Top 10 match-saving knocks

Siddartha Khandelwal

We often see dull, tame draws on lifeless pitches. However, at times, drawn matches are even more interesting and dramatic than the ones that give a result. Today, we look at some brilliant match-saving innings played by batsmen over the years to secure a draw from the jaws of defeat. These players toiled hard, played on and on, blocked, blocked and blocked. Needless to say, the list contains performances that turned losses into draws ONLY and not lost causes into victorious ones.Note: The list is a little skewed towards more recent players, however, some legendary performances are too good to be left out. Peter May’s 285* in 600 minutes at Edgbaston, George Headley’s 223 in the Timeless Test which bizarrely ended because England had to catch the boat home, Willie Watson & Trevor Bailey’s resilient stand at Lord’s (109 and 71 respectively), Darren Bravo’s wonderful 218 spread over 572 minutes and of course, Sunil Gavaskar’s not only match-saving but also almost match winning 221 at The Oval are the unfortunate ones to just miss out.

#10 Sachin Tendulkar

119*(189) 225 Minutes at Old Trafford

No list can be complete without the legendary Tendulkar, can it? Something very special about this knock is that it was actually the Master’s first century. And what a time to bring it up. The chips were as down as can possibly be. Sachin did not only become the second youngest centurion in the history of Test cricket, he did so showing grace, calm and maturity way over his age of 17.

England piled on 519 in the first essay owing largely to centuries from Gooch, Atherton and Smith. India, in reply managed a decent 432 on the back of Azharuddin’s masterful 179. England, sensing a probable victory raced to 320 in merely 81 overs, setting India a target of 408 or rather, the more realistic target of batting out 90 overs.

The Indians started by making a meal out of it. Sidhu got out on a golden duck, and though Azharuddin and Manjrekar got out on reasonably good deliveries, three of India’s most experienced players – Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri and Vengsarkar literally gifted their wickets to leave India staring down the barrel.

When the young Tendulkar came out to bat India were precariously placed at 109-4. He watched from the non-striker’s end as it soon became 127-5 and 183-6.

When Prabhakar walked in, two and a half hours of the match were remaining, and all of the four wickets in hand. And the due did see India to safety Tendulkar batted for a touch over 4 hours to make ensure India’s safety.

#9 Ricky Ponting

156 (275) in 411 minutes at Old Trafford (again!)

Set a target of either batting out 108 overs or score 423, it was all but certain the Aussies would manage neither. However, the Aussie captain had other ideas. Punter held on to this own as wickets kept tumbling from the other end without offering any resilience what so ever. Forget a half century, no other player played even 100 balls.

The Aussie captain, however, came to bat in the 12th over and was there right till the end of the 104th, curbing his natural attacking instincts for a more defensive approach.

Ponting would have been kicking himself as he got out with 24 balls still to be negotiated by the last pair. However, he heaved a sigh of relief when Pigeon and Lee negotiated them safely to bring home a draw.

#8 Bruce Mitchell

120 and 189* in 381 and 420 minutes respectively in both innings at The Oval, 1947.

To save a match is one thing. To bat for 381 and 420 minutes as an opener is quite another. To be on the field 5 days of the Test match for all but 8 minutes is nothing short of sensational.

South Africa vs England during those days would be the equivalent of Zimbabwe vs Australia in a Test match today. And 3-0 down in the series, the signs of 4-0 were ominous with the Africans requiring to play out over 140 overs to draw the game.

A collective team effort took the hosts to 427 in the first innings and the African nation responded with 302, largely on the back of Mitchell’s ton. England obviously attacked ferociously in the second essay and as stated, left the Africans with a herculean task.

One would have thought Mitchell would show signs of tiredness after the first innings, but instead, he carried on where he left off and played tirelessly for another seven hours to almost cause an upset victory.

#7 Faf du Plessis

110* (376) in 466 Minutes at Adelaide

Du Plessis was lucky to be playing this match with Duminy injuring himself in the previous one. For any batsman, it would have been a brilliant innings; for a debutant, it was heaven.

Clarke, in the form of his life, lead the Aussie charge with 230 as they closed their innings with 550. In reply, riding on the back of Smith’s century, the Proteas scored 388. As is the case with all such matches, the Australians pushed for an outright victory and when the target was to either score 430 or play out close to 150 overs, the chances of scoring 430 seemed more probable than a draw.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. 21 overs into the game, the Australians would have fancied their chances highly, having reduced their counterparts to 45-4. In walked debutant Faf du Plessis, who had lived in the shadow of AB de Villiers far too long.

It was perhaps fitting and ironical that his debut century overshadowed de Villiers’ patient and mature 33 (220). Eventually, with the help of de Villiers, the legendary Kallis and a wagging tail, du Plessis walked talk among the ruins with a stupendous knock of 110* spanning over 376 minutes.

"Before Adelaide I didn't believe I could bat for four sessions," Du Plessis said after his heroics, "You don't think that's possible, but you just have to believe."

#6 Dennis Amiss

262* (563) in 570 Minutes at Kingston, 1974

One of the rare third innings appearances. England chose to bat and sauntered to 353 on the back of a couple of half centuries. In reply, the legendary West Indians piled on the agony with 583 runs on the board.

A deficit of 230 was always going to be a difficult proposition and when the legendary Boycott got out early, a defeat looked eminent. However, Dennis Amiss waged a lonely battle and a good one at that, too. By the time he was done, he had spent 183 overs, nine and a half hours and 563 balls for his 262*.

The most notable aspect of his achievement was the fact that apart from playing the best bowlers in the business, the pitch was so difficult to bat on that no other batsman managed to score above 40 and only tailender Chris Old managed to survive a 100 balls.

Interesting fact: During the 70s, England had a fast bowler by the name of Christopher Old and wickets were kept by Alan Knott. So every time Chris Old had the batsman edge behind, the scorecard poetically read “Caught Knott Bowled Old”. Shakespeare, anyone?

#5 Andy Flower

232* (444) in 544 minutes at Nagpur

And the best ever innings by a wicket-keeper has to make the list. The Indians were obviously expected to whitewash the series on home turf and looked well on course to do so by posting 609 batting first and then restricting the Africans to 382.

Ganguly decided to enforce the follow on and at 61-3, the match seemed to be heading for an early finish. However, everything changed when the legendary Zimbabwean walked in. From playing out sessions to launching a counter attack, his innings contained every ingredient for a classic.

He remained impregnable till the end of the match, scoring 232* spread over 9 hours. And the fact that the attack included Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar, who were really good bowlers (back then) makes the knock all the more special.

#4 Mike Atherton

185* (492) in 643 minutes at the Wanderers

One of the biggest turnarounds cricket has ever witnessed. The match began like all others, South Africa got a good first innings lead (132) and then scored briskly in the second innings to leave England with the unlikely prospect of chasing 479 runs or playing over 160 overs at the Wanderers.

What ensued was a complete change in the script. England needed to survive a little over 5 sessions to earn a draw. Atherton opened the innings and resiliently defied the likes of Donald, Pringle and Pollock even as wickets kept falling at the other end. At the end of day 4, England were 167/4 and all the South Africans needed for victory was 6 wickets.

Simple enough, but one of those wickets’ was Atherton’s. Smith, Atherton’s overnight partner was resilient for a while before slashing one to third man. In walked keeper Jack Russell and offered a dolly to Pringle which was put down.

With over 4 hours still to go, no one took the drop as serious as they should have. However, hope for the visitors was slowly being restored as the due eventually batted out the day to save the match. Atherton ended up playing 643 minutes – the fourth highest ever for England then and Jack battled 277 minutes and 235 balls for his 29.

#3 Gautam Gambhir

137 (436) in 643 minutes at Napier

New Zealand scored a mammoth 619 in the first innings, riding largely on the back of centuries from Taylor, Ryder and Brendon McCullum. India, in reply could manage only 305 on the fast, swinging track.

Appropriately asked to follow on, India, starting with a deficit of 314 runs were 47/1 in 17 overs at the end of the third day, having lost Sehwag cheaply.

"Yeah definitely," was VVS Laxman’s response when asked at the end of the day if India could save this Test.

The reply definitely sounded more optimistic than realistic, but a day later, it seemed not only possible but probable, thanks largely to the gritty southpaw from Delhi.

Along with valuable contributions from the trio of Dravid (62 off 220) Tendulkar (64 off 131) and Laxman (124 of 212), India managed to save the game, but it would have all been for nothing had Gambhir not played one of the grittiest marathon the world has ever seen.

Opening the innings, Gambhir occupied the crease for close to 160 overs and did not offer a single chance to his opponents. He eventually was out LBW to Jeetan Patel but by the time had already ensured the safety of the match.

#2 Brendon McCullum

302 (559) in 775 minutes at Wellington.

The match that saw Ishant Sharma make the costliest drop of all time. But even that takes nothing away from this superb effort from the Kiwi skipper. Having shot out the Kiwis for a paltry 192, and responded scoring 438, a rare 400+ score overseas in recent times.

New Zealand came in to bat and looked in all sorts of disarray when McCullum entered the scene. 52-3 became 94-5 and a rare, rare overseas victory looked eminent.

5 wickets to go and a deficit of 152 still remained.

The Kiwis had another ending in mind though. The match turned on its head to such an extent that the Kiwis eventually tried to win the match and but for Kohli’s century there was a realistic possibility.

McCullum, known more for knocking the leather off the ball played one of the best (if not the best) innings by a New Zealander and in the process became their first triple centurion. An innings flawless apart from the difficult chance Ishant had.

Aided by centuries from Watling and Neesham, the Kiwis piled on a mammoth 680 and gave India a mini scare before the draw was agreed upon at the first available opportunity.

#1 Hanif Mohammad

337 in 970 minutes at Bridgetown, 1958

Absolutely no prizes for guessing this one. Some might argue it was not greatest but none can question the fact that it was the longest match-saving innings of all time. An unexpected collapse by Pakistan in their first innings after the Windies had piled on 579 meant that they were facing a first-innings deficit of 473.

Following on, out came Pakistan's legendary opener Hanif Mohammad, and by the time he was done, he was only 28 runs short of Sir Leonard Hutton's then record Test score of 364, but there were millenniums between the beginning and end of that marathon.

It is said that the sun was so bright that they burned down layers of Mohammed’s skin (no helmets those days) but he resiliently and doggedly held on to complete the longest innings played in a first-class match (not just tTst matches), batting for 970 minutes and hit 24 fours in an innings of unwavering concentration. The match was a 6-day affair rather than the 5-day matches we are used to today and his record seems a tad out of reach in 5-day matches

There is an anecdote related to this innings (not sure how true it is). A West Indian was watching the match from atop a tree. However, he collapsed, and was rushed to the hospital, and when he regained consciousness a day later, he asked "Is Hanif still batting?" Unfortunately, the answer to that question was a yes, and he collapsed again!

Edited by Staff Editor


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