Stats Analysis

These are the most unforgettable draws in Test history

Adelaide 1960, Jo'burg 2013, Hobart 1997, Mumbai 2011, and more - teams fighting their way to safety from near-hopeless situations

England's fielders close in as they desperately seek a wicket, New Zealand v England, 2nd Test, Christchurch, 5th day, April 3, 2018

Neil Wagner and Ish Sodhi withstand England on the final evening in Christchurch, 2017-18  •  Getty Images

To start with, an update on my feature on upsets in cricket, published last month. Quite a few readers wondered where India's magnificent upset win in Brisbane would have fitted in.
The TSI (Team Strength Index) took a dive for India with so many new players at the Gabba. The TSI-gap shot up to 36.2 (77.8 to 41.2) and moved this match up quite significantly. The Recent Form Index for India picked up, while it dropped for Australia - both these factors pushed the match down a little in the overall list. The result margin was relatively narrow, and India got a middling 5.33 points. The net result was that the Upset Index for this match was 64.53, which put it in seventh place. If I had written the article a month later, this Test would have featured prominently. I suspect it might have got an even higher placement, possibly in the top five, since I would have tweaked the dead-rubber situation for a few other Tests.
Also, an update on the batting performance ratings, the Golden Willow 25. I am glad to inform all that the expectations of Kyle Mayers' unbeaten 210 achieving a high rating have been justified. It has received 798.8 GW 25 rating points and has come in at the eighth position in the table, just behind Brian Lara's 153* (803.9) and above Virender Sehwag's 201* (796.9). This is a fantastic position since the Bangladesh bowling attack is not the best in the world. However, other factors worked in his favour and I am glad that the innings got its vaunted position.
Joe Root's Galle innings of 228, with a good HSI (High Score Index, which looks at share of team score and batting support received) of 1.75, excellent IPV (Innings Peer Value, a ratio of the batsman's score and that of his other team-mates in the match) of 13.9, away win against a team closer in strength (England away and Sri Lanka home), coming in at 17 for 2 and a middling PQI (Pitch Quality Index), clocked in at around 750 points and comfortably made it to the GW 25, in the 19th position. Root's 186 in the second Test in Sri Lanka was a similar innings, but smaller. It got around 710 points and is comfortably in the top 60. Not content with this double strike, Root conquered Chennai with a match- and series-defining double-century. This innings gathered 676 points and finished in the 99th position in the GW 25 table. So, in the course of 25 days, Root has played three top-100 innings. No one else has ever done this.
It is interesting to know that five innings from recent times have made it to the top echelons of GW 25, indicating the quality of batting on show today: Kusal Perera's 153 not out in Durban; Steven Smith's 144 at Edgbaston; Root's 228 in Galle; Ben Stokes' 135 not out at Headingley; and Cheteshwar Pujara's 123 in Adelaide (which just missed the top 25).
This article is inspired by the SCG draw, which ensured that India and Australia reached Brisbane with the series tied one-all. It was not a typical draw with nine wickets down and the last pair playing out a few deliveries. The match was lost for certain around the final afternoon, and a brave stand rescued India.
So I decided to look at unforgettable draws from a different angle. I made a shortlist of 86 draws that had long partnerships towards the end of the fourth innings. I went through each Test fully, looking at scorecard and the non-scorecard information, trying to understand what went on behind the scenes. Having followed or watched quite a few of these Tests, I knew what had gone on. It is clear that the SCG Test was a very tough one to save because of the many things that had happened.
I arrived at the final list of featured Tests in a manner I am not used to, so this is indeed a very special selection.
It should be noted that the information on balls played is at three levels. For the early matches, probably until 1970, there is absolutely no information of any kind. For the next lot, the balls played by batsmen is available. And for the recent matches, the balls at which wickets fell is also available. So I have had to extrapolate at different levels using whatever data and information I could gather, often going through match reports.
A draw with five wickets down is seemingly a comfortable draw. However, there are two points to be considered. Against strong bowling sides, a wicket could bring two or three more and suddenly the team could be seven or eight down. The other important point is that while it's good to have wickets in hand when there's only 30 minutes of play left, it's not so helpful when there are three hours remaining. Hence, while compiling these five-wicket-down situations, one mandate I have is a fairly long sixth-wicket partnership. The perfect example is the recent SCG Test.
An innovative graph lets us understand the matches clearly.
If the 1960-61 Adelaide Test between Australia and West Indies was almost certainly the greatest of saves, the Johannesburg Test in 1995-96 would run it very close. South Africa, having dominated for over three days, set England a target of 479, or more realistically, of saving the match by batting out nearly 11 hours. England started day five at 167 for 4, having lost Alec Stewart, Mark Ramprakash, Graham Thorpe and Graeme Hick overnight. Robin Smith hung around with Michael Atherton for 111 balls, and when Jack Russell joined Atherton at 232 for 5, England still had some 70 overs left to bat. What followed was one of the greatest match-saving stands ever - Russell faced 235 balls, more than Atherton in this partnership, while Atherton's overall 11-hour vigil took 492 balls.
When Sri Lanka played a very strong India in 2017-18 in Delhi, they were set over 400 to win in just over 100 overs. The first four wickets fell for 35 and the fifth at 147 on the fifth day with over four hours left. Dhananjaya de Silva and Roshen Silva took the score to 205 for 5 when de Silva retired hurt. Niroshan Dickwella joined Silva and these two took Sri Lanka to safety. These three batsmen faced 288 balls during the unbroken sixth-wicket partnership.
At the SCG last month, India were facing certain defeat at 272 for 5 with over three hours of play still left. Ravindra Jadeja had suffered a blow to his left thumb, Hanuma Vihari had torn a hamstring, and Jasprit Bumrah was struggling with an abdominal strain. Through a combination of grit, determination, strategic play and some luck, Vihari and R Ashwin stayed together for 256 balls to save the Test. The true value of this draw was felt a week later in Brisbane.
The third Test of India's 1986 tour of England was a dead rubber, since India had already taken a 2-0 lead before coming to Edgbaston. However, a Test save is one to savour. After both sides made 390 each in the first innings, England set India the relatively simple task of scoring 236 to win on the final day. But at 105 for 5, with over two and a half hours still left, a loss seemed imminent. However, Mohammad Azharuddin and Kiran More got stuck in and negotiated over 200 balls to take India to safety.
In Madras in 1963-64, India took a first-innings lead of 140 against England, faltered in the second innings and set the visitors a target of 293. England were floundering at 157 for 5 with over two hours still left for play. The ball was turning square but John Mortimore and Phil Sharpe negotiated some 180 balls and saved England from losing this first Test. Since the five-Test series finished in a 0-0 draw, this save was important.
Now, for the six-wickets-down situations. This again is a matter of batting out hours.
At Old Trafford in 1990, India were set a target of 408 and survived from a difficult 127 for 5 thanks to a 17-year-old's first century in international cricket. Sachin Tendulkar had partnerships of 90 balls with Kapil Dev and 250 balls with Manoj Prabhakar.
On their tour to India in 2003-04, New Zealand were set 370 to win in just over a day's play in the first Test in Ahmedabad. They were floundering at 169 for 6 with nearly three hours left, but Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle put on a match-saving partnership that lasted 229 balls. The bowling attack was a potent one, led by Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.
In the first Test of New Zealand's tour of West Indies in 1984-85, the visitors were all at sea at 83 for 5 against an attack led by Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding. Jeremy Coney and Richard Hadlee lasted around 180 balls for the sixth wicket before Coney was dismissed. Then Hadlee stayed on for another 100 balls with Ian Smith and averted certain defeat.
Once more New Zealand in West Indies, this time in Kingston in 1971-72. Set 341 to win against a not-so-great West Indian attack, the Kiwis were struggling at 135 for 5. Then Mark Burgess and Ken Wadsworth stitched together a 210-ball partnership. After Burgess' dismissal, Wadsworth and Bob Cunis saw through the last hour of play, facing more than 15 overs.
New Zealand at home this time, in Wellington, against a strong South Africa in 2011-12. The target was 389, well beyond them in the 80 overs available. Defeat seemed imminent when the score was 83 for 5. But Kane Williamson saw New Zealand to safety with a 153-ball partnership with Kruger van Wyk and 96-ball partnership with Doug Bracewell. New Zealand seem to specialise in these six-down-and-recovery situations.
At Trent Bridge in the Ashes tour of 1993, despite taking a lead of 50 runs in the first innings, Australia were set the tough task of scoring 371 runs in about 75 overs. They slumped to 115 for 6 and a draw was the only option for them. Steve Waugh and Brendon Julian lasted over 200 balls and saved the Test match.
The situation becomes even tougher with the fall of the seventh wicket.
On their 1947 tour of England, South Africa found themselves in serious trouble at The Oval. They were 266 for 6, chasing 451 with plenty of overs to play. Opener Bruce Mitchell had two partnerships of around 100 and 200 balls with Nos. 8 and 9, Tufty Mann and Lindsay Tuckett. Mitchell finished on 189 not out and at close of play, South Africa were only 27 runs short of the imposing target.
Against a strong Sri Lankan attack, South Africa were struggling at 138 for 6 in Moratuwa in 1993. Jonty Rhodes saved the Test, putting together partnerships with Pat Symcox and Clive Eksteen. The feature of these partnerships was that while Rhodes attacked his way to a near run-a-ball century, his partners scored 25 runs in 162 balls.
Against a strong England attack in Antigua in 2015, West Indies found themselves in trouble after being set 438 to win as they lost wickets at steady intervals and were struggling at 189 for 6. Jason Holder was the saviour from No. 8, adding 105 runs in 32 overs with Denesh Ramdin and a further 56 runs in 18 overs with Kemar Roach.
In Kanpur in 1976-77, New Zealand were asked to bat out well over 100 overs to save the match. At 114 for 6, everything seemed lost. Two redeeming partnerships added 79 runs but, more importantly, lasted well over 50 overs. Against the spin triplet of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar and S Venkataraghavan, on a crumbling Indian pitch, this was indeed magnificent batting. No. 7 Warren Lees was the hero, aided by Richard Hadlee and David O'Sullivan .
The 2013-14 Johannesburg Test between South Africa and India is quite different to the other four featured here. The defining fourth-innings partnership was the fifth-wicket one between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers for over 200 runs. Then three wickets fell quickly and South Africa shut shop. Why they chose to do so when they needed 16 to win with three wickets in hand is a mystery. Contrast this with the Indian batsmen's attitude in Brisbane recently.
Now, the precipice beckons with the fall of the eighth wicket.
When New Zealand faced England at home in Christchurch in 2017-18, they were tasked with batting out over 120 overs to save the Test. At 135 for 5, with over 80 overs left, it seemed like doomsday ahead. There were reasonable stands for the next two wickets, but despite that New Zealand were 219 for 7 with over 30 overs to go. Then Ish Sodhi and Neil Wagner put together a magnificent stand of 188 balls. It didn't matter that Wagner was dismissed off what turned out to be the last ball of the Test. One of the great rearguard actions of all time.
New Zealand again. The 1965-66 Test in Christchurch against England was a strange one. Two scores nearing 350 followed by 201 indicate it was a good pitch. What happened afterwards was brutal. In 48 nerve-wracking overs, New Zealand managed 48 for 8. The last 16 runs, from Vic Pollard and Cunis, came in an estimated 20 overs.
In 2018-19 in Dubai, Pakistan steamrolled Australia for the better part of four days and eventually set them a target of 462. At 252 for 5, Australia wouldn't have seemed in a particularly precarious situation, except that they had over 50 overs still to negotiate.Usman Khawaja, who scored a magnificent 141, and Tim Paine (61 not out) put together a partnership that lasted more than 36 overs. After Khawaja was dismissed, Paine and Nathan Lyon played out 12 overs.
It is really tough to escape the spin web in Sri Lanka if you have to last over 110 overs in the fourth innings. But that's exactly what South Africa did in 2014 at the SSC. They had several nervy moments - at 110 for 6, 130 for 7 and 148 for 8. Hashim Amla faced 159 balls and Vernon Philander 98 balls. They were well supported by JP Duminy and the other late-order batsmen.
In Adelaide in 2012-13, after two high first-innings scores, Australia gave themselves nearly 150 overs to dismiss South Africa. At 45 for 4, South Africa still had to bat out more than 120 overs to salvage a draw. That is exactly what du Plessis achieved on debut. First, through long partnerships with de Villiers and Jacques Kallis and three smaller ones, du Plessis, who faced 376 balls in an eight-hour vigil, saw South Africa safely home.
At The Oval in 1979, India were set 438 to win, a target never reached in all of Test cricket. It is possible that William Hill might have offered 500-1 odds against an Indian win. Sunil Gavaskar scored 221 in 443 balls, Chetan Chauhan lasted 263 balls and Dilip Vengsarkar 139 balls. India were coasting at 366 for 1. Then, Kapil Dev, promoted unnecessarily, swung his bat and got out. Wickets fell regularly and finally India shut the doors on a chase. Listening to this chase on the radio, I was extremely disappointed at India missing the win.
Both this Test and the Johannesburg Test 34 years later could have easily been among the greatest of wins rather than the greatest draws. I feel that both India and South Africa were content with draws rather than risking a loss while going for a win.
Let us move on to the Tests in which nine wickets were down at end of the match, with the team batting last truly a ball away from defeat.
The first match featured is an all-time classic and almost inarguably the greatest save of all. This Test featured in the series that also had the first tied Test, between Australia and West Indies. The first three innings produced scores either side of 400 and Australia were left with well over seven hours to save the Test. They were tottering at 207 for 9 with nearly two hours left for play. Ken "Slasher" Mackay dug in and was helped by Lindsay Kline. I have estimated they saw through around 200 balls, that too against a fierce bowling attack.
In Harare in 2003-04, West Indies had to bat out just over 80 overs, but they slumped to 103 for 5 with more than 40 overs to go. Each wicket held on for some time and finally a last-wicket stand of over 12 overs saw them through. Ridley Jacobs batted three hours for 60 and Fidel Edwards over half hour for 1.
With two challenging declarations in Hobart in 1997-98, Australia set New Zealand a reasonable target of 288 in around 65 overs. They reached 72 for no loss in about 11 overs, but then slumped to 95 for 4. Craig McMillan was still scoring at around four runs per over but after New Zealand lost two more wickets they rolled the shutters down and hung on for a fantastic draw with the last two batsmen scoring one run but lasting 11 overs.
In Antigua in 2008-09, West Indies needed to bat over 120 overs to save the Test against England. The last six partnerships lasted 34, 55, 58, 29, 42, 60 balls. These numbers tell the story. Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul played well over 150 balls each. This sort of save is a rare one.
At the Wankhede Stadium in 2011-12, a rare event occurred. After two huge first innings, West Indies were dismissed for 134 and set India 243 to win. India needed three runs of the last over of the match with two wickets in hand. With one ball left, they needed two, but R Ashwin was run out taking the second run and only for the second time in Test history was a match drawn with the scores level.
In Port-of-Spain in 1987-88, after two sub-200 first innings, West Indies found their batting mojo and set Pakistan a target of 372 in 130 overs. The teams exchanged initiatives a few times and Pakistan, at 169 for 5, looked likely to lose. Then at 282 for 5, they seemed ahead. There were useful partnerships for each of the late-order wickets and it required a short partnership for the tenth wicket to save the day for Pakistan. The bowling attack was top-notch - Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Winston Benjamin.
Now, we move to a special section - draws in which teams who were behind played magnificent third innings.
South Africa were a very strong team before their ban from Test cricket. In Johannesburg in 1966-67, they had the strong Australians on the ropes, having dismissed them for 143 and taking a 189-run first innings lead. In the third innings, Australia were struggling at 125 for 6. Ian Chappell and Tom Veivers saved them with a 20-over stand for the seventh wicket. Then two wickets fell in two balls but rain appeared in time for Australia to draw the Test.
At Old Trafford in 1998, South Africa posted a huge total of 552 and dismissed England for 183. Following on and 369 runs behind, England were rescued by an Alec Stewart century and a six-hour vigil by Atherton. From the comfort of 237 for 2, they slipped to 329 for 8 with 25 overs to go. Robert Croft and Darren Gough nearly got them to a draw, but with five overs to go, Gough was dismissed. These five overs were nerve-wracking since England were still two runs away from safety. Finally they matched South Africa's score and the match was drawn.
In the 1991-92 Test against India at the SCG, Australia conceded a first-innings lead of 170 and were struggling at 114 for 6. Allan Border, with a 157-ball-53, and Merv Hughes, with a 73-ball-21, saved the day for them. They finished the match just three runs ahead.
England achieved another defensive coup in the 2009 Ashes in Cardiff. After scoring 435 and still conceding a 239-run lead, England, in the third innings, slid to 159 for 7, 221 for 8 and 233 for 9. A last-wicket partnership lasting around 12 overs saved the day for them.
In Port-of-Spain in 1967-68,West Indies followed on and were on the brink of an innings defeat at 180 for 8, collapsing from a comfortable 164 for 2. Garry Sobers and Wes Hall added 63 in an estimated 20 overs to take them to safety. It is worth mentioning that Hall came in on a David Brown hat-trick ball.
Finally, the greatest single-innings fightback in history. Who else but the New Zealanders? In the Wellington Test against India in 2013-14, New Zealand were 94 for 5 in the third innings, still trailing by 151 runs. From there, while staring at a devastating innings defeat at home, captain Brendon McCullum took them to an unbelievable 680 for 8. He scored 302 (559), BJ Watling made 124 (367) and Jimmy Neesham 137 (154).
Two Tests not covered in this list are the terrific third-innings draws in the West Indies in 1973-74 and in Napier in 2008-09. Dennis Amiss' all-time classic of 262 not out saved England from certain defeat in Jamaica. However, the fact is that it was a magnificent innings but the match does not qualify for inclusion here since England were already ahead of West Indies by 200 runs. Gautam Gambhir's 137 is a similar innings. Helped by Laxman's 124 not out, Gambhir took India to safety but they were well ahead.
I have featured 34 matches here. Which five among these would I select as the best saves? Considering all the factors during, before and after the concerned match, my list of five Tests is given in order of preference.
1. MacKay and Kline's magnificent last-wicket partnership against West Indies in Adelaide, 1960-61
2. Atherton's monumental 185* and Russell's equally brave effort in Johannesburg, 1994-95
3. Vihari and Ashwin's stupendous rescue act at the SCG, 2020-21
4. McCullum's triple-century in Wellington, 2013-14
5. The Hobart 1997-98 Test in which New Zealand went for a win but had the tactical nous to close shop and play out a draw. Sodhi's and Wagner's long match-saving partnership in Christchurch in 2017-18 runs this close.
Of these 34 Tests, nine have been played by New Zealand (and of the 84 Tests in the shortlist, 24 featured New Zealand). It is clear that they are the team to bat for anyone's life.
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems