Cricket Monthly has been running this series for a couple of weeks. It is ranking the top 50 test match performances in the last 50 years. There was a panel of 25 cricket experts who sat through ranking these performances.
As they started in the descending order with 41-50 and so on, I was pretty sure VVS Laxman’s Calcutta knock would top the list. And for a change, my one forecast has been right. VVS it is:
VVS Laxman: 59 and 281
India v Australia, Kolkata, 2001
VVS Laxman’s performance, which could be uncontroversially described as sublime, began on the second evening of the second match in Kolkata, and it proved that there are second chances in Test cricket. He was barely off the mark when India were seven down for fewer than 100. When his sparkling 59 was ended by a decision he still believes incorrect, the Indians were all but swallowed by Waugh’s Australians for a record 17th successive Test win. Beamed up to No. 3 from No. 6 for the follow-on, Laxman came to the crease with his team 222 runs behind. He batted through the third day, getting to 109, then the entire next day, reaching 275, before falling on the final morning for 281. Along the way he constructed, against the best attack in the world, an innings if not quite flawless (there wasthe odd inside or outside edge), then certainly chanceless, and timeless, and arguably peerless. Strokes fell like light rain off his bat. He was hampered by a dicky back, his spine required straightening at intervals, Kolkata’s humidity was wrenching, the noise at an overcapacity Eden Gardens delirious, but somehow he was oblivious to it all. He batted as if in a dream, and watching him was like that too. Soon after getting to his double-century, hailed by Ian Chappell on air as a “masterpiece”, there was the sight of Laxman dancing down and out to about 10 wickets wide of leg stump to thread Shane Warne from the rough into a gap in the covers. When India clinched dramatic victory on the final evening, it was the finest in their Test history, and Laxman’s performance would live on ever longer. In the Indian context this was a cultural achievement, a work of sporting art that reflected the common desire of a diverse people. In cricket terms it is simply, according to our jury, the greatest Test performance of the past 50 years.
It is a kind of knock which till date gives me the rush and the goosebumps. The quality of batting and the turnaround of fortunes was just shocking. These sort of innings can at best be fictional stuff but it all happened real time.
Who is the maximum impact player? Brian Charles Lara. He finds two performances in top 15 with four overall:
The big thing about Brian Lara‘s entries in the list is not just that he has four of them but how high up they are. All four are in the top 30, two are around the 15 mark, and one is in the top five (Barbados ’99). His only real competitor is Ian Botham, whose three entries include two in the top 10 (Headingley ’81, Bombay ’80).
The best performances come against England. The batters win the race with 27 batting feats in the 50 best performances. The surprise bit is which team represents the most such performances? India comes second!:
No surprises with the leader: West Indies were kings or contenders for a good part of these 50 years, and between them the mighty players claim over a quarter of the pie. The surprise is the next highest: India, with 11. Chandra, Gavaskar, Amarnath, Kapil, Hirwani, Kumble, Dravid, Laxman, Harbhajan, Sehwag, but no Guess Who? Third are Australia, yet their golden era is represented entirely by Steve Waugh and Shane Warne, with two entries each. Another surprise, given their procession of game-turners: Pakistan, with a mere three, but a reassuringly bowling-heavy three (Imran ’83, Sarfraz ’79, Qadir ’86). Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are the only Test nations without representation.
Well if the obvious missing guy won the Chennai test, may be he could have been added to the list as well. Though, Gavaskar’s Bangalore knock which was eerily similar to the Chennai knock and with similar result gets a 40 ranking.
It is interesting to note that last ten years sees only 2 performances in the top 50 – Pietersen ’12 against India, and Graeme Smith ’08. There is a bit of discussion here over this issue.
Superb stuff from the CM team. Takes you back to the memory lane..
There is much more here from Rahul Bhattacharya