Continuing a recent theme, I’ve decided to don the flak jacket once again, this time as I produce my top 10 Australian Test innings since 1980.
Since the start of the qualifying period Australia has played 353 Tests – winning 178, losing 83, drawing 91 and recording one tie.
In that time, Australian cricket has experienced peaks and troughs, from the dark days of the mid-80s to the glory days in the 2000s when Australia twice won 16 consecutive Tests.
Choosing the top-10 individual batting performances since 1980 is very much a subjective task.
I am sure all you Roarers will have your own thoughts on my list and that’s the way we like it.
So here we go, here is my countdown from 10 to 6, with numbers five to one to be published on Thursday.
10 – Adam Gilchrist, 102no v England at Perth 2006-07
At his best, Gilchrist was nearly impossible to bowl to. England found that out first hand during the third Test of the 2006-07 Ashes series.
After posting a slender 29-run lead on the first innings the home side was keen to bat England out of the game in its second dig.
The Australians scored at a rollicking rate, racking up a total of 5-527 declared off 112 overs. Matthew Hayden (92), Michael Hussey (103) and Michael Clarke (135no) all joined the party. But it was Gilchrist who well and truly iced the cake.
He strode to the middle at 5-365, facing the possible ignominy of a pair. He edged the fourth ball, from Andy Flintoff, to third man for a boundary, but soon settled into a rhythm. On 49, he faced Monty Panesar, finishing the over with 6, 4, 6 and 6 to race to 73 off 44 balls.
Minds hastily started to turn to Viv Richards’ world record 56-ball century.
Gilchrist was starved of the strike by Clarke for the next 11 deliveries before hooking Matthew Hoggard for six. He then struck three boundaries in the next over from Steve Harmison – 96 not out from 53 balls at over’s end.
Facing Hoggard next over, he started with a single to long-on. Back on strike for the fifth ball he let a wide one pass. The last ball he drove to cover for a single – 98no from 56 balls and thus denied of the record.
The next ball, from Harmison, he drove for two to long-on as the crowd erupted and stood as one – 100no from 57 balls with 12 fours and four sixes in 103 minutes. Two further singles in the over and the innings was declared. A second standing ovation for Gilchrist who had singlehandedly demolished the England attack.
Australia won the match by 206 runs and with it regained the Ashes. Gilchrist’s innings was the most ferocious I had the pleasure of broadcasting and will always live long in the memory.
9 – Matthew Hayden, 119 v Pakistan at Sharjah 2002-03
With 9/11 still fresh in the memory banks, Pakistan ‘hosted’ this series on foreign soil – the first Test in Colombo and the last two in Sharjah.
Unfortunately for all concerned the matches in the Emirates were played in some of the most oppressive conditions in the history of the game, certainly the hottest I have ever encountered at a cricket match.
Having won the first encounter in Sri Lanka by 41 runs, Australia was keen to take the series in the second Test.
Match referee, Clive Lloyd took the unusual step of allowing eight-minute drinks break twice a session with the mercury soaring to nearly 50 degrees. The players actually left the field of play and took their refreshments in the narrow slither of shade between the boundary line and the fence.
Pakistan was bowled out for 59 in its first innings – its lowest Test score. In reply, Australia managed 310, with Hayden surviving the heat for over seven hours in compiling 119 off 255 balls. When Ricky Ponting fell for 44, the second highest innings in the match, he looked completely spent as he slowly sidled off the ground.
Hayden’s innings was one of amazing concentration and resolve with his hundred celebrated with a six off Danesh Kaneria. In its second innings Pakistan reached an even greater nadir – all out for 53, as Australia won by an innings and 198 runs.
8 – Michael Slater, 123 v England at Sydney 1998-99
Remarkably, the man who took strike to the first ball in Test cricket, Australia’s Charlie Bannerman, still holds the longest held record in the game – the greatest percentage of runs by one player in a single completed innings. His mark stands at 67.34%, 165 retired hurt in a team total of 245.
In the final Test of the 1998-99 Ashes series, Michael Slater got the closest of any batsman to Bannerman’s record.
Australia led on the first innings by 102 runs but already the pitch was already crumbling badly. As a result the home side’s second innings lasted just 64.5 overs with it being dismissed for 184. Only two players reached double figures – Mark Waugh (24) and Slater.
The latter actually reached triple figures – 123 off 189 balls with 11 fours and three sixes. He fell just shy of Bannerman’s 121-year old record, scoring 66.84% of the team’s total. Slater was circumspect early on before opening his shoulders upon the fall of the sixth wicket.
With Stuart MacGill claiming 7/50 in the second innings and 12 for the match, Australia won by 98 runs. Had it not been for Slater’s knock it would have been far tighter affair.
7 – Steve Waugh, 200 v West Indies at Kingston 1994-95
Australia entered the fourth and final Test of the series all-square at 1-1. To that point no player had scored a century. Windies skipper Richie Richardson, unusually opening the batting, brought up the first in his team’s first innings with an even 100 in a total of 265. The pitch was essentially rolled mud that gave off a noticeable sheen.
Australia wobbled early in its reply slumping to 3-73. From that point however the match turned heavily in favour of the tourists with Steve Waugh joining twin Mark at the crease, the pair adding 231 runs for the fourth wicket with Mark eventually out for 126.
Steve continued to soldier on, weathering a pace barrage led by Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. He was peppered with short balls but refused to yield, taking several on the body. Eventually he was last man out, posting his highest Test score, exactly 200. His innings lasted 9-and-a-quarter hours, during which he faced 425 balls.
It was during Waugh’s marathon innings that he had the infamous mid-pitch confrontation with Ambrose which was defused by Richardson intervening, grabbing the shirt sleeve of his irate fast bowler and dragging him away.
6 – Adam Gilchrist, 149no v Pakistan at Hobart, 1999-2000
Gilchrist came into Test cricket as a somewhat controversial replacement for Ian Healy. The Queensland world-record holding ‘keeper wanted to play one final Test before his home crowd at the Gabba after he was told by the selectors that his career was over following the dual tours of Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe in late-1999.
His replacement therefore carried additional pressure into his Test debut against Pakistan. It certainly didn’t affect him as he peeled off a rapid-fire 81 and claimed six dismissals. From Brisbane he headed south to Hobart where he was to write himself into the history books.
Batting last, Australia had been set 369 runs to win, a target that would represent the third-highest successful run chase in Test history if it was achieved.
It wasn’t long however before victory seemed an impossible task as Australia, against an attack that boasted Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Musthaq, who had claimed 6/46 in the first innings, was reduced to 5/126.
The bookmakers at the time had adjusted the odds of an Australian win to 9-1 against. Enter Gilchrist, who came out to partner Justin Langer. The pair proceeded to turn the match on its ear and by the time their partnership was terminated at fall of Langer’s wicket (127) the victory total was just five runs away.
Their partnership of 238 was posted in just 59 overs. While Langer was the anchor, Gilchrist was the destroyer. He raced to his maiden century off just 110 balls with his last 50 taking just 38 deliveries as he feasted on anything remotely loose.
Fittingly, it was Gilchrist who struck the winning runs, finishing unbeaten on 149 from 163 balls. It was the start of a career that would rewrite the role of the ‘keeper-batsman at Test level.
So there it is, the bottom half of my top-10.
Part two will appear on Thursday.