The Greatest Test Innings: A New Look
The batting style that produced arguably the finest Test innings.
It has been 10 years since Wisden
published their controversial list of the top 100 best innings in Test cricket history. Don Bradman topped the list with his 270 against England in 1937 after he reversed the batting order and came in at no.7 with the score at 90/5.
Ranking that innings at no.1 was not controversial at all. Indeed, it would be controversial in the extreme not to put that innings in at least the top 10 or 20 of any list attempting to rank the greatest Test innings. The controversy was caused by the absence of any Tendulkar innings in the top 100.
I have been working on ranking the best batsmen and bowlers in Test cricket and one-day international cricket for some years now. Only now am I getting close to creating a formula I am happy to present to cricket fans and followers. Whilst working on rating the great Test batsmen, I also thought about rating their innings/performances, thereby incorporating them in their career ratings. Entertaining players like Stan McCabe and Adam Gilchrist, who played some of the most famous and talked-about knocks in history, and yet only averaged in the 40s, will be well-served by this.
So, I set to work in creating a formula in ranking Test innings. I only had the help of Microsoft Excel so it has taken some time, and quite often I had to reset the formulas. Finally, I arrived at a list that I am pleased with. It is different from the Wisden
100 but one thing still remains: the great Tendulkar, who I admire and enjoy watching so much, does not feature in my top 100.
I will not bore readers with the exact workings of the formula, but I will give brief summary of the factors involved:
1. Base runs scored
2. Runs scored by other batsmen in the same team innings, divided by the number of batsmen used. The highest score I have found for this measurement so far has been for Bannerman's 165 retired hurt in 1877, the first innings in Test history! The other ten batsmen used scored an average of 72 runs between them (I have discounted the 8 extras in that innings). Bannerman thus scored over 6 times more than his teammates in one innings!
3. Runs per wicket of all the other batsmen in the match. This helps players who scored heavily in large victories.
4. % of team runs scored (including the extras this time).
5. Runs scored with the bottom-half of the batting order: specifically, runs scored with no.7-11 batsmen. For example, in Clem Hill's famous 188 at the end of the 19th century, the fifth wicket fell at 32. When Hill was ninth out, the score stood at 303. Australia finally made 323, which meant that Hill helped score 84% of the total team runs with the bottom half of the batting order: (303-32)/323
Those first five factors give a base score for an innings. They are then multiplied by the following factors:
1. Strike-rate. Astle's 222 and numerous Gilchrist innings` are rewarded with this measurement.
2. Match won/drawn/or lost. Close wins or close draws?
3. State of the series. Was it a 'live' match or a dead rubber? Was it the deciding match in the series? Was a batsmen's team behind in the series and then went on to win the rubber, i.e. Botham?s 149*, or Laxman's 281?
4. Home match or Away match?
5. Strength of the opposition and/or bowling attack. Australia or West Indies at their peak or Bangladesh?
6. Situation of the match. Following on 200 or more runs behind and going onto win? Winning after chasing 350 in the final innings? Having a 100+ lead after the first innings?
All those factors will produce a final rating for any innings played in Test history. However, I have left out any innings in which the team score was less than 150 with no more than 4 wickets lost. For example, 120/1, 145/4, etc.
Before presenting you with my top 100, I want to say that in no way do I think that stats-based ratings like this one or Wisden
's are the only way with which to judge Test cricket innings. It is one way to promote discussion on forums and to introduce some readers to great innings long forgotten. People who have actually played the game and were there on the day should know a good innings from a bad one. Scorecards from 1902 also cannot record how fluent a batsman looked at the crease or how many chances he gave. People may not agree with my final list, but I put a lot of thought into it (you can tell by looking at the number of measurements used!), and to be honest, when an earlier formula produced a top 10 list which just looked wrong, I went back to the drawing board.
Finally, if there are any innings which I have missed out on, please let me know, and I will measure them. But let me say now that I have measured a number of Tendulkar innings and not one so far has gotten near the top 100. The closest is his 136 against Pakistan in 1999 in a losing chase, which fetched a rating of 15.48.
Enjoy the list!
Top 10 pen-portraits:
1. Brian Lara 153* vs Australia at Bridgetown in 1999. Rating: 26.84
The seminal innings in a 4th innings run chase and rated the greatest innings of all-time based on my formula. Lara was under fire throughout the Caribbean following the 0-5 loss in South Africa. He answered his critics at Kingston in the 2nd Test with a double century (rated 25th on my list) to level the series against the world-conquering Australians. It was in Bridgetown that he forever sealed his status as a great batsman. He basically won the 3rd Test single-handed after coming in at 78/3 with 230 runs still required. He put on 133 with Jimmy Adams (of which Adams made 38) before working with Ambrose and Walsh to score the final 63 runs with the last two wickets. It is the innings of a master batsman under pressure against a great bowling attack. Need I say more, except that it could have been so different had Ian Healy managed to hold onto that catch in the final stages of the run chase.
2. Ian Botham 149* vs Australia at Leeds 1981. Rating: 26.65
If there is one innings that is more famous than Lara's it is Beefy's slog at Leeds that basically turned the Ashes on its head. Following on, England were still 122 runs away from making Australia bat again when Botham came in at 105/5. He proceeded to hit 149 not out off 148 balls, putting on 221 runs with the last 3 wickets. His innings would have been a mere footnote had Willis not come out firing in the 4th innings so I guess it is somewhat appropriate that Lara's innings is rated at no.1 with Beefy having to settle for no.2.
3. Graham Gooch 154* vs West Indies at Leeds 1991. Rating 26.34.
Another great innings played at Headingley (there are a total of 5 in the top 100). This is an innings of a batsman who was so far ahead of his peers for one match that it was almost ridiculous. The next highest score in the match was 73. The average of all the other batsmen in the match was 14.40. Gooch stood alone in this match like no other batsmen has done in the modern-day era of Test cricket. And let us not forget that this was against a great bowling attack as well. Pure class.
4. V.V.S. Laxman 281 vs Australia at Kolkata in 2001. Rating: 25.55
Everyone knows of this innings and no description is really necessary. I have no doubt that the majority of Indians would deem this to be the greatest innings ever but I hope they can take solace in the fact that it is still the best of the 21st century so far. The only thing that counts against Laxman in my formula is the amount of support he got from Dravid, which means that he did not shoulder the burden alone as much as the 3 innings rated above him.
5. Charles Bannerman 165 retired not out vs England at Melbourne in 1877. Rating: 25.15
I find it somewhat fitting that the first ever innings played in Test cricket was one of top 5 greatest in the history of the game. The stats by themselves are incredible. Bannerman scored 67% of his team's runs (the highest ever) and scored 6.8 times the amount of runs that his teammates scored combined. Bannerman played only 3 matches but he left his mark on the game forever.
6. Don Bradman 270 vs England at Melbourne in 1937. Rating: 24.99
The Don's greatest innings helped turn an Ashes series in much the same way that Botham?s did some 44 years later. England won the first 2 matches of the rubber with Bradman averaging a mere 30.00, including 2 ducks. Australia batted first in Melbourne and made 200 (Bradman again failing with 13). They bowled England out for 76 after rain set in and left the wicket sticky. Bradman, the master strategist, then reversed his batting order so that he could get the best batting conditions when he came in at number 7. It worked to perfection. He came in at 97/5 but put on 346 runs with Jack Fingleton and Australia eventually won by a comfortable 365 runs. Bradman went on to score a century in each of the final two tests and Australia won the series 3-2. An incredible reversal.
7. Virender Sehwag 201* vs. Sri Lanka at Galle in 2008. Rating: 24.22
The Indian batsmen were all at sea against the debutant Ajantha Mendis throughout this series but somehow Sehwag tamed him and batted through the entire innings for a double-century triumph. And with a strike-rate of 87. India won the match and although they lost the final match and the rubber, Sehwag's innings will be remembered as one of the greats.
8. VVS Laxman 167 vs. Australia at Sydney in 2000. Rating: 24.18
It takes a special batsman to have two innings ranked in the top 10 of all time. And VVS is a special batsman whose career average of 46 does not reveal the full story of how many great innings he has played for country. This is the greatest innings in a losing cause. Against a rampant bowling attack, India were following-on, and soon in trouble. Laxman was eighth out with the score on 258. The next highest score was 25. It is a very similar innings to Gooch's, except that the match was lost and was never likely to be saved. A beautiful innings, nonetheless, and Laxman's first century.
9. Sanath Jayasuriya 253 vs. Pakistan at Faisalabad in 2004. Rating: 24.17
Jayasuriya's second-to-last century and it would not have been had Shoaib Akhtar not no-balled when he had Jayasuriya caught behind early in his innings. Sanath went on to score 253 runs out of a team total of 438 at a strike-rate over 70 to send Sri Lanka to a rare victory away from home against a Test-playing nation. The next highest score in the innings was 59.
10. Stan McCabe 232 vs. England at Nottingham in 1938. Rating: 23.46
This is one of my favourite innings and it is still the greatest innings played by an Australian abroad, according to my formula. England made a mammoth 658/8 and had Australia in all sorts of trouble at 150/5. McCabe increased his scoring rate as he lost more partners. This culminated in him scoring 72 out of 77 runs for the last wicket in 28 minutes. Whilst McCabe was at the crease, other players and extras scored a total of 68 runs! Australia made 411 and the match was eventually drawn. Don Bradman apparently summoned his players to the player's balcony to watch, saying that "they would never see anything like it again."
|3||G.A. Gooch||154*||West Indies||Leeds||1991||26.34|
|7||V. Sehwag||201*||Sri Lanka||Galle||2008||24.22|
|11||D.L. Amiss||262*||West Indies||Kingston||1974||23.11|
|16||G.S. Chappell||176||New Zealand||Christchurch||1982||21.75|
|20||V. Sehwag||319||South Africa||Chennai||2008||20.84|
|21||D.G. Bradman||299*||South Africa||Adelaide||1932||20.60|
|22||G.L. Jessop||104||Australia||The Oval||1902||20.58|
|26||M.E. Trescothick||180||South Africa||Johannesburg||2005||20.26|
|27||S.M. Gavaskar||221||England||The Oval||1979||20.17|
|28||K.J. Hughes||100*||West Indies||Melbourne||1981||20.01|
|31||K.C. Sangakkara||156*||New Zealand||Wellington||2006||19.90|
|34||G.M. Turner||223*||West Indies||Kingston||1972||19.74|
|36||P.F. Warner||132*||South Africa||Johannesburg||1899||19.59|
|38||N. Kapil Dev||129||South Africa||Port Elizabeth||1992||19.46|
|39||S.M. Gavaskar||236*||West Indies||Madras||1983||19.46|
|43||L. Hutton||205||West Indies||Kingston||1954||19.19|
|45||Hanif Mohammad||337||West Indies||Bridgetown||1958||18.95|
|49||G.R. Viswanath||97*||West Indies||Madras||1975||18.88|
|52||V.T. Trumper||159||South Africa||Melbourne||1911||18.75|
|55||M.A. Taylor||144||West Indies||St. John's||1991||18.34|
|56||M.E. Waugh||116||South Africa||Port Elizabeth||1997||18.26|
|58||L. Vincent||224||Sri Lanka||Wellington||2005||18.12|
|59||C.G. Greenidge||213||New Zealand||Auckland||1987||18.12|
|63||W.R. Hammond||336*||New Zealand||Auckland||1933||17.97|
|65||C.L. Cairns||80||England||The Oval||1999||17.96|
|68||G.R. Viswanath||139||West Indies||Calcutta||1974||17.85|
|69||K.P. Pietersen||142||Sri Lanka||Birmingham||2006||17.85|
|71||L. Hutton||364||Australia||The Oval||1938||17.70|
|73||G.R. Viswanath||124||West Indies||Madras||1979||17.53|
|74||S.M. Nurse||258||New Zealand||Christchurch||1969||17.50|
|76||D.J. McGlew||255*||New Zealand||Wellington||1953||17.43|
|77||D.P.M.D. Jayawardene||167||New Zealand||Galle||1998||17.43|
|78||C.H. Gayle||333||Sri Lanka||Galle||2010||17.39|
|79||D.N. Sardesai||212||West Indies||Kingston||1971||17.38|
|81||M.A. Atherton||185*||South Africa||Johannesburg||1995||17.35|
|82||J.R. Reid||142||South Africa||Johannesburg||1962||17.34|
|86||W.W. Armstrong||159*||South Africa||Johannesburg||1902||17.21|
|88||D.I. Gower||154*||West Indies||Kingston||1981||17.17|
|89||G.S. Chappell||182*||West Indies||Sydney||1976||17.07|
|90||K.D. Walters||104*||New Zealand||Auckland||1974||17.06|
|91||Saeed Anwar||118||South Africa||Durban||1998||17.06|
|99||K.C. Sangakkara||232||South Africa||Columbo||2004||16.81|