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5 greatest lower-order comebacks in ODIs

Bhuvneshwar Kumar and MS Dhoni
Bhuvneshwar Kumar played the innings of his life

An ideal playing XI comprises of six specialist batsmen (including the 'keeper), one all-rounder, and four bowlers. When the sixth wicket falls, the floodgates usually open, as a lower order batsman of limited skills comes to the crease.

Strike bowlers usually clean up the tail in the matter of a few overs, but instances of obstinate resistance from the lower order are not uncommon.

In limited overs cricket, these serve primarily to mitigate the gravity of defeat. And amidst the efforts to salvage their pride, a few players have snatched improbable wins, leaving the opposition agonizing in their complacency of not delivering the knockout blow when it mattered.

Disclaimers: Instances where no specialist batsmen were in the crease are ranked higher in the list. Also, ICC tournaments and series deciders have been given more importance.

5. Dhoni inspires Bhuvneswar to his first ODI fifty (vs Sri Lanka, 2017)

Many regard MS Dhoni as the GOAT finisher, and this has been his latest exploit. Riding on useful lower order contributions from Milinda Siriwardana and Chamara Kapugedara, Sri Lanka scored 236-8 in their 50 overs. Chasing a revised target of 230 in 47 overs on a sluggish surface, the numero uno opening pair in the current ODI scenario - Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma- stitched together a century partnership.

Their departure in the span of 4 runs triggered a collapse as the rookie spinner Akila Dananjaya bulldozed through India's famed middle order with his well-disguised googlies. Having nosedived from 109-0 to 131-7, India was in dire straits.

Dhoni's indifferent form in the first half of the year meant even die-hard fans doubted a comeback.

MS Dhoni started sedately, taking his time to get accustomed to the pitch and steering the nervous Bhuvneshwar at the other end, reminding a certain VVS Laxman at times. When the latter started timing the ball well, the ex-captain was admirably content in settling for singles to rotate the strike and playing the second fiddle to his partner.

Upul Tharanga's defensive decision of not persisting with Dananjaya when he was on a rampage also gave the pair enough time to settle down. Once the tumbling of wickets was stemmed, Dhoni's sangfroid attitude ensured that there were no hiccups, and even as Dananjaya ended up with a stellar 6/54, Sri Lanka was left to blame themselves for what could have been.

4. Arrival of the original finisher- Michael Bevan (vs West Indies, '96)

greatest odi finisher
Bevan single handedly carried Australia to an unlikely win

The Australian invincibles of the late 90s and early noughties had all the ingredients for greatness: belligerent quickies, a certain wily leg spinner, a rock-solid batting order, an explosive 'keeper-batsman, and two astute leaders. But what made their bunch legendary was their unquenchable thirst for victory even while staring down the barrel of defeat.

In the 5th match of the '96 Benson & Hedges tri-series, Australia was challenged in their backyard by a fierce West Indies side.

Batting first in a rain-curtailed match, the Caribbeans huffed and puffed to 172/9 courtesy a responsible knock from Carl Hooper. Paul Reiffel was the pick of the bowlers, scalping 4 for 29 as Australia was set a target of 173 in 43 overs. Curtly Ambrose and Ottis Gibson breathed fire, as the Australians found themselves cornered at 38-6.

Ian Healy teamed up with Bevan in the middle, and the two pushed the score to 74 when Roger Harper had Healy castled. It looked like the die was cast for Australia.

But Bevan found a staunch partner in Reiffel. The pair found gaps and ran hard between the wickets as the score motored on. It looked like the Kangaroos were running away with the game when Reiffel's stay was cut short.

West Indies still had a chance with 7 runs to defend with two wickets remaining. Shane Warne ran himself out and an anxious McGrath survived an inside edge, bringing Bevan on strike with 4 required off 2.

The bowler, Roger Harper, stopped a straight shot from Bevan with Australia requiring a boundary off the last ball. Bevan repeated the stroke, but this time, the ball rocketed past the umpire to the fence. Sydney launched into a hysteria and Bevan's name was stamped into the annals of cricketing folklore for playing the best ever innings by a finisher.

3. Malinga's batting belligerence (vs Australia, 2010)

Lasith Malinga
Malinga and Mathews in action

Millennials may know Lasith Malinga for his curly locks and impeccable yorkers. However, one day in Melbourne unveiled a different facet of his cricketing abilities. He stitched together a record ninth wicket partnership with a then-young Angelo Mathews, handing the Aussies a demoralizing defeat in their own den.

Batting first, Australia had set a mediocre target of 240, sculpted around a resolute 71* from Mike Hussey. Thisara Perera was the wrecker-in-chief for the Lankans, with a five wicket haul.

After losing both openers cheaply, experienced marauders Sangakkara and Jayawardene-steadied the ship to 73-2.

Downfall struck for Sri Lanka in the form of a young Xavier Doherty, who took four quick wickets as the Lankans quickly slid to 107-8

Mathews was joined by Malinga in the middle with 134 more required at the halfway point. The duo had enough time to settle down as the scoring rate had not fallen even with the flurry of wickets.

Nevertheless, Malinga was in no mood for that, as he started scoring in excess of run a ball. He whacked six fours and a couple of maximums as Mathews silently anchored and planned the chase.

Michael Clarke frantically shuffled around his bowlers, but to no avail. Within no time, Sri Lanka was at the cusp of victory.

However, Malinga could not contain his excitement when he set off for a suicidal single with the scores at level. This reminded of a certain contest almost 11 years ago in a World Cup semi final which ended in a tie, and a nervous Muttiah Muralitharan on strike meant that all was not yet over for the Aussies.

However, their hopes were instantly ousted when Murali nonchalantly flicked Watson for a four, completing the fairy tale comeback.

2. Heroics of the local lads - Srinath and Kumble (vs Australia, 1996)

The duo employed unconventional methods to master their “bowling rhythm”.
India's premier bowlers turned into saviors with the bat.

A lot was at stake when India locked horns with Australia in the third match of the 1996 Titan Cup. After losing their first encounters against the Proteas, neither team could afford another loss on the trot.

Australia managed a mediocre total of 215 in the stipulated overs, with Mark Taylor's century the highlight. The pre-millennium Indian team was notorious for being poor chasers. True to their image, they were cornered at 47-4 at one stage.

Sachin and Jadeja steadied the ship, but the latter never looked too comfortable during his stay. When his luck finally ran out (pun intended), India were still 90 runs away from victory. A couple more quick wickets compounded the pressure, which finally got the better of Tendulkar, who departed for a gritty 88.

As per what felt like tradition at the time most TV sets were switched off at this point, as a win looked bleak.

But in the silenced stadium, two men believed that it could be pulled off. Both had grown up playing in the very same MA Chinnaswamy stadium in their teenage days. Both looked as if they knew the pulse of the pitch. Srinath, who was wildly swinging the bat till then, started to bat with purpose.

He audaciously pulled the short pitched deliveries and struck Waugh for a straight six, instilling some hope in the crowd.

The pair also had tremendous luck, as they survived a few edges and some run out chances with their street smart running between the wickets. Kumble's flick through leg side in the 49th over saw India wrapping up the game, with an unbeaten partnership of 52 off 40 balls.

The sight of Kumble's mother and grandmother in a cheering frenzy as the local lads got the job done may still be etched in the minds of older cricket fans. For India, this victory was a turning point in the campaign, as they bounced back with a newfound vigour to win the tournament, defeating South Africa in the finals.

1.The Carribbean Last Stand (vs England, Champions Trophy 2004 Final)

England vs West Indies The Oval, 2004
Bradshaw and Browne pulled off the biggest heist in Champions Trophy history

This performance takes top spot for two reasons: first, for having no big-name specialist batsmen at the crease (though it can be argued that Courtney Browne was as a wicket keeper batsman, his batting average of 17.29 was too low for a specialist), and secondly, pressure of an ICC tournament final. A new champion was ensured when the Poms faced off against the Caribbean side in the Kennington Oval.

England was put to bat after losing the toss, and their innings revolved around Marcus Trescothick's hundred. Scoring a classy 104 off 124 balls, he never found an able partner apart from Ashley Giles, who chipped in with a valuable 31.

Wavell Hinds bowled the spell of his life, conceding only 24 off his 10 overs and scalping 3 wickets as the English were bowled out for 217. West Indies was expected to make light work of the meager target, but the pressure of an ICC final can make even mediocre targets look daunting.

That is exactly what unfolded in the second innings, as the English seamers decimated the Carribbean lineup, with no one other than Shivnarine Chanderpaul offering some resistance. When Chanderpaul departed, the score was 147-8 after 34 overs.

The writing was already on the wall for West Indies as Bradshaw joined Browne in the middle. After getting his first boundary from a careless outside edge, Bradshaw started to play more cautiously. Gradually, he grew in confidence and started to go for shots normally played by top order batsmen.

At the other end, Browne was lucky, just managing to get bat to ball. However, the lack of a clear plan was visible in the English fielders as runs leaked in the form of extras. Their complacency turned into a sense of panic as the West Indies nudged past 200.

Needing 9 from 10, Browne edged one to the boundary, and a couple of balls later, a beautiful square drive from Bradshaw sealed the game for the Calypso kings.

Though it was a one-time wonder performance, it will certainly be remembered as the pluckiest performance by a lower-order pair in ODI cricket history.

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Edited by Anuradha Santhanam
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