In a recent article, I looked at just which Australian players had participated in the most Test match wins during their careers and who had the best record of wins to losses.
For those who did not get to that article, the winner by a landslide was champion keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist won 73 Tests from only 96 matches. His win/loss ratio of 6.64 was a whopping 35 per cent better than any other player in history, from anywhere in the world.
But cricket is a team game. By merely looking at how often a player was in a winning team we are only seeing half the picture. The other important factor is how those players contributed to their teams’ victories.
Take an example, the famous Adelaide Ashes Test of December 2006. We all know how England’s unparalleled ability to freeze in sight of victory was preyed upon by the Will of Warne, resulting in a win for the Australians that still resonates. Let’s contrast two players from that match:
1. Shane Warne: 43 runs and 4 for 49 in England’s strangled second innings,
2. Justin Langer: 4 runs in the first innings and 7 in the second.
Both these players get to place a tick in the win column, but there can be no doubt who contributed more to that victory.
Over a series of articles, I will look at a selection of Australian cricket winners from my previous article and see which players stood up and drove our teams to greatness. I will provide some detail on memorable performances in wins and other interesting bits and pieces, so each article will only focus on a few players.
Once I’ve gotten bored with performing individual player analyses, in a future article I will present a table of champions.
The top seven comparison
In addition to straight-up batting averages, a key component of this analysis will be what I call “the top seven comparison”. What I’ve done is reviewed all of the winning Tests involving each player. I’ve taken the total contribution of the top seven in these matches (excluding the player in question) and calculated an overall batting average for the other specialist batsmen (plus keeper) involved in those wins.
This should show us who was taking on the lion’s share of scoring and who was coasting along. A similar analysis will be performed for bowlers.
This time around we will look at Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist and Allan Border.
64 wins. 4,955 runs at 55.67 with 17 centuries (losses 29.71, draws 75.66). Top seven comparison: 49.58.
Clarke’s batting average in these wins was 55.67, so this means that on average when Clarke was involved in a win he contributed six runs per innings more than the other batsmen, which is around 12 per cent more.
Clarke’s first two centuries in victories were away in India and then back home against New Zealand. In both cases, Australia were four down for a bit of a vulnerable score before Clarke put on big partnerships at speed with Adam Gilchrist to take the initiative. He was awarded the man of the match award in both Tests.
Two of Clarke’s highest scores, 329 not out and 210, were both achieved in the one series against India in 2012 and both resulted in wins for the home side. In the Mitch Johnson-inspired 2013 Ashes massacre, Clarke scored centuries in both the Brisbane and Adelaide wins to set up victory.
It’s also forgotten that in the Adelaide Ashes test of 2006 before Warne spun Australia to victory it was a Clarke century along with big contributions from Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey that got the Australians within striking distance in the first place.
Interestingly, a quick stroll through his 17 centuries in wins (only five Australians have scored more) shows him regularly taking advantage of a turbocharged start from David Warner or Ricky Ponting. I counted three each of his winning centuries being games where Warner or Ponting also scored a ton in the same innings.
On the bowling front, Clarke also took three wickets in the dying minutes to snatch a highly controversial win against India in Sydney in 2008.
Clarke has made some big runs in drawn matches including a pair of double centuries, but he wasn’t just filling his boots. For example, he scored 259 not out in Brisbane in a high scoring draw in November 2012, but he came in when the side was 3 down for 40 after South Africa had posted 450 in their first innings and the attack Clarke was up against included Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis.
His other double was in Adelaide that same month after Australia were 3 for 55 in their first innings against a similar attack. South Africa went on to hold out for a draw with eight wickets down on Day 5.
In summary, Clarke was a deceptively tough player and for a period after the decline of Ponting until the rise of Steve Smith, he was the lynchpin of a side struggling to match its past glories.
73 wins. 4,332 runs at 54.83 (losses 29.9, draws 35.55). 14 of Gilchrist’s 17 centuries came in wins and he struck his runs in victories at a strike rate over 82. Top seven comparison: 53.6.
In averaging 54.83, Adam Gilchrist performed on average only 1.2 runs per innings better than his peers in wins he was involved in (or 2 per cent). So, in general, his runs on their own weren’t the vital factor, although he made a decent contribution. To dig further, there is strike rate to consider.
Gilchrist’s strike rate in wins of 82.26 can be compared to the combined strike rate of his peers in these games of 56.5. Gilchrist was going a whopping 46 per cent faster than his batting partners.
So in addition to the mountain of runs from the number 7, the speed at which they came was a significant contributor, giving his bowlers more time to take 20 wickets and demoralising his opposition. Every time I look at Gilchrist’s career from a new angle it only emphasises what a once in a lifetime player this man was.
Gilchrist’s most famous winning century was probably his first, when in Hobart in 1999 he and Justin Langer chased down 369 for victory against Pakistan. In only his second Test Gilchrist came in at 5 for 126 and was not out at the finish with 149 from just 163 balls.
There were many other amazing efforts. During India’s famous series victory in 2001, it is probably forgotten now that Gilchrist, along with Matt Hayden, were responsible for Australia stretching its record winning run to 16 Tests in the first Test.
In his maiden Test on Indian soil, Gilchrist came in with Australia in trouble at 5 for 99 and smashed 122 from just 112 balls to engineer a ten-wicket victory.
Later efforts were often about turning good totals into winning ones in very quick time to allow a push for victory. For example, in South Africa in 2002 across the first two Tests Gilchrist smashed 342 runs in only 321 balls without being dismissed, leading to two victories.
There was also Gilchrist’s final fling in Perth in the 2006 Ashes, where in setting up a declaration he completely destroyed poor Monty Panesar while racking up 102 runs from only 59 balls.
And then there was a Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy in 2004. Not played at home or in a glamour series, this one is rarely mentioned. Australia were shot out for only 120 in their first innings, with the great Muttiah Muralitharan taking four wickets.
Sri Lanka were restricted to 211 thanks to Shane Warne and Michael Kasprowicz, but Australia were still behind by 91 in a low scoring match, heading into the second innings on a turner against one of the greatest spinners ever seen.
For one of the few times in his career, Gilchrist was promoted up the order, all the way to number three. He came in at 1 for 11 which soon became 2 for 26, so effectively 2 for minus 65. Gilchrist walked off at 3 for 226 having scored 144 from 185 balls.
Damien Martyn, that other beautiful player of spin, chipped in with a cool 161. A likely loss became a tight win. Sri Lanka failed by only 27 runs to chase down 352 in one of the all-time classic matches.
Warne took another five in the second innings to make it ten for the match. But it all started with Adam Gilchrist.
What. A. Player.
50 wins. 3,186 runs at 51.38 with five centuries (losses 33.38, draws 68.70). Top seven comparison: 46.06.
Border on average hit 5.3 runs per inning more than his batting teammates, 11.5 per cent more. So interestingly, Michael Clarke was a greater contributor to his wins than Allan Border was.
A top seven comparison in draws is vastly different. Border averaged 68.70 compared to his batting partners’ collective 41.25, a massive 27.5 runs per innings (66.5 per cent). So Allan Border was a bit of a draw specialist. But let’s look at the wins first.
Border only scored five centuries in Australian wins, but still averaged more than 51 across his fifty victories. That tells a story of consistently significant contributions rather than a series of spectacular performances. That could be the line that summarises the career of Allan Border.
An early example of this reliability would be the second Test against Pakistan in 1979, with the Australians minus their World Series Cricket stars. Pakistan scored 277 in their first innings, with star scrapper Javed Miandad contributing 129 and no one else more than 35.
In response Border top-scored with 85 from number three as Australia took a 50-run lead. After a solid Pakistan second innings the young Australians found themselves chasing 236 in their fourth innings. After a solid start by Rick Darling (run out) and Andrew Hilditch (out handled the ball), the young AB guided his team home with 66 not out.
Later that year the rebels were back and Australia were again in Perth, this time against England. The Australians took a slim 16 run lead after the first innings thanks to 99 from Kim Hughes. Ian Botham and Dereck Underwood snared eight-second innings wickets between them but Border stood firm to grind out 115 from 296 balls.
The next highest score was 58 from the fabulously-named Julian Weiner and Australia romped home by 138 runs. The England second innings was a strange one, simply because we were in Perth in 1979 and Dennis Lille and Jeff Thomson took only a single wicket between them, while the unfashionable Geoff Dymock grabbed six to bowl the hosts to victory.
In the 1985 Ashes, Australia weren’t far from their 1980s rock bottom. But at Lords in the second Test Border got the tourists on the board with 196 runs in the first innings. No other player from either side scored a century in the match. Craig McDermott took six first innings wickets and Dutchie Holland five in the second to leave Australia chasing only 127 for the win.
This is the type of target that now causes Australia collective nightmares and in 1985 it was no different. 1 for 0 became 2 for 9 and eventually 5 for 65 as the wobbles well and truly set in. But the captain steadied the ship with 41 not out to bring his team home by four wickets.
Border’s outstanding innings were less and less common as time went on, replaced by reliable contributions. His batting line up became stronger and less reliant on the veteran captain and a young legspinner by the name of Warne gave Border firepower that he had previously only dreamed of.
By the 1993 Ashes tour of England, his 200 not out in the fourth Test at Leeds was just another embarrassment for England. Three centuries were scored and all but one player reached fifty in that first innings of four declared for 653, before England were knocked over twice without too much trouble.
Over his fifty wins the reliable Border scored at least 30 runs in 40 out of his 70 innings, which was just under 60 per cent of the time.
Border scored 16 centuries in draws and averaged nearly 70, which as stated above was more than 27 runs per innings better than his peers in those matches. Two of Border’s most famous performances came in draws:
In Lahore in 1980, Border became the first (and I think still the only?) player to score 150 in each innings of a test. The game itself didn’t rise to any great heights and petered out to a tame draw but no other Australian scored a century in either innings, so I’d say Border held them together.
More dramatically, in March 1984 the West Indies were probably close to their zenith and the Australians pretty much at the bottom of the pile. The first Test had been a draw where the West Indies had put on 250 for no wickets down in their second innings.
So expectations were not high for Australia heading into the second Test at Port of Spain.
And so it proved. Australia were sent in and found themselves at 3 for 11 as the Big Bird Joel Garner ran through Kepler Wessels, Wayne Phillips and Greg Ritchie. Kim Hughes and David Hookes provided 59 balls of resistance between them before giving Garner the first five wickets of the innings.
From 5 for 85 Border digs in…and digs in some more. Australia scratch and bite their way to 255, with Border unconquered on 98 from 314 balls, facing more deliveries than the entire rest of the team combined.
Australia’s attack of Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg, Terry Alderman and Tom Hogan perform admirably, reducing the hosts to 4 for 129, with Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Richie Richardson and Larry Gomes back in the sheds. Then it all goes pear-shaped.
A century to wicketkeeper Jeffrey Dujon, able assisted by Gus Logie and Viv Richards, leaves Australia facing a deficit of 213 on the first innings. And the wicket is not getting any better from here. The only hope is to block out a draw.
For reasons I am yet to fathom, opener Wayne Phillips is run out without facing a ball. At 3 for 41, Tom Hogan is sent out ahead of the exhausted Border. He still finds himself in at 4 for 114, which becomes five down just one run later.
Border amazingly finds reserves of concentration and bats out the remainder of the match to score 100 from 269 balls and again remain undefeated. After heroic resistance from Hogg, who faces 34 balls, it is left to number 11 Terry Alderman to hold out with AB.
Alderman survives an unbelievable 69 balls against Garner, Marshall and Wayne Daniel and Australia secures a draw for the ages. Border has scored 198 not out runs from 583 balls.
Unfortunately, the next three Tests result in West Indian victories by ten wickets, an innings and 36 runs and ten wickets. Later that year Kim Hughes falls on his sword and Allan Border is on his way to becoming the longest-serving captain of his country.
Border also famously took 11 wickets with his slow left armers to destroy the might Windies in Sydney in January 1989.