The Ben Stokes epic in the Leeds test has let loose lots debates and comparisons amongst experts and the rampant social media on the best test match winning innings of more recent eras. We already had another similar stunning effort from Kusal Parera earlier this year in Srilanka’s overseas test vs South Africa at Durban. Hence let us recollect the memories of 5 best epic matchwinning test knocks in critical situations in last 40 years of test cricket. Since each knock has it’s own merits ,we should just celebrate them without comparing them.
Ian Botham 149 notout v Aus Leeds 1981
Australia scored 401/9 decl batting 1st in overcast conditions with Botham, relieved of captaincy took 6/95. England in reply were shot out for 174 off which Bothan scored 50. Following on in 2nd innings England looked dead and buried and slumped again to 135/7 as Australia were getting their champagne ready in their dressing room with 2-0 lead looming large Feeling the situation slipping out of hand , Botham, still batting, started to hit out in desperation. As he started to middle his scorching drives , cuts and pulls, Australian pace attack of Lillee, Alderman and Hogg lost their lengths and composure. Balls started flying in all corners as english crowds came to life while Botham flayed the Australians. He got great support from fast bowlers Dilley (56) and Old (29). Botham’s booming knock ended at 149 notout off 148 balls with 27 fours and 1 six , as England were allout for 356 setting Australia a token target of 130. However with the pitch already making batting difficult ,fast and furious Bob Willis ripped through the Australian batting as they choked and were skittled out for 111 leaving England surprise winners by 18 runs after following on in 1st innings. Thus Botham’s sensational epic not only turned the Leeds test upside down but created mental scars in the opposition as England first levelled the series 1-1 and then went on to win the 1981 Ashes 3-1.
Brian Lara 153 notout v Aus ,Bridgetown 1999.
Australia batting1st scored 490 with Steve Waugh (199) and Ponting (104) hit centuries. West Indies replied with 329 conceding a lead of 161 which was enough for the great Australia side of the 1990s to wrap up the game. However an inspired bowling show by Walsh (5/39) rocked Aussies in their 2nd innings as they were allout for 146 leaving West Indies to get 308 to win and take 2-1 series lead. McGrath and Gillespie rocked the Windies batting in the 2nd innings as they slumped to 105/5 staring at another defeat. However Lara stood strong with Jimmy Adam’s in company. Showing classic batsmanship ,Lara started unfurling his majestic strokes as the great Aussie bowlers started to feel the heat. Adam’s (38) the more passive partner in the 6th wicket stand of 133 finally was dismissed by McGrath at 238/6. Soon McGrath took 2 more as Windies slumped to 248/8. Ambrose (12) gave Lara company as the prince started to shift gears playing exquisite strokes all round the ground under intense pressure in a gripping contest. With 6 runs to go ,another twist in tale as Ambrose was dismissed. Soon Healy dropped Lara , the pressure was getting onto the best of players. Lara watched with palpitation as last man Walsh with 30 something test ducks left balls outside off with his own Courtney Walsh technique. Finally under excruciating pressure Lara (153 notout off 256 balls ) drove Gillespie though the covers to script a memorable Windies win in a sensational test match by 1 wicket to trigger crowd invasion on the ground.An innings for the ages.
VVS Laxman 281 v Aus ,Kolkata 2001
The 2nd test of that epic India v Australia series of 2001 was played at Kolkata after the Aussies decimated India at Mumbai and led 1-0 in the 3 test series. Batting 1st Australia notched up 445 in 1st innings riding on Steve Waugh’s 110. In reply India were skittled out for 171 with Laxman scoring a sparkling 59 batting at 6. Leading by 284 on 1st innings and looking at the fragile Indian batting in the series till date , Waugh took the aggressive option and asked India to follow on rather than batting them out of the game and getting them to bat on 5th day. India looked down the barrel at 115/3 in 2nd knock with Tendulkar too back in the hut. Laxman promoted to number 3 due to Dravid’s struggles till that point, was battling along and playing beautifully as he had a good partnership with Ganguly(48) of 117 runs for 4th wicket. After Ganguly’s dismissal ,Dravid joined VVS at 232/4 as Australia were virtually 1 wicket away from a unassailable 2-0 series lead. What followed was batsmanship of the highest quality from the two greats with Dravid playing supporting role to Laxman ,who mesmerised the high class Australian bowling attack with gorgeous strokeplay.On the whole of 4th day both the stars batted for full day as the Aussie bowlers wilted under the baking sun after being on the field for more than 2 days post their first innings. Australia was totally awestruck by Laxman’s majestic strokeplay. Warne was repeatedly flicked through for onside boundaries. The fast bowlers were first grinded and hammered. Even Dravid (180) got back his bearings . Laxman’s once in a lifetime knock ended early on 5th day for 281 as India declared at 657 setting 384 for Australia in two sessions.After a decent start ,the Aussies were put under intense pressure by Harbhajan and later Tendulkar , the bowler and was bowled out for 212 runs to lose by 171 runs in one of the major turnarounds ever in the game of cricket.
Kusal Parera 153 notout v S.Africa Durban 2019
Of all the 5 centuries discussed in this article, Kusal Parera’s 100 carries a bit more weight as it was played in overseas conditions and Srilanka created history by not only winning the test but also the 2nd test and thereby the series 2-0 ,becoming the 1st subcontinental team to beat South Africa in South Africa. In the 1st test the Proteas scored 235 and Lankans replied with 191 as Parera scored 51. In 2nd innings South Africa scored 259 setting a 304 target for a fragile Srilankan batting . With Steyn, Philander, Rabada and Olivier in their ranks on a helpful pitch ,the Proteas were expected to win the test and was well on their way with Srilanka struggling at 110/5. However Kusal Parera ,who batted at 5 continued his first innings form and started to gradually counter attack the South African pace quartet while getting good support from Dhananjay Dsilva(48). The score reached 206/5 when Dhananjay got out .This triggered a batting collapse and soon Srilanka was 226/9 .Last man Viswa Fernando joined Parera and this was a trigger for the latter to launch a fierce counterattack on the fast bowlers with cracking pulls and cut shots with gripping tension in the game. Parera’s lethal strokeplay in the sensational last wicket stand of 78 finally took Srilanka to the winning target with 1 wicket remaining. Kusal Parera’s 153 was scored off 200 balls with 12 fours and 5 fierce sixes. It was an innings for the archives . Brilliant, ruthless and match winning.
Ben Stokes 135 notout v Aus , Leeds 2019
And finally the Ben Stokes special. England had a horror 1st innings of 67 allout to concede 112 runs lead to Australia .However the tourists could not bat England out of the game as they finished on a mediocre 246 in their 2nd innings with Ben Stokes bowling a marathon spell of 15 overs for 2 wickets to cover for Archer’s fitness issues . With virtually 3 days time left England were set a 359 run target as the pitch flattened out after too much seam movement in 1st two days and now there is bright sunshine to assist in easier batting conditions. England after losing both openers swiftly at 16/2 started their recovery with Root and Denly in a century stand. After Denly (50) was dismissed, Ben Stokes arrived and till end of 3rd day stonewalled for 2 runs off 40 balls to ensure no further loss of wickets as Root moved to a confident 75 with England reaching 156/3 at the end of 3rd day with 203 more needed for win. On 4th day Root (77) went early but Stokes gradually changed gears as after scoring 2 off 60 odd balls he started to unfurl his strokes in the company of Bairstow as Australia could not utilise the 2nd new ball well on a flat deck which was so crucial for them. However Bairstows(38) dismissal triggered a collapse as England rapidly lost a clutch of wickets after that. Stokes was holding one end up but saw to his dismay as Broad was lbw with score at 286/9. With last man Leach coming out ,Stokes decided to take the bull by its horns and launched a fierce assault on Australia’s much dreaded bowling attack hitting some screaming sixes off the fast bowlers and one particularly impressive reverse sweep for 6 off Lyon. Under extreme tension he manipulated the strike superbly and allowed Leach to face bare minimum deliveries. Finally his thrilling 73 run stand with Jack Leach (1 notout) took England to a sensational 1 wicket win when Stokes thrashed a four through the covers but not before some huge drama when Australia and Lyon missed an easy runout of Leach and next ball Stokes had a reprieve when he was given notout on a lbw shot but Australia had used up their reviews quota and clearly choked under the pressure created by Stokes in his astonishing innings of 135 notout. England thereby hijacking the 3rd test to level the ashes series 1-1.
While Botham and Laxman took their team to sensational wins from following on, Stokes, Lara and Kusal fashioned gripping last wicket wins.And 4 of the above best 5 were scored against Australia.
While there were many other come from behind or last 1 wicket wins with gripping batting displays like Jayawardene vs South Africa, Laxman vs Australia and Inzamam Ul Haq vs Bangladesh. However giving due respect to those knocks, it has to b said that in terms of sheer excitement and very grim match situation leading to 1 wicket wins for few, none of the above five can be removed from their spot for their sheer brilliance.