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Perera's 153, Laxman's 281 or Stokes' 135 - which is the best Test batting performance of all time?

A comprehensive rating system reveals all

VVS Laxman drives through cover, India v Australia, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day, March 14, 2001

VVS Laxman's 281 after India followed on in Kolkata against Australia in 2001 is among the top five Test best batting performances of all time  •  Getty Images

This article presents a complete revision of the historic Wisden 100 list of greatest Test batting performances released in 2001, and of the revised version, called the Golden Willow 25 published on ESPNcricinfo in 2018. In the 22 years since the first list was published, there have been many insights, suggestions and data revelations. In 2001, we had six months to create the list. Now we have had over two decades.
The new rankings, called Bat-100, presented in this article, incorporate many improvements, conceptually, contextually, and in terms of coverage - in breadth and in depth.
The basic idea remains the same - a bouquet of the 100 best Test performances ever. It is recommended that any reader who has not gone through my previous article, which provided details of the method used to derive the Bat-100 list, do so before perusing this article. Otherwise they will not know the basis on which these lists are drawn up.
First up, the most important table: the revised Bat-100 list.
No one should be surprised at the top entry in the Bat-100 table. Kusal Perera's epic unbeaten 153, scored away from home, against an all-time great bowling attack, chasing a 300-plus target. Perera came in at 52 for 3, saw wickets fall regularly, and finally took the team to a win from 226 for 9 with a 78-run stand. I would say that this innings is comparable to Viv Richards' unbeaten 189 in ODIs - which emerges on top in almost every analysis of the greatest ODI batting performances. Fittingly, Perera's innings has a 50-plus points lead over the second-placed innings. I can confidently say that irrespective of the parameters used and their weights, and the methodology, this classic will stay on top.
The No. 2 innings involves a batter making his debut in a tough away Test against crafty opponents. His team had a huge target of 395 to chase, on a turning pitch. He walked in with a 21% chance of a win and played an innings of multiple lifetimes, scoring 210 out of the 336 added, taking his side to one of the greatest wins by a visiting team in Asia. That is what Kyle Mayers did. He deservedly takes the second place in the table. He too is just about 50 points ahead of the next-placed innings.
In third place is one of the most popular innings of all time. VVS Laxman's 281 against a good bowling side, against a team rolling in with 16 wins and after following on is the stuff of fantasy. The impact this innings had on the cricket-scape of India is immeasurable. Perhaps a couple of minor points that watered down Laxman's innings were the magnificent support provided by Rahul Dravid and the margin of India's win.
A mirror image of the No. 1 innings in many ways, including the score itself, Brian Lara's all-time classic of 153 not out against Australia in Port-of-Spain takes fourth place. While his and Perera's innings are similar in many ways, the most significant difference is that West Indies were playing at home. And the crucial runs were added for the ninth wicket, not the tenth. The bowling was no less formidable and the situation equally tough.
In fifth place is another fourth-innings classic - Ben Stokes' match-winning 135 not out against Australia - after an England first-innings score of 67 and in the face of a dire 286 for 9, a win still 73 runs away (though when Stokes came in, England were at a reasonable 141 for 3). Four of the top five innings on the Bat-100 table are from fourth innings where the team batting last won.
Mark Waugh's beautifully crafted 116, which anchored a tough chase of 270 in a match with a low Pitch Quotient index (PQI) against South Africa is next.
Neil Harvey's classic of 151 not out, coming in at 59 for 3 in a 336-run chase, after Australia were dismissed for 75 in the first innings, is in the next place.
The next four performances all came in the third innings of matches. Dennis Amiss' 563-ball marathon against West Indies that single-handedly saved the match for England is in eighth place. Only one other batter played over 100 balls in that innings, and only just.
The ninth-placed innings is Ian Botham's unforgettable 149 not out after coming in at 105 for 5 at Headingley in 1981. However, the real match-winner in that game was Bob Willis, with his 8 for 43 in the final innings.
Graham Gooch's masterpiece of 154 not out against a hard-as-nails West Indian attack is placed next.
The interesting entries among the next 15 innings are Dave Nourse's unbeaten 93 (the only sub-100 innings), Mahela Jayawardene's opening-day masterclass of 180 against England, Inzamam-ul-Haq's magnificent 138 not out in 2003, Sunil Gavaskar's classic 221 that nearly took India home at The Oval, Mike Atherton's marathon match-saving innings of 185 not out, Hanif Mohammad's 16-hour epic of 337, Jeremy Coney's tough, match-winning 111 against Pakistan, and Lara's other famous innings, the 213 in the 1999 series.
Lara is the only player with two innings in the top 25. England lead this table with eight innings, and Sri Lanka have five.
Please click here to view/download the "Bat-100 Qualifying Innings" file, which lists the 15,120 innings that qualify, having secured either 500 Rating points or more or where 50 or more runs have been scored.
The graph above shows the top 25 performances, plotting the runs made and the rating points. Note how many innings are clustered around the 150-run mark. Five of the top ten fall between 149 and 154. The top score is the sole triple-hundred - one that saved the Test. The range of scores - 93 to 337 - is a clear indication that the Bat-100 has a good spread across the score ranges.
The tables above list the top five performances from the Bat-100 in each innings. The five performances in the fourth innings have already been covered since these are in the Bat-100 top six. Similarly, the five third-innings performances are in the top half of the top 25. Plum Warner's immaculately crafted 132 not out in a low-scoring Test is in 11th place.
The second-innings performances are led by Tip Foster's dream innings of 287 on debut at the SCG. Lara's 213 in Kingston, coming in at 5 for 2, follows. Dravid's match-winning 270 in Rawalpindi is next, followed by Joe Root's recent Galle classic of 228, and finally Graham Yallop's 268 at the MCG.
The first-innings performances include Jayawardene's lovely 180 against England, Jack Hobbs' 187 in an era not known for big innings, the recent Dimuth Karunaratne gem of 158 not out, Charles Bannerman's immortal unbeaten 165 in the first ever Test, and Amiss' match-winning 179 in Delhi.
A study of the points distribution of these performances is revealing - performances in the first two innings tend to inhabit a lower band of ratings points.
The tables above are self-explanatory. To mention just the eight top performances for the featured teams: Mark Waugh's 116, Stokes' 135 not out, Laxman's 281, Inzamam's unbeaten 138, Mayers' 210 not out, Nourse's 93 not out, Coney's 111 not out, and Perera's unbeaten 153. All these innings are in the Bat-100 top 25.
The numbers in brackets next to the team names indicate the number of performances for that team in the Bat-100. England lead with 23. Australia follow with 22, and Pakistan are third with 11. The best performance for Bangladesh is by Shakib Al Hasan, who secured 635 points for his match-winning 96 not out in a tough chase against West Indies in St George's, Grenada, in 2009. The best performance for Zimbabwe is that of Neil Johnson, who got 707 points for his magnificent match-winning 107 against Pakistan in Peshawar in 1998.
Now we move on to analysing the top 100 in other ways. Four each of Don Bradman's and Lara's innings feature in the list, while Hobbs, Jayawardene and Younis Khan have three each. As already explained in the lead-up article, the second innings is least represented, while the last innings has the most entries. This is understandable, since the fourth innings is normally the decisive one. The Bat-100 features innings from four losses (for the batter's team) and 18 draws.
Many more away innings, understandably, are in the top 100 than home ones. Well over a third of the 100 innings are from after the year 2000. No fewer than eight fifties are featured, and eight triple-hundreds. Understandably, opening batters account for nearly a third of the 100 innings. Three batters who played at No. 8 or lower make the grade. Finally, left-handers occupy 27% of the spots - which aligns with the fact that 27% of batters are left-handers out of those who have scored at least 2000 Test runs.
Take a look at the top performances in drawn matches. In addition to defensive classics that saved teams from certain disasters, we also have memorable first- and second-innings efforts such as Bradman's 334 at Headingley and Yallop's second-innings effort of 268.
When it comes to great batting performances in losing causes, three contrasting innings take the top places. That monster of an innings by Nathan Astle that sent shivers down England's collective spine; a magnificent last-ditch effort by Len Hutton, who scored 62 not out, coming in at No. 8 on a Gabba gluepot; and finally that unforgettable Sachin Tendulkar effort against Pakistan in Chennai in 1999, where the great master could not take India past the finishing line.
Now for a couple of tables highlighting special performances. We will have a look at some terrific fifties first.
The top fifties table is in two parts. The top half features fifties ranked by Bat-100 rating points. The top-ranked fifty of all time is Nourse's magnificent innings in Johannesburg in 1906. After three sub-200 innings, South Africa were left with a huge target of 284 in the fourth innings, and though the English bowling attack was a sub-par one, it was still a huge ask. Nourse walked in at a precarious 105 for 6 and added over 100 with Gordon White. Then three wickets fell and the score was 239 for 9. Nourse made the remaining runs with Percy Sherwell to secure a tremendous win. This performance ranks 13th on the Bat-100 table.
Four years later, Jack Hobbs played an almost identical innings. Set 221 to win, England were tottering at 42 for 3 when he walked in. It soon became 42 for 4 an 93 for 6 but Hobbs stood firm and eventually took England to a three-wicket win, for which he gets 752 points in the Bat-100 ratings. That innings is followed by George Hirst's famous unbeaten 58 . Then comes Alex Tudor's magnificent unbeaten 99 after coming in as nightwatchman in a tricky chase. The first three innings in the match were 226, 126, and 107, and in that context, the target of 208 looked formidable. Tudor came in at 3 for 1 and took England to an easy win on the third day. He hit 21 fours in his 119-ball 99.
Looking at the top innings in terms of ratings points per run, Perera's 51 in the first innings of the 153-not-out Test was a hugely important innings. Coming in at 53 for 3, he batted attractively and helped Sri Lanka keep the deficit relatively low, which proved crucial on the fourth day. Hirst's 58 not out proved to be as valuable as Gilbert Jessop's 104 in the same innings - both performances get over 700 rating points in the Bat-100 rankings. Anton Murray's 51, coming in at 126 for 7, helped South Africa make a respectable 227 and was to prove important in their away win at the MCG in 1952. These three innings had around 12 Rating points per run.
The performance with the highest points-per-run value, which is not on the Bat-100 list, is Dhananjaya de Silva's 48 in that Durban Test match of 2019 in Sri Lanka's second innings, when he put on a match-winning partnership of 96 with Perera. De Silva secured 661 points and this works out to 13.77 points per run. This is the highest-placed sub-50 innings.
The table above consists of hundreds that rank low - first, on absolute rating points value, and then on rating-points-per-run value. The first table is filled with innings of just over 100 runs that were made in high-scoring matches, which diminishes their value. The Bat-100 rating points are around 300 for these centuries. Angelo Mathews' hundred against Ireland in Galle does not even reach the 300 value. The second part of the table is dominated by triple-hundreds, with Sanath Jayasuriya's 340 in that eminently forgettable 1997 Test receiving only 1.66 points per run.
The final table features matches in which batters lit up the stage in both innings. These are the batters who secured the highest Bat-100 Rating points at a match level. It is not a surprise that Perera's 51 and 153 not out together fetched him over 1600 points, and lead the table by a mile. Laxman's 281 was the main innings in the match but he also scored an valuable 59 in the first innings. Next is Ian Botham's magnificent performance in the Headingley Test, where his first-innings 50 was worth its weight in gold.

Potpourri

- Melbourne has been the venue for 12 Bat-100 performances. Galle and Headingley follow with eight each.
- Headingley and Durban are the true Bat-100 grounds. Among the top ten performances, three have been played at Headingley and two in Durban.
- Twenty-one of these batting classics have been played in England. Australia has seen 20 and South Africa 14.
- Eight Bat-100 performances took place in 1999, while six were in 2004; 1998 and 2019 had four performances each.
- Only one Test had two performances in one innings that each got 700-plus rating points: at The Oval in 1902, Jessop secured 752 points for his match-winning innings of 104 and Hirst 723 points for his magnificent supporting innings of 58 not out.
- In two Tests, there were three performances of over 600 points each in the same innings. In the above-mentioned Oval Test, Stanley Jackson's 49, coming in at 10 for 3, secured 653 points. In the famous Indian win at the Gabba in 2021, India's magnificent chase of 329 for 7 was studded with three match-winning innings - Shubman Gill scored 91 (638 points), Cheteshwar Pujara 56 (652 points), and Rishabh Pant's 89 secured 663 points.
- In no fewer than nine Tests have there been four 500-plus-point performances in a single innings. The most recent such Test was the New Zealand-England game that ended in a one-run win for New Zealand. Tom Latham, Kane Williamson, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell all got over 500 points for their fifties. Devon Conway just missed out, with 495 points.
- There is only one instance of four batters exceeding 600 points in a Test. This happened at the Gabba in 2021. In addition to the three Indian batters already mentioned above, Washington Sundar secured 601 points for his magnificent 62. Shardul Thakur just missed out.
- If the reader refers back to the table for top match performances above, they will have seen that four of the batters earned over 600 points in both innings. In addition, Rahul Dravid also achieved this feat in Kingston in 2006, for his 81 and 68. He is the only batter to have done this twice.
- The Mean of the Bat-100 performances is 740.3. The Median performance is 721.8. This indicates a top-heavy distribution, as evidenced by the top five values, which are 965.2, 906.6, 857.3, 849.7, and 843.6. Note the large gaps between the top three performances. The tenth best performance barely managed to cross 800 points. And the 25th-placed performance clocked in at 757.4 points, which is over 200 points off the top one. The last-placed performance in the Bat-100 list is clocked at around 700 points.
Finally a note on Bradman's epochal 270 which topped the table in the Wisden-100 list, released in 2001. That innings has dropped to the lower half of the Bat-100 list. A brief explanation is in order:
- Australia had a first-innings lead of 124, in a seemingly low-scoring match.
- The PQI values were 50.7 for the match, 27.4 for the first two innings and 64.1 for the latter two.
- The idea of sending the lower-order players in to bat first was a captaincy coup for Bradman, but it was not necessarily a plus in terms of his batting.
- When Bradman went in at 97 for 5, Australia's lead was already 220-plus. The late-order runs did not really matter that much. I can say this now since a lot more context is now built in.
So, with all the additional insights, Bradman's 270 has been rightly deemed to be a very good innings but no more. On the other hand, Graham Gooch's 154, deemed to be the best GW-25 innings in 2018, is in the top ten of the Bat-100 table.
A concluding note on the responses. If any reader makes a query about one or more innings, without digging deep and getting to know the innings well, it is quite unlikely that I will respond. If required, please refer to the previous article to understand how the rating points are calculated. It is possible that an innings might have been watched by a reader and they might think it great, but it has to pass quite a few other, more stringent, steps.
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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