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Five epic batsman-bowler duels

Rivalries that defined eras and gave for unforgettable contests between bat and ball

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Sachin Tendulkar's assault on Glenn McGrath in the ICC Knockout 2000, in Nairobi, is the stuff of legend

"He was the one sledging me," Glenn McGrath said about Tendulkar of the ICC Knockout game in Nairobi in 2000  •  Getty Images

Nothing defines eras more than contests between great bowlers and batsmen of the time. These are five of the best.
Viv Richards v Dennis Lillee
In the 1970s and 80s, the West Indies-Australia contest was the pinnacle of cricket, and Lillee and Richards were its main protagonists. In the first series they played against each other, in 1975, Lillee, who had recovered from a career-threatening spine injury the previous year, took 27 wickets in a 5-1 home win for Australia. He dismissed the 23-year-old Richards five times, but on three of those occasions Richards had already past 50.
In 1977, both players signed for Kerry Packer's World Series of Cricket - the duel between them was marketed as one of the key plots of the rebel tournament. They had some of their best contests there, with Lillee dismissing Richards eight times.
They were back playing international cricket by 1979, and Richards began to dominate the contest, scoring 386 runs at 96.50 in West Indies' 2-1 away series victory in Australia in 1979-80, with Lillee dismissing him just twice. Lillee's big moment against his rival came in the MCG Boxing Day Test of 1981, when he bowled Richards late on the first evening of what turned out to be a close match. Lillee got his career-best figures of 7-83 in that same innings, and the Richards dismissal was the iconic moment from it.
Overall, Richards won the contest, averaging 48.73 in Tests featuring Lillee, though he was also dismissed nine times by him in Tests, more than by any other bowler. In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, Richards said Lillee was the one opponent who kept him up at night.
Steve Waugh v Wasim Akram
In the 13 Tests he played against Akram, Waugh was dismissed four times by him. In their most thrilling battle, however, Waugh survived some of Akram's fiercest bowling, showing his legendary toughness. In the 1994 Rawalpindi Test, Akram was presented with a green pitch and decided to test Waugh's well-documented vulnerability against the short ball.
"It was the quickest, meanest [spell] I'd ever seen," Waugh wrote of Akram's barrage in his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone. "Wasim either didn't like me or I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing was in my half of the wicket and it was all genuinely quick, the ball leaping off the pitch with spite and venom."
Waugh hopped about but, crucially, survived, and got 98 before playing on against Waqar Younis. The effort earned him Akram's respect. "He didn't middle a ball in my spell - I was beating him, and he was leaving a lot of balls," Akram told the Sydney Morning Herald. "But he stood there and got 98 and that was very, very impressive. I just wanted to kill him, as a bowler. That was probably the quickest I've ever bowled."
Sachin Tendulkar v Glenn McGrath
While the much anticipated Tendulkar vs Shane Warne contest ended up being a bit one-sided, the Tendulkar v McGrath battle produced memorable moments and became the one that defined India-Australia matches of the 1990s and early 2000s.
McGrath dismissed Tendulkar in their first meeting, in Sharjah in 1994, but two years later, Tendulkar hit his rival for some big shots, including a famous six over midwicket, during his 90 against Australia in the 1996 World Cup. In a must-win game at the 1999 World Cup, Tendulkar was dismissed by McGrath for a duck, which was seen as the final blow to India's campaign.
Things really heated up on India's 1999-2000 tour of Australia. In Adelaide, umpire Daryl Harper infamously gave Tendulkar out lbw when hit on the shoulder while trying to duck under a Mcgrath bouncer that didn't get up. In Melbourne, Tendulkar played McGrath cautiously while attacking the other bowlers on his way to 116 and 52. But in Sydney, both attacked, and in an epic over, Tendulkar took consecutive pulled boundaries off McGrath and then, when the bowler went fuller, drove him down the ground. McGrath responded by dismissing Tendulkar lbw off the last ball of the over with an inswinger.
Another memorable contest ensued a year later, in Nairobi, in the first ICC KnockOut, which would later become the Champions Trophy. Tendulkar was in a belligerent mood, getting 33 runs off 30 balls from McGrath, including a six down the ground and one over midwicket. Most surprisingly, Tendulkar, apparently, sledged his opponent. He admitted as much in later interviews, saying he had done it to put McGrath off his game. "That's one of the games I remember where I didn't say a word at all. He was the one sledging me," McGrath told ESPNcricinfo in an interview in 2005.
McGrath had the big moments in the second half of the rivalry, dismissing Tendulkar in Test wins in Mumbai (2001) and Nagpur (2004) and in the first over of India's chase in the 2003 World Cup final. In all, he got Tendulkar six times in Tests and seven times in ODIs.
Brian Lara v Muttiah Muralitharan
Ahead of West Indies' 2001 tour of Sri Lanka, Brian Lara's Test average had dipped below 50. He responded by preparing harder than ever for the tour. Muralitharan had just gone past 350 wickets. He had tormented some of the world's best batsmen, particularly on home pitches. Lara amassed 688 runs at 114.66 in the series and was dismissed just twice by Muralitharan. It was a staggering tally considering just one other West Indies batsman got more than 200 runs in the series as they were beaten 3-0. Muralitharan took 24 wickets, with two ten-wicket hauls, but could not unsettle Lara.
Lara credited Sir Garry Sobers for his improved technique and said they key was avoiding cross-batted shots like the sweep and watching the ball from the spinner's hand. Muralitharan has always maintained that Lara was the batsman who played him best.
Ricky Ponting v Andrew Flintoff
Flintoff to Ponting, over number 13, fourth innings, Edgbaston, 2005 Ashes, third session on day three, Test match on the line - one of the most memorable overs in modern cricket history. With Australia chasing 282 to make it 2-0 in the series, Flintoff dismissed Justin Langer off the second ball of his first over of the innings to make it 47 for 1. Ponting walked in, and Flintoff, bowling at above 90mph, rapped him on the pads, then took a thick inside edge, before hitting the pads again. With one ball left in the over, he bowled one wide of off, and the umpire called a no-ball. The seventh ball was a fast outswinger, angling in and then straightening late. Ponting stabbed, nicked, and walked off for a duck. One of the best batsmen of his era, with a Test average of more than 58, had been worked over.
That was in the second Test the two played against each other, and the rivalry continued for the next four years. Ponting fell to Flintoff again in the fifth Test in 2005 and succumbed to him twice during the ICC Super Tests later in the year. But he turned the tables when Flintoff toured Australia as captain in 2006-07. Ponting scored 576 runs at 82.28 and was out just once to Flintoff as Australia won 5-0. Two years later, in his final Test, the decider of the 2009 Ashes, Flintoff ran Ponting out with a direct hit from mid-on to seal the series for England.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84