Best 12 Test innings against Australia since 1980 (part II)
West Indies captain Brian Lara greets the crowd after playing his last international cricket match against England of the Cricket World Cup at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, April 21, 2007. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Two days ago I posted the bottom half of my top-12 innings played against Australia in Test cricket since 1980.
Here is my top six.
6 – Brian Lara, 277 at Sydney, 1992-93
Lara arrived in Australia in late-1992 as a virtual unknown, having played just two Tests.
He left our shores as a man earmarked for big things.
In the third Test at Sydney he produced one of the game’s most astonishing maiden Test centuries.
The match was a high-scoring, rain affected draw but that takes nothing away from Lara’s innings which wreaked havoc on the opposition. He faced 372 balls in the Windies first innings, striking 38 of them to the boundary.
He batted as if he was Gulliver taking on a Lilliputian XI, unleashing from a high back lift with terrific hand speed through the line of the ball.
The Australian attack never seriously looked like getting his wicket and had it not been for a run out he would no doubt have steamed past 300.
Lara loved playing against Australia, scoring nine centuries and averaging 61.1 from 31 matches.
5 – Sachin Tendulkar, 155no at Chennai, 1997-98
Only Jack Hobbs with 12 centuries against Australia is ahead of Tendulkar’s tally of 11.
A constant thorn in Australia’s side – as he has been to most teams throughout his career – he always seemed to rise to the challenge of playing the world’s best, as the Australians were for much of his career.
Of the 11 tons against the Aussies the best of them came at Chennai in March 1998.
It was the opening Test of a three-match series with both sides keen to stamp its authority early. One of the subplots was always going to be the tussle between Tendulkar and Shane Warne.
In the first innings Tendulkar fell to Warne for just four in a team total of 257. In reply Australia claimed a 71-run lead after being bowled out for 328. Tendulkar’s batting then took over.
Off just 191 balls he blazed his way to an unbeaten 155 with 14 fours and 4 sixes. He put on an absolute master class with Warne feeling the brunt of his mastery, finishing with 1-122 off 30 overs.
Every shot Tendulkar played with intent seemed to find a gap. The only thing that saved Australia from further humiliation at the hands of the ‘Little Master’ was the declaration at 4-418.
Chasing 348, the tourists were bowled out for 168.
4 – Brian Lara, 153no at Bridgetown, 1998-99
The teams headed into the third Test level at 1-1 after Lara stole the show at Kingston to get the West Indies back into the series.
He was at his magical best again at Bridgetown.
Australia compiled 490 in its first innings with Steve Waugh (199) and Ricky Ponting (144) leading the way.
The West Indies’ reply was 329, a deficit of 161 runs. That was then extended to 307 by the time the home side started its final innings.
At 5-105 their chances seemed very slim. But again, it was some magic from Lara that not only got them back into the contest but all the way to the line to win by a solitary wicket.
Fittingly, it was Lara who struck a boundary to bring up the winning runs. No other batsman had managed more than 38 in the innings.
Not for the first time, and certainly not the last, Lara carried his team on his own shoulders. It was a virtuoso display that swung between solid defence and exhilarating attack.
Australia bounced back to win the fourth Test and see the series finish at 2-2. Lara’s batting in the last three Tests was that of a truly great player. He rounded out the series with an even 100 at Antigua.
3 – Ian Botham, 149no at Headingley, 1981
England headed into the 1981 Ashes series with Botham at the helm.
Things went pear-shaped early with Australia winning the opening Test at Nottingham by four wickets with the second at Lord’s drawn.
Botham’s form in both matches was modest – in particular with the bat with scores of 1, 33, 0 and 0. Having led England in 12 Tests and averaging 13.4 with the bat, he stepped aside.
In his place came the educated and earnest Mike Brearley, back from the wilderness but a known Test captain.
This freed Botham up to simply play the game. And play the game he did.
At Headingley for the third Test he played one of the great counter-attacking innings of all-time.
In reply to Australia’s 401, England could manage only 174. Kim Hughes enforced the follow-on with England 227 runs behind.
At 7-135 it looked like a catastrophic defeat was looming. And it would have been had it not been for some Botham heroics.
With literally nothing to lose he launched an amazing attack on a bowling line-up that boasted Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson. His batting was truly brutal as he despatched the ball to all parts, especially down the ground with booming drives.
He got grand support from Graham Dilley (56) but it was Botham who dominated the show.
When the innings ended at 356, Botham had stuck 27 fours and a six in a remarkable 148-ball knock. Australia was still heavily favoured to win the match, needing just 130 to win.
But, with Bob Willis claiming 8-43, Australia was knocked over for 111. The fact that they had any total to defend however was due to Botham’s brilliance.
2 – V V S Laxman, 281 at Kolkata, 2000-01
India had been a dismal place for touring Australian teams for more than two decades when Steve Waugh’s men arrived in March 2001 – the last series win had been under Bill Lawry in 1969-70.
The drought however looked to be over halfway through the second Test of the series at Kolkata.
The tourists had swept aside India in the opening encounter at Mumbai, winning by ten wickets in less than three days.
In Kolkata, the Aussies compiled 445 in the first innings before dismissing the hosts for 171, a deficit of 274 runs. The only real resistance came from Laxman, who made 59 at number six.
Waugh decided to enforce the follow-on. When Tendulkar fell for his second 10 of the match, India was 3-115. That became 4-232 when skipper Sourav Ganguly departed.
Laxman, who had been elevated to number three was then joined in the middle by Rahul Dravid. The pair guided their side to 4-254 at stumps on the third day – still 20 behind – with Laxman on 109 not out.
The next day entered cricketing folklore as the pair batted the entire day, neither offering a single chance. By the time Laxman fell for 281 – the highest score to that point by an Indian in Test cricket – the pair had put on 376 in 104 overs.
Laxman’s footwork to Warne in particular was stunning. He was driving him for boundaries repeatedly out of the footmarks as Warne tried to stem the flow of runs from around the wicket. At times he appeared to be batting with a blade a metre wide.
When Dravid was run out for 180, India declared at 7-657, leaving Australia 384 runs to win, or more realistically 75 overs to bat to force a draw.
It achieved neither – bowled out in the 69th over for 212.
India won the last Test in Chennai by two wickets to continue Australia’s misery in the sub-continent.
1 – Brian Lara, 213 at Kingston, 1998-99
The West Indies were humiliated in the opening Test of the 1998-99 series at Port-of-Spain. Set 364 runs to win, they were all out for 51 in less than 20 overs.
The Caribbean’s cricketing pride was on the line when the series moved on to Kingston.
In reply to Australia’s first innings of 256, the home side was floundering at 4-37 at stumps on the opening day. It looked like Australia would charge to a 2-nil series lead.
Lara however had a very different view. Against an attack that boasted Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill he played what the voice of Caribbean cricket, Tony Cozier described as the ‘most significant innings ever by a West Indian’.
He struck 29 fours and three sixes in facing 344 balls. His ferocious pull shot and devastating cover drives were a sight to behold, as was his lightning footwork to the two leg-spinners.
When he raised his double century, as is the case in the West Indies, he was mobbed by fans. The frenetic outpouring from the crowd actually forced Lara to momentarily seek solace in the change rooms.
If ever there has been a captain’s knock, this was it. With willow in hand, Lara restored faith in the West Indian side as it went on to record a resounding 10-wicket victory.
In full flight Lara was perhaps the most difficult player to bowl to of his era. At Kingston in 1999 he showed just why.
So there you have it.
It is never an easy task coming up with a list like this.
I doubt anyone will be in total agreement but that is one of the great things about sport – we all view it in a different way.
After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
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