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Ten classic innings from the past decade, Part 1

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26th December, 2019
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The past ten years of cricket have seen some memorable moments – but then cricket always seems to bring some memorable moments.

The first part in this two-part series will cover the first half of this decade (2010-14).

There were some noteworthy innings in this five-year period. Cricket had reached the end of an era with retirements Australian greats Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, as well as Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and Muttiah Muralitharan, just to name a few of the departing big names.

In this 2013-14 period we also saw the dawn of a new era with the likes of the current ‘fab four’ – Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root – who have made their mark in Test cricket.

Here are my personal favourite knocks (in no particular order) from 2010-14.

1. VVS Laxman’s 73 not out against Australia – Mohali, India, 2010
India is a tough place to win a Test match, let alone a Test series. Most past players would agree that winning a Test series in India is a big deal considering how most teams have struggled to beat India at home. India required 92 runs and had only two wickets in the bag on the fifth day of the first Test in the 2010-11 Border-Gavaskar series. Australia were just two wickets away from victory.

Australian captain Ricky Ponting thought this would be his first Test win as captain in India. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. VVS Laxman, who had a brilliant record against Australia in Tests, again proved to be a thorn in Australia’s side, scoring a gritty 73 not out.

India were reeling at 8-124 with the departure of off spinner Harbhajan Singh. Laxman was the lone recognised batsman left for India, and the only batsmen he had left with him were Ishant Sharma and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha.

Ishant Sharma battled an injury throughout the match and Laxman had a sore back, which made batting difficult for him, but they pulled off an incredible 81-run partnership for the ninth wicket. Ishant scored 31 off 92 balls before he departed with the score at 205.

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Pragyan Ojha batted with his Hyderabad teammate, guiding India to the target of 216. Laxman survived three hours with a sore back and scored 73 off 79 balls. When Ojha got the winning runs, everyone in the Indian team rushed onto the field to embrace Laxman. India won the match by just one wicket and clean-swept Australia 2-0 in the Border-Gavaskar Test series.

VVS Laxman raises his bat.

(AP Photo/Gautam Singh)

2. Jacques Kallis’s ton against India – Cape Town, South Africa, 2011
Another brilliant knock from the South African legend. Kallis scored a brilliant ton in the first innings and backed it up with another ton in the second innings. He scored more runs in the first innings (161 off 249 balls) than in the second innings (109 off 240 balls). However, it was Kallis’s second innings that helped save the game and also save South Africa from losing the three-Test series to India.

Despite having a rib injury, the South African stalwart batted for six hours to save his side. He remained not out and hit eight boundaries. While South Africa kept losing wickets at regular intervals, Kallis stood firm for his side. At 6-130 things were looking dire for the South African side, with Harbhajan Singh causing many issues on a difficult pitch. The pitch kept wearing and batting became difficult.

But Kallis orchestrated two vital partnerships – with keeper Mark Boucher (103) and Dale Steyn (55) – and also put on a partnership of 46 with Morne Morkel, which ended up hurting India’s chances even further. Kallis kept messing with the field. He played the reverse sweep to great effect off Singh.

This was Kallis’s 40th Test century, and he became the first South African to score hundreds in both innings of a home Test. It was an excellent innings under immense pressure while battling a side injury that threatened to hamper his progress. He did the job for his team and helped them salvage a draw, and South Africa and India ended up drawing the three-Test series.

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3. Kevin Pietersen’s ton against India – Mumbai, India, 2012
This is one of the greatest knocks by a foreign batsman in Asia. Telegraph writer Scyld Berry rates Kevin Pietersen’s innings as one of the greatest by an English player in Asia. Alastair Cook also scored a solid Test ton on a difficult Mumbai wicket. However, it was Pietersen’s brilliant 186 on a rank turner in testing conditions that reaped all the plaudits.

Pietersen looked like he was batting on another pitch. He was on his own, and while most of his teammates struggled on a rank turner, Pietersen played the Indian attack with relative ease.

His aggressive approach paid dividends for England. He went after the Indian spinners, using his feet to counter the spin of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. Pietersen approached Ojha with care, but once he overcame Ojha’s initial spell there was no looking back. India had no answer to the Pietersen masterclass.

Pietersen smashed 186 off 233 balls, with 20 fours and four massive sixes to his name, striking the ball at a rate of 79.82. In England’s first innings the third-highest score was Nick Compton’s 29 off 90 balls.

India was not only batted out of the match by the brilliance of Kevin Pietersen, but the innings also helped England secure a historic away Test series victory in India. This was the first time any team had beaten India in India in a Test series since the Aussies beat India in 2004. Nobody has beaten India in India in a Test series since 2012. It shows how brilliant and a vital Pietersen’s innings were for England.

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Kevin Pietersen of England hits out

(Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

4. Faf du Plessis’s gritty debut ton against Australia – Adelaide, Australia, 2012
South Africa faced a daunting task heading into the final day of the second Test against Australia in 2012. The Proteas had a difficult task in either chasing an improbable target of 430 or surviving 150 overs to save the match. Debutant Faf du Plessis batted well in the first innings, scoring 78 off 159 balls. He needed to pull off something special to produce a positive result for South Africa.

South Africa came into Day 5 reeling at 4-77 after 50 overs. All bets were on Australia to take a 1-0 lead into the final Test at Perth, but stranger things have happened before in cricket. That was the case for South Africa, who pulled off one of the most remarkable draws in Test cricket history.

The main orchestrators of this miraculous draw were AB de Villiers (33 off 220 balls), Jacques Kallis (46 off 110 balls) and Faf du Plessis. The debutant batted for close to eight hours in searing heat and humidity to save the match for his country. Faf scored 110 off 376 balls and, a staggering performance. He remained not out.

Every Australian bowler who bowled to the South African, except David Warner, went for an economy rate of under two for the innings. At the end of the innings the Aussies were on their haunches as they threw every trick in the book at the South African batting line-up. South Africa survived 148 overs in their second innings. Faf’s innings ranks as one of the all-time greatest match-saving innings.

5. Kane Williamson’s hundred against South Africa – Wellington, New Zealand, 2012
Speaking of match-saving innings, here’s another one, this time from a young Kane Williamson, who remained not out to save his side from embarrassment. This was Kane’s second Test hundred, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Black Caps.

Morne Morkel wreaked havoc on the Kiwi batting line-up. He injured star batsman and captain Ross Taylor in the first innings. Taylor didn’t bat for the rest of the match and was out of cricket for a few months because of that incident. New Zealand had only nine wickets to save in their second innings.

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South Africa set New Zealand an improbable target of 389 to win off about 80 overs. They had a four-pronged pace attack that was then the best pace attack in the world, comprising the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander along with young express pace bowler Marchant de Lange. The South Africans were favourites to knock the New Zealanders over and win the match to take the series 2-0.

New Zealand were reeling at 5-83. Williamson was hanging on. Young Williamson got hit in the unmentionables by a brute of a delivery from Steyn. The delivery broke Williamson’s box, and until this day Kane has kept that box as a memory of his encounter with the South African legend.

Williamson put on a tough 80-run partnership for the sixth wicket with wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk, who scored 39 off 80 balls. When Van Wyk departed in the 62nd over to Morkel, who picked up an astonishing 6-23 off 16.4 overs, things looked a little bleak for the Kiwis. The Black Caps had to survive 18 to 19 overs to deny South Africa a comprehensive victory.

Williamson survived and played some beautiful shots on his way to an excellent 102 off 228 balls, surviving five hours to save the game. The knock earnt serious praise from cricketing greats Neil Harvey and Barry Richards, who saw Williamson as a star in the making. The predictions turned out to be true, and now Williamson is one of the premier batsmen in the world.

New Zealand's Kane Williamson plays a shot

(AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)

6. Matthew Prior’s ton against New Zealand – Eden Park, New Zealand, 2013
England was 4-90 after 52.1 overs and close to losing the match and the series to Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps. New Zealand could sniff a rare Test victory and ended up only one wicket away from pulling it off. However, English wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior stood between the Black Caps and victory. England had to survive and forget about chasing 481 on Day 5.

Ian Bell survived for six hours for his 75 off 271 balls. Joe Root scored 29 off 79 and Stuart Broad scored just six runs from 77 balls. All of those knocks helped England’s case in pushing for a draw. However, the main knock that helped England end up pulling off a miraculous draw was English wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior’s innings of 110 off 182 balls. He hit 20 fours in his knock but survived four and a half hours.

New Zealand skipper tried all sorts of tactics and brought everyone up inside the circle to create a wicket. The Kiwis were close to winning the match and series. Matt Prior was brilliant and survived to help England escape the match with a draw. After James Anderson departed in the 140th over, New Zealand had three overs to get the final wicket. Prior was batting with Monty Panesar, who was a typical tail-ender.

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New Zealand ended up bowling only five of the remaining 19 deliveries at Panesar, who was well-protected by Prior. Both of them survived, and the rest was history.

7. Brendon McCullum’s triple ton against India – Wellington, New Zealand, 2014
After winning the first Test in Eden Park by 40 runs, New Zealand was looking to come away with a win or a draw in the second Test. Midway through Day 3 the Kiwis had to look at salvaging a draw. New Zealand scored only 193 in their first innings and were trailing by 264 runs. When BJ Watling came to the crease with captain Brendon McCullum the Black Caps were staring at a humiliating innings defeat to MS Dhoni’s men. India looked like favourites to win their first Test Series in the SENA – South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia – nations since 2009, which was also against New Zealand.

Corey Anderson departed with the score at 5-94 after 37.2 overs. New Zealand was 152 runs behind India’s first innings. BJ Watling came to the crease with a difficult task at hand. Watling was trying to establish himself in the team as the team’s main keeper. McCullum was the skipper and needed to play an uncharacteristic innings to help his side get out of a difficult situation. India were just five wickets away from winning the Test and going home with at least one victory on what was a disastrous tour.

The cricket action that followed Anderson’s wicket was pure Test cricket brilliance. McCullum played his best knock and one of the greatest – if not absolutely the best – innings by a New Zealander in Test cricket. He orchestrated two massive partnerships for the fifth and sixth wicket with wicketkeeper-batsman Watling (352) and debutant Jimmy Neesham (179).

Watling scored 124 off 367 balls and Neesham scored 137 off 154 balls, but the partnership with the former was a world record for the sixth wicket. McCullum was the star, with a super knock of 302 off 559 balls.

McCullum batted for a gruelling 13 hours, hitting 32 fours and four sixes. Virat Kohli dropped him when he was on nine. Ishant Sharma also dropped McCullum when he was in the 30s. Those dropped chances came back to hurt the Indians. Zaheer Khan dismissed McCullum on the morning of the fifth day after the batsman brought up his maiden Test triple hundred. He became the first New Zealander to score a Test match triple ton.

McCullum departed to a huge round of applause from the Basin Reserve faithful. New Zealand declared on 8-680 after 210 overs. The main four bowlers of the Indian attack bowled over 40 overs for the innings and conceded over 100 runs for the innings. The match ended in a draw, New Zealand won the series 1-0 and India went back home without a victory on the tour. McCullum’s innings ranks as one of the all-time great New Zealand Test innings.

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8. Michael Clarke’s ton against South Africa – Cape Town, South Africa, 2014
David Warner scored two back-to-back centuries in this match. However, for me the highlight of this match was Michael Clarke’s dogged innings of 161 against South Africa in the first innings. Clarke played one of his greatest innings to survive a barrage of bouncers from giant South African quick Morne Morkel.

Clarke was up against the best pace attack in their own backyard and played an exceptional captain’s knock. He was hit on the forearm and batted with the pain to help set up a formidable score for his team in the first innings. He also dealt with other injury issues around this time, and the toll of the injury led to his retirement in 2015.

He got out to top edge off Morkel. He survived the first day on 92 not out before completing his hundred the next day, remaining not out on 161 from 301 balls with 17 fours to his name.

Clarke batted for over seven hours in such an intimidating environment. That knock was one reason Australia ended up winning that match. Australia won another series in South Africa and ended the summer on a high after the 5-0 Ashes whitewash.

Michael Clarke plays a cover drive

(Steve Christo/Corbis via Getty Images)

9. Virat Kohli’s ton against Australia – Adelaide, Australia, 2014
The first test of the 2014-15 Border-Gavaskar series between India and Australia was an emotionally charged game. There were plenty of memorable moments and both sides were competitive. The game kept ebbing and flowing.

The series was a big turning point in the careers of Steve Smith and Virat Kohli. Both players never looked back in their Test careers after the Adelaide Test and are now the top two batsmen in the world. While Smith scored a brilliant first-innings hundred, Virat Kohli scored two brilliant tons in the match. It was his second innings hundred that would be remembered, as he almost won the game for his country.

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Australian captain Michael Clarke set India a target of 353 to win and the Indians went after the target. While Kohli and Murali Vijay (99 off 234 balls) were at the crease the target looked more than achievable. Kohli scored a brilliant 141 off 175 balls, displaying some brilliant stroke play. Kohli hit 16 glorious boundaries and one big six to take India within touching distance of a miraculous victory. At 2-242, India looked the goods to win the match.

But from there the Indians collapsed to 315 all out, losing their last eight wickets for just 73 runs. At 6-304 India still fancied their chances with Kohli at the crease. The game was finished once Kohli departed. Nathan Lyon picked up 7-152. The innings lasted six overs after Kohli’s departure. India were close to victory, and it was because of one man’s brilliant batting.

Virat Kohli’s stroke play was a treat to watch that day. He was on another level. Kohli has played many great knocks since that innings, but that was his most memorable knock.

10. Angelo Matthew’s 160 against England – Leeds, England, 2014
Trailing by 108 runs in their second innings, the Sri Lankan team had a tough task trying to win the second Test. England were in the box seat.

England had a four-pronged pace attack for the conditions, with James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan and Liam Plunkett all suited for the Headingley pitch. At 7-277 at the departure of pacer Dhammika Prasad and with legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara back in the hut, Sri Lanka’s chances of winning looked thin.

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They led by only 165 at that stage. Angelo Mathews, who was the last recognised batsman, had to pull off something special for the Sri Lankan team to have a chance of winning the match, and he did that when he orchestrated a brilliant 160 off 249 balls to take Sri Lanka’s lead over 300. Left-arm spinner Rangana Herath scored 48 off 82 balls and ably supported him. The Matthews-Herath eighth-wicket partnership was worth 149 runs, and it changed the game for Sri Lanka.

Matthews smacked 25 boundaries and one big six to help his side set England a target of 350 to win. England ended up losing the game by 100 runs and Sri Lanka won the match and the series 1-0. Matthews knock was of sheer brilliance and determination. It was one of my favourite knocks of the decade as I watched most of it live.