Gooch, who started his Test career with a pair, went on to play the finest Test innings ever. It was third best in the original Wisden 100.

2. Sanath Jayasuriya, 253 v Pakistan, Faisalabad, 2004-05
For some reason the Faisalabad pitch has acquired a reputation of being batsman-friendly. However, between 1990 and 2004, the venue was bowler-friendly, with match Runs per Wicket (RpW) values below 30.

Sanath Jayasuriya's flamboyant innings was virtually a limited-overs innings played under Test conditions. He scored at an overall rate of over four an over. His partnerships with Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera took Sri Lanka to 309 for 4, after which, having already reached 150, Jayasuriya cut loose. He scored over 100 of the 124 added for the last six wickets. In the ninth-wicket stand of 101, with Dilhara Fernando, Fernando made 1. Jayasuriya was last out for 253.

The PQI was 45, indicating a tilt towards a bowler-supportive pitch. To sum up, a magnificent match-winning innings, played away, huge in size, and scored at a brisk pace. The lower totals made in the three other innings (243, 264 and 216) put this effort into perspective. One could say that this is a surprising entry at No. 2, some distance from Gooch's innings in terms of points.

3. Don Bradman, 270 v England, Melbourne, 1936-37
Bradman was captaining Australia for the first time. England had won the first two Tests of the series and Bradman's batting form had taken a dive. The Melbourne wicket was a gluepot. Australia struggled to reach 200 for 9, after which Bradman declared, with a view to getting England in when conditions were tough. England, in turn, declared at 76 for 9. Bradman sent in Nos. 9, 10 and 11 and then top-order batsmen Keith Rigg and Bill Brown. All five were dismissed before Australia reached 100.

However, the sting in the pitch had disappeared by the time Bradman joined Jack Fingleton at the crease. They added 346 for the sixth wicket and Australia finished at 564. England fared much better in the second innings but could not even reach half the target of 689.

This was a match of two amazingly different halves. The first 23 wickets fell for 373 runs: a very low RpW value of 16.2. Then 15 wickets fell for 790 runs, the RpW changing to 52.7. Normally it's the other way round.

Bradman received excellent support from Fingleton. The PQI was a thoroughly unreliable 47.2; however, there is no doubting the quality of Bradman's innings and the immense value it provided. This innings was No. 1 in the Wisden 100 list. The biggest problem, and we were aware of it in 2001 when that list was released, was that the innings situation of 97 for 5 (a lead of 221 runs) when Bradman walked in was not a desperate situation but an artificially created one for tactical reasons. This has since been corrected, so Bradman drops two places.

4. Azhar Mahmood, 132v South Africa, Durban, 1997-98
Mahmood did not achieve much in international cricket, but he had a golden moment in the southern sun that should never be forgotten.

South Africa's pace attack had Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Fanie de Villiers and Lance Klusener. Pakistan were in deep trouble at 89 for 5 when Mahmood walked in. In a fearless counterattack, relishing the pace offered, he scored 96 runs in boundaries, while proving that he was an expert shepherd of a tail. He made over 90% of Pakistan's last 106 runs. Pakistan, who looked unlikely to reach 150, ultimately got to a match-winning total of 259.

It was an extraordinary innings by any standards, and it came on the first day of a tough away Test. Mahmood received almost no support. The PQI was 39, indicating it was a bowler-centric pitch. If one takes away Mahmood's innings, the RpW is a very low 20.7. Mahmood added 132 runs with the late-order batsmen, almost all by himself.

The greats stay on top for long periods because they are truly great. However, unnoticed players sometimes produce moments of brilliance, outshining the immortals on their day. We should have the sagacity to recognise their contributions. It is clear that Mahmood produced an innings any of the top ten batsmen of all time would have proudly owned.

5. Brian Lara, 153 not out v Australia, Bridgetown, 1998-99
For me, this is the best Test innings ever.

The Bridgetown pitch was good for batting in the first two innings. Australia scored 490 and West Indies replied with 329, having recovered from 98 for 6. Then Courtney Walsh, helped by Ambrose and Pedro Collins, dismissed Australia for 146, which meant that West Indies had to score 308 to win.

After the openers had added 72, West Indies slipped to 78 for 3 when Lara came out to bat, and two more quick wickets made the situation even more dire at 105 for 5. Jimmy Adams then gave good support to Lara and these two left-handers added 133 runs to take the score to a comfortable 238 for 5, when three wickets fell for 10 runs. Sixty runs were still needed, and Lara only had Ambrose and Walsh for support. However, Ambrose defended obdurately, surviving 39 balls in a 54-run partnership with Lara. When Walsh walked in, West Indies needed six to win. He somehow survived five balls as Lara took West Indies to the most famous of all their wins.

Lara had fair to middling support during his innings. The PQI was 52, indicating a reasonably good pitch for batting. Barring Australia's second innings of 146, the other innings were in excess of 300. Lara added 62 invaluable runs with the last two batsmen.

6. Virender Sehwag, 201 not out v Sri Lanka, Galle, 2008
On their tour of Sri Lanka in 2008, India were blown away by Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan. In the middle of the spin carnage, one innings shone like a lighthouse beacon, aptly at the seaside town of Galle.

India won the toss, batted first, and Sehwag played the innings of his life, taking them to 151 for no loss at lunch. India were scoring at well over five runs per over but once Gautam Gambhir was dismissed, the rot set in. On a rain-shortened first day, India finished at 214 for 4.

Sehwag continued on the second day from where he had left off. He faced only 231 balls for his 201. That a batsman could play such an attacking innings and carry his bat through was a miracle. He received good support. The PQI was 38, indicating that this was a bowler-centric pitch. Sehwag scored 62% of India's total runs. The bowling attack of Mendis, Murali, Nuwan Kulasekara and Chaminda Vaas was off the charts. No wonder this modern classic gets into the top ten.

7. Ian Botham, 149 not out v Australia, Headingley, 1981
In 1980, Botham's captaincy was uninspiring and his game had fallen off. Just in time, the selectors realised their error and gave the captaincy to Mike Brearley, allowing Botham to perform as a player. At Headingley, when Botham walked in in the second innings, England were 105 for 5 after being asked to follow on. Soon the score became a disastrous 135 for 7. An innings defeat and a huge Ashes loss loomed. Botham was still batting but had only the bowlers for company. Generous odds of 500-1 were offered on an English win.

Botham realised that there was no point in defending, so he counterattacked as only he could, finishing unbeaten on 149 off 148 balls. His onslaught unnerved Australia to such an extent that they fell 19 runs short of the low target of 130. Bob Willis' 8 for 43 spell in the fourth innings is in my top ten best bowling peformances in Test history. The PQI was 44, indicating a middle-level pitch. Botham added 221 runs with the last three batsmen.

8. VVS Laxman, 281 v Australia, Kolkata, 2000-01
Australia came into the Kolkata Test with a record run of 16 consecutive wins. India, 274 behind on the first innigs, were asked to follow on. This decision, perfect at 11am on March the 13th, backfired and turned into a disastrous one by 4pm two days later. It single-handedly changed captains' views on follow-ons forever.

Possibly because he remained unbeaten in India's first innings, Laxman moved up from No. 6 to No. 3 in the second. At 232 for 4, Rahul Dravid, who had gone from No. 3 to No. 6, joined Laxman to begin one of the great partnerships of all time. They batted through the fourth day and were only dismissed as India went for the declaration. Laxman's innings was not just a defensive, match-saving one. He attacked the powerful Australian bowling quartet with disdain and collected 44 boundaries.

The innings was higher in the list in the original Wisden 100. However, subsequent analysis has revealed that the Indian situation was not quite as desperate as those of many other teams in other matches. Compare the 1981 Headingley Test situation with this, for example. The other important factor was the huge support offered by Dravid. The PQI of 56 indicated that it was a good wicket to bat on.

9. Saeed Anwar, 188 not out v India, 1998-99
In the Asian Test Championship held in 1999, Pakistan played the first match against India at Eden Gardens. Against Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, seaming and swinging it in the supportive Eden Gardens atmosphere, Pakistan slumped to 26 for 6. They recovered to 185 thanks to a brave 70 by Moin Khan. India could not really force the pace and got a lead of only 38.

Then Anwar had his glorious day. On the third day of the Test, he anchored the Pakistani innings from 26 for 1 to 316 all out. He received reasonable support. The PQI was 37, indicating that this was a bowler-centric pitch. Pakistan completed one of their most famous away wins ever. The main architect was Anwar, whose innings would be talked about for years to come.

10. Neil Johnson, 107 v Pakistan, Peshawar, 1998-99
A surprising entry at No. 10, but a very well deserved one.

Pakistan scored 296 and Zimbabwe were struggling at 63 for 4 when Johnson walked in. For the next four hours, he toyed with one of the greatest bowling quartets that took the field, and scored 107 (in 117 balls) in Zimbabwe's total of 155. The unheralded Zimbabwe bowlers then dismissed the strong Pakistan batting line-up for 103 and helped achieve their greatest Test victory.

Pakistan's bowlers were Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed. The PQI was 37.6 - indicating a pitch difficult to bat on. Johnson scored over 110 priceless runs with the late-order batsmen. The next best score was 29. And this was a tough away win against a strong team.

The innings that just missed the top ten
Charles Bannerman faced the first ball bowled in Test cricket. He retired hurt the next day, after making a magnificent 165 out of the 240 scored while he was at the crease. He received scant support and the pitch was a very difficult one (PQI of 31.6). This innings misses a top-ten spot by a whisker.

The innings that missed the top 25
26. Doug Walters, 104 not out v New Zealand, 1973-74
27. Brian Lara, 226 v Australia, 2005-06
28. Adam Gilchrist, 144 v Bangladesh, 2005-06
29. Clyde Walcott, 220 v England, 1953-54
30. Tip Foster, 287 v Australia, 1903-04

The year 1981 was the most fertile one for the top 25 - the Golden Willow 25 (GW 25) - with three performances. In the 16 years since the release of the Wisden 100, seven new performances have broken into the new list.


*Performances with rating points of 400 or more

The GW 25 has six performances from England batsmen, and five from Australia. South Africa and Bangladesh miss out, though. The top ten has strong representation from England, India and Pakistan. It is nice to see that seven teams are represented in the top ten, including a heart-warmer from Zimbabwe. As expected, Australia lead the frequency table, with a top batting performance every 2.18 innings. West Indies follow, with 2.35, while Pakistan have one every 2.43 innings.
The top innings in drawn Tests
The highest placed innings in a drawn match is Dennis Amiss' magnificent unbeaten match-saving 262 against West Indies in Kingston. It fetched 762 points and is in the GW 25. The second-placed innings is Hanif Mohammad's 187 not out against a strong England at Lord's in 1967. This marathon effort secured 730 points. The third-placed innings is Carl Hooper's 134 in Lahore against Pakistan in 1990, with 719 points.

The top innings in lost Tests
The highest placed innings in a lost match is Brian Lara's masterly 226 against Australia at Adelaide Oval in 2005, with 743 points. Kapil Dev's 129, which resurrected India from 31 for 6 in Port Elizabeth in 1992 fetched 740 points. Next comes Asif Iqbal's 146 against England at The Oval, with 734 points. He came in at 53 for 7 and added 190 for the ninth wicket with Intikhab Alam.

A few interesting facts
1. Lara is the only batsman with two entries in GW-25.

2. Russell Endean's magnificent third-innings effort of 162 not out against a strong Australian team at the MCG in 1952 is the highest-placed innings by a South Africa batsman. After South Africa conceded a lead of 16, Endean powered the second innings to a match-winning 388. The performance earned 718 points.

3. Shakib-Al Hasan's fourth-innings classic of 96 not out, which led Bangladesh to an away win over West Indies in Grenada in 2009, fetched 566 points and is the top Bangladeshi performance.

4. Gundappa Viswanath's unbeaten 97 against West Indies in Madras in 1975 fetched 726 points and is the highest-placed sub-100 innings.

5. Virat Kohli's stunning 149 at Edgbaston in the first Test of the ongoing series is just outside the top 100. If India had won, this innings would have been in the top 25. However, as a match performer, Kohli stands tall: this will be covered in a follow-up article.

6. Dimuth Karunaratne's match-winning 158 not out in the recently concluded Galle Test against South Africa was placed in the top 50.

7. The 25 featured batting performances are split by innings as follows: nine were in the first innings of Tests, six in the second, eight in the third, and two in the fourth.

8. In the 3233 qualifying performances (those with rating points of 400 or more), there were 904 in drawn matches and 661 in lost matches. This works out to nearly 50% of the total. This is a clear indication that the result does not play a huge role in the overall ratings calculations.

9. In most of the GW 25 innings, the batsman flourished while the team struggled. The exception is Gordon Greenidge's unbeaten 214 at Lord's in 1984. There, West Indies galloped to 344 for 1 and achieved a most comfortable win. That possibly applies to Jayasuriya's 2004-05 Faialsabad innings as well.

I will not answer persistent questions about a particular performance or player. Before rushing off with a query, please study the scorecards in the light of the nine parameters and it will be clear why a performance is placed higher or lower.

I will publish two follow-up articles in September:

1. The response to comments about Red Cherry 25 and Golden Willow 25. I'll also write on match-level performances, match-level percentage of team points, and career rating averages for batsmen.

2. Match-level performances, match-level percentage of team points and career rating averages for bowlers and allrounders.

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