Today friend of the site Garreth Duncan reminisces about great innings made in losing causes …
Cricket history tells us that great innings win your side the match against the odds. We all know these great knocks like the back of our hands – Botham’s Ashes heroics in 1981, Brian Lara’s magnificent unbeaten 153 to beat the Aussies in Barbados in 1999, and Laxman and Dravid’s epic fightback following on at Eden Gardens in 2001. 2019 was a particular treat, as cricket lovers were treated to two extra special innings resulting in incredible victories – Ben Stokes’ heroics in to keep the Ashes alive at Headingley will live long in the memory, and Kusal Perera’s fabulous century masterminded a similarly stunning one-wicket win for Sri Lanka in Durban.
But stand out performances can also be played in agonizing defeats. The last few weeks have seen two incredible ODI innings but oh-so-nearly losses for their teams. First, Sam Curran’s magical unbeaten 95 as England fell just short of securing the series in Pune. Then, Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman notched the highest ever score in a losing cause in an ODI – an incredible 193 – almost taking Pakistan to victory over South Africa in Johannesburg.
How do we decide what constitutes a great innings when your team loses? Solo efforts, with little or no support from team mates, clearly stand out. Such innings must also make the opposition worried at least for some time that the impossible can be achieved. This would rule out, for example, Stan McCabe’s brilliant unbeaten 187 in the first Test of the Bodyline series of 1932-33 as, incredibly brave as it was, he couldn’t prevent Harold Larwood and Bill Voce inflicting a heavy defeat on Australia. Lara similarly misses out as, despite having played many fine innings in defeat, these were all in shellackings where West Indies never really had any chance of winning the game.
So here’s my choice of ten greatest innings in a losing cause, taken from both Test and ODI cricket, and with one special innings in a county game. Cue Jon Bon Jovi …
Billy Murdoch 153* for Australia v England – The Oval, 1880
Murdoch will always be remembered as one of Australia’s greats at the dawn of Test cricket – and this innings his finest. In the first Test match to be played in England, with Australia following on 271 behind, an England victory looked inevitable. But Murdoch was not going to allow his team to go down without the greatest of fights, and defied the England bowlers for over five hours in this epic knock, the first Test hundred by a captain. Australia still looked set for an innings defeat with eight wickets down, but Murdoch cajoled 140 from the last two wickets to set England 57 to win – and they were given a mighty scare before getting home by 5 wickets.
Derek Randall 174 for England v Australia – Melbourne, 1977
Randall was in and out of the England side for much of the 70s and 80s, and was often the fall guy when England failed. But the Centenary Test was to prove his finest hour. Australia set England a world record 463 to win, and with Dennis Lillee in his pomp, a big Aussie victory looked likely. Randall’s highest Test score, composed over 7½ hours, gave England hope of an incredible win, but it ultimately wasn’t enough as Australia edged to victory by 45 runs – remarkably, exactly the same margin of victory as in the inaugural Test a century previously.
Dave Houghton 142 for Zimbabwe v New Zealand – Hyderabad, 1987
Zimbabwe and Eddo Brandes were to embarrass England in the 1991 World Cup – but in the previous one they so nearly produced an even bigger shock. Chasing 243 to beat New Zealand, they looked completely out of the game at 104 for 7 – but Houghton, who was to become their first Test captain, simply refused to admit defeat. With only Iain Butchart for company – nobody else scoring more than 12 – Houghton took the game to New Zealand, hitting 13 fours and 6 sixes in a breathtaking innings. But his dismissal with just 21 required left the tail with just a bit too much to do, and New Zealand scraped home by just 3 runs.
Aravinda de Silva 112 for Kent v Lancashire – Lord’s, 1995
My personal favourite, having heard it all unfold on the radio. Aravinda’s greatest moment was to come the following year, taking his country to World Cup glory with an unbeaten century in the final in Lahore. But his stint in county cricket had Canterbury purring, and in the B&H Cup Final he came so close to breaking Kent’s perennial bridesmaids tag. Arriving at the crease with the Kent innings strangled by Ian Austin’s military medium, he lit up Lord’s as he despatched the Lancashire attack all around the ground. Even with little support – the next highest score being 25 – Kent could still dream of victory while he was at the wicket. But as the run rate climbed, he was caught on the deep midwicket boundary, and Kent fell short by 35 runs.
Sachin Tendulkar 136 for India v Pakistan – Chennai, 1999
The Little Master’s 100 international hundreds brought many great victories for India – but perhaps his greatest of all came in defeat to their eternal rivals. In a politically charged Test match against a Pakistan attack at their strongest, and in constant pain with a back injury, Tendulkar almost took them to an incredible victory with one of his finest knocks. Only Nayan Mongia provided him with any support, with no other batsman getting past 10. With just 18 required and four wickets in hand, Tendulkar looked to have pulled off one of the greatest of heists – but Saqlain Mushtaq dismissed him and ran through the tail to snatch victory for Pakistan by 12 runs.
Nathan Astle 222 for New Zealand v England – Christchurch, 2002
Now this one was the most spectacular innings of the lot – and had victory been achieved, it would surely be considered one of the greatest of all time. With New Zealand set a ridiculous target of 550 to win, it was surely a matter of when rather than if England would wrap up victory. But Astle took them on alone with the most ferocious of counter-attacks, blasting the fastest double century in Test history as all the England bowling was put to the sword. Even with nine wickets down, and only an injured Chris Cairns to keep him company, a New Zealand victory still seemed possible as, despite nine men on the boundary, Astle continued to rain fours and sixes in an extraordinary last wicket stand of 118. But the miracle of Lancaster Park was to be denied when Matthew Hoggard had him caught behind and England breathed a mighty sigh of relief.
Kevin Pietersen 100* for England v South Africa – East London, 2005
KP may have divided opinion throughout his England career – but his capability to turn a game by sheer brilliance was unquestionable. Before he lit up the 2005 Ashes, the ODI series against South Africa the previous winter was the first time most England fans realised they had a very special talent on their hands. Barracked by the home fans throughout for choosing England over the country of his birth, he responded in spectacular fashion with a blistering hundred off just 69 balls – at the time, the fastest by an England player. But he couldn’t get quite enough of the strike in the closing overs, and a relieved South Africa got home by 7 runs.
Chris Gayle 132 for West Indies v South Africa – Bridgetown, 2005
The Universe Boss has dazzled crowds around the world for two decades with his pyrotechnic hitting, and countless T20 records have fallen to him. But his fine record for the West Indies shouldn’t be forgotten – and this innings, which he’d probably consider a sedate one, almost took them to victory in a nail-biting contest. Set 285 to win, Gayle stood alone against a pumped-up South African pace attack – the next highest score being 32. But with him gone, South Africa stunningly stole it at the death with a Charl Langeveldt hat-trick to win by just 1 run.
Kumar Sangakkara 192 for Sri Lanka v Australia – Hobart, 2007
Another run chase which appeared impossible – Sri Lanka were second best for most of this game, and were set a seemingly impossible 507 to win. But while Sangakkara was in, they believed. In the form of his life, with two double hundreds already under his belt in 2007, he took on Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson on his own as wickets continued to fall at the other end. Even with only the tail for support, he marshalled the strike carefully while continuing to despatch the Australians to all parts. But his innings was to end in the cruellest of fashions, caught at slip off his shoulder, and Sri Lanka were denied their fairytale ending.
Thisara Perera – 140 for Sri Lanka v New Zealand, Mount Manganui, 2007
Another almost impossible steal from an unpromising position. Chasing 320 to win, the game looked gone as a horrific middle order collapse reduced Sri Lanka to 128 for 7 with more than half the overs gone. But nobody had told Perera that, as he blazed boundaries all over the Bay Oval. His innings came off just 74 balls and included no fewer than 13 sixes – but with only 22 needed off 22 balls, a stunning diving catch at long-on removed him and broke Sri Lanka’s hearts.
These ten are, of course, only examples of many great innings across cricket’s history and, Murdoch aside, more weighted towards recent years. But there will of course be many others – what memories do you have of similarly great knocks in which one player almost snatched victory against the odds?