We tend to remember winning performances clearly but often let slip from our minds heroic performances in losing causes. Here I attempt to gather all such performances in Tests and ODIs, to pay homage to monumental efforts that might have been in vain but should not be forgotten. These are more or less my own lists. I have used some analytical means and a visual perusal of shortlisted scorecards to make a final selection. As such, I might have missed out some performances, perhaps even obvious ones. Please bring to my notice what you feel I have missed out. I have not included T20I performances since I stopped maintaining a T20I database a couple of years back.
Series performance: Inarguably the greatest series performance to finish on the losing side was Brian Lara’s scintillating once-in-a-lifetime effort in Sri Lanka in 2001.
Let us look at the numbers (not that mere numbers could convey what Lara did). Three Tests, six innings, 688 runs, a sequence of 178, 40, 74, 45, 221, 130 against a potent attack led by the wizard, Muttiah Muralitharan, and all in losing causes. Not one real failure. Not defensive blockathons. A series strike rate of 56. A share of over 43% of the team’s runs. I am not sure whether anything more is needed. In the last of those Tests, Lara scored 351 runs in 569 balls and West Indies still lost by a mile. It is true that Clyde Walcott scored over 800 runs in a lost series against Australia and Terry Alderman took 42 wickets in a lost Ashes series; however, Lara’s was a way-out performance.
Team performance: Before moving on to the individual performances, I have to refer to what I feel is the greatest rearguard in vain by a team.
During the South African tour of India in 2015, the BCCI prepared diabolical, sub-standard pitches to catch the strong South African team out. India won the series 3-0, a hollow victory in the opinion of many fair-minded followers.
One match stood out. In the last Test, in Delhi, South Africa had to bat out over 150 overs to save the Test. They almost did it, blocking 143.1 overs to score 143 runs (the only time in Test history that a 100-plus-over innings had a run rate below 1.0). They lost big but won the hearts of many Indians. The indomitable quartet of batters was Temba Bavuma with 34 runs (117 balls), Hashim Amla 25 (244), AB de Villiers 43 (297) and Faf du Plessis 10 (97). de Villiers, the 360-degree batter, scored at a run every seven balls. Amla took ten balls to score a run each. Inarguably the greatest team effort in a losing cause.
Now we will move on to the individual performances. These are presented in reverse-chronological order.
The first performance is Virat Kohli’s double-hundreds in a close loss to Australia in Adelaide in 2013-14. The second hundred was the more heartbreaking one, because when he fell, India were 60 runs short of what would have been great win.
David Warner’s unbeaten 123 against New Zealand in Hobart in 2011-12 was a magnificent effort in a match in which Australia fell short by seven runs. He ran out of partners in a chase of 241.
Lara’s magnificent double-hundred on the opening day in Adelaide in 2005-06 against a fearsome attack was not enough to save West Indies from a seven-wicket loss.
Ricky Ponting’s 242 in Adelaide against India in 2003-04 is the biggest individual score to finish on the losing side. The “other” Dravid-Laxman recovery partnership and an Ajit Agarkar special led to the loss.
Now comes what is, in my opinion, the greatest innings ever played in a losing cause. Facing an Everest-like target of 550 in Christchurch against England in 2001-02, Nathan Astle walked in at 119 for 3. Less than four hours later, he was dismissed for 222 off 168 balls. He was last out at 451, a mere 98 behind. He hit 28 fours and 11 sixes. No one who watched that innings can forget the looks on the faces of Nasser Hussain and his men.
In reply to South Africa’s massive 600 in Harare in 2001-02, it was Andy Flower all the way: 341 runs for one dismissal, which was over half of all the runs Zimbabwe made in the game. Flower batted for over 14 hours.
VVS Laxman moved the world in Kolkata in 2001. But he had already given a glimpse of his awesome talent at the SCG a year before. That India lost by an innings and plenty did not matter. His 167 in 198 balls, studded with 27 fours, showed what he was capable of.
In Chennai against Pakistan in January 1999, India, needing 271 to win, slumped to 82 for 5. Sachin Tendulkar, despite being troubled by back spasms, played a magnificent innings of 136, but was let down by the late-order India batters.
In Sialkot against Sri Lanka in 1995-96, Pakistan were set a tough target of 357. Moin Khan walked in at a miserable 15 for 5. He remained undefeated on 117 when Pakistan finished at 212, nearly five hours later.
In Port Elizabeth, on India’s inaugural tour of South Africa in 1992-93, when they were reduced to 31 for 6 in the second innings, an innings defeat loomed large. Kapil Dev made a wonderful 129 and added over 180 runs for the last four wickets. He gave India a total to work with, although South Africa ended up reaching the 153-run target comfortably.
Who can ever forget this innings from the India-Pakistan match in Bangalore in 1986-87? A low-scoring game in which India were set a target of 220 on a square turner. Sunil Gavaskar played arguably his best Test innings and India fell agonisingly short. Gavaskar’s 96 was more valuable than many a double-hundred.
When the first ever Test was commemorated with the Centenary Test in 1977, the margin of victory in both matches turned out to be identical – 45 runs. England were set a massive target of 462 and went past 400, mainly due to a masterclass of 174 by Derek Randall. It was a classic innings lasting just under eight hours.
Almost inarguably the greatest poor-wicket innings was played by Len Hutton on that toughest of pitches, in Brisbane in 1950-51. After two unbelievable declarations (100 runs for 14 wickets), England’s target was only 192. That seemed miles away when the score was 30 for 6. Hutton’s unbeaten 62 was an object lesson on how to bat on “stickies”. It was not a long innings but a brave effort nonetheless.
In 1924-25 in Melbourne against England, Australia scored 600 in their first effort. Herbert Sutcliffe replied with 176 and 127 in England’s two innings. In the first, Sutcliffe and Jack Hobbs put on 283, but then the wheels fell off. England could only add 486 runs for the loss of 20 wickets. Sutcliffe faced more than 145 overs and batted for over 13 hours.
India lead this table with five performances.
Now let us move on to the bowling performances. As with batters, this includes both innings spells and match spells.
As far as opening-day spells in India go, Nathan Lyon’s classic of 8 for 50 in Bengaluru in 2016-17 is almost certainly the only spell that matches Subhash Gupte’s 9 for 102, featured lower on this list. Lyon spun webs around the strong Indian batting line-up and dismissed the home team for 189, but though they took a useful lead and set themselves a sub-200 target, Australia lost.
In Perth in 2007-08, after Australia made 375, Mitchell Johnson bowled a magnificent spell to take eight wickets and get Australia a lead of 94. But despite setting a huge target of over 400 runs, Australia lost the match, thanks to hundreds by Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers and a half-century by JP Duminy on debut.
Pakistan won the Asian Test Championship match in Kolkata in 1998-99 against India despite being 26 for 6 on the opening day. Javagal Srinath took five and eight wickets in the two innings respectively, but ultimately Saeed Anwar’s all-time classic of 188 not out carried the day.
Against West Indies in Port-of-Spain in 1997-98, Angus Fraser produced a memorable spell of 8 for 53 to secure a small lead, but it was not enough. Carl Hooper saw the home side through on the last day.
Shane Warne took 12 wickets in a match only twice, but Australia won neither Test. At the SCG against South Africa in 1993-94, Warne took 7 for 56 and 5 for 72 to set up a target of 117, only for Australia to lose the match in dramatic fashion when Fanie de Villiers destroyed them with 6 for 43 and they fell five runs short.
A few weeks before that, Merv Hughes had taken 13 wickets in Perth, only for Australia lose to a Viv Richards special and Curtly Ambrose’s tight spells.
Now comes the only match featured on both batting and bowling lists. In Gavaskar’s farewell Test, his 96 was matched by Maninder Singh’s opening-day masterclass of 7 for 27 which dismissed Pakistan for 116.
In Ahmedabad in 1983-84, India conceded a lead of 40, after which Kapil Dev broke the back of a powerful West Indies side with a memorable 9 for 83 in 31 continuous overs. Unfortunately this was in vain as India fell 138 short.
In Kanpur in 1958-59, Subhash Gupte had the strong West Indian line-up in knots, dismissing them for 222 on the opening day. India could only match this score and then faded away after Garry Sobers set them a 444-run target.
At the same venue next season, India achieved one of their great victories, defeating Australia courtesy Jasubhai Patel’s 14-wicket haul. This despite a career-best performance by Alan Davidson, who took 12 wickets in the match.
The next was the famous Neil Harvey match in Durban in 1949-50. In reply to South Africa’s 311, Australia were dismissed for 75, with Hugh Tayfield taking 7 for 23. South Africa didn’t enforce the follow-on and subsequently Australia got to the target of 336 with relative ease.
In Melbourne in 1901-02, Sydney Barnes had innings spells of 6 for 42 and 7 for 121, but England still lost. This was a peculiar match with wide variation between the innings scores of the first two and last two innings.
Finally, a match from the 19th century. In the Old Trafford Test of 1896, Tom Richardson took 7 for 168 and then 6 for 76 while defending 124. A heroic effort that went in vain. Richardson bowled 110 five-ball overs in the three-day Test.
Surprisingly, Australian bowlers account for five of the performances on this list.
Let us move on to the terrific all-round performances. These have been selected through a combination of analysis and perusal of scorecards.
The first of these matches was played a few months ago in Chattogram. When Mehidy Hasan Miraz scored a hundred and took four wickets to secure a lead of over 170 against Bangladesh, he must have thought that the match was won. Little did he realise that, despite his four wickets in the second innings, Kyle Mayers would break all sorts of records to secure a depleted West Indies side a famous win.
In Dominica in 2017, Roston Chase could not prevent a defeat to Pakistan despite scoring an aggregate of 170 runs and taking five wickets in the match.
Shakib Al Hasan made two half-centuries and took six wickets against West Indies in Mirpur in 2011-12, but Bangladesh still lost by 229 runs.
Daniel Vettori’s excellent 140 to go with his five wickets in Colombo in 2009 gave New Zealand visions of a famous win. However, they fell well short.
In Durban in 1997-98 against Pakistan, Shaun Pollock took eight wickets and scored 100 runs, but Mushtaq Ahmed spun South Africa out.
Ian Botham lorded it over West Indies at Lord’s in 1984 but England could not win. Botham’s 8 for 103 was one of the best bowling performances ever and gave England the lead. And although he chipped in with 81 in the second outing, Gordon Greenidge made a mockery of the 300-plus target.
A couple of years before that, Imran Khan had dominated England with eight wickets and 113 runs at Headingley.
Also in 1982 at Lord’s, Kapil dominated England with eight wickets and 130 runs. In both innings, his late-order runs were worth their weight in gold.
At The Oval in 1967, Asif Iqbal played a breathtaking innings of 146 in the second innings, coming in at 53 for 7. He added over 200 runs for the last four wickets. He also took five wickets in the match.
On India’s tough tour of West Indies in 1961-62, where they lost all five Tests, the bright spot for the tourists was Polly Umrigar’s all-round performance in Port-of-Spain. Umrigar took five wickets and scored over 200 runs. West Indies were made to bat carefully in their last innings to secure their win.
At Lord’s in 1952, Vinoo Mankad produced one of the greatest all-round performances ever, scoring 72 and 184 while opening the batting. Sandwiched in between was a five-wicket haul. As in the West Indies a decade later, India could hold their heads high.
Jimmy Sinclair produced an all-round performance for the ages in Cape Town in 1898-99 against England, taking 6 for 26 on the opening day and then scoring 106 out of the South African total of 177. Sinclair’s innings has the highest Innings Peer Value (23.4) in history. His compatriots averaged 4.5 in the match. He took another three wickets in the second innings, but England won big.
A few years earlier, medium-pace bowler George Giffen had bowled two marathon spells to take eight wickets in Sydney. These spells were nestled between his score of 161 on the opening day and 41 on the last. On a wicket-converted-to-runs basis (25 runs for each wicket), this is the best all-round performance ever with 402 c-runs (c-runs = runs scored + 25 * wickets taken).
Kapil Dev is the only player to feature on all three lists. This clearly indicates that he fought a number of lone battles for India.
Now let us move on to the ODI arena. Here the runs scored and balls faced become important.
The first entry is just a few days old. South Africa scored 341 in Johannesburg and Fakhar Zaman, opening the innings for Pakistan, made 193 before he was out going for the win in the last over. That was one brave innings if ever there was one. He fell just short of making a second career double-hundred.
Chasing an imposing target of 320 against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui in January 2019, Sri Lanka were floundering at 121 for 5 when Thisara Perera walked in. An hour and a half later, he was last out at 298, having scored 140 in 74 balls. Twenty-two balls still remained and if Perera had not holed out, Sri Lanka would probably have won the match.
In Cape Town in 2016-17, South Africa posted an above-par total of 327. Australia’s reply was kicked off by David Warner, who scored 173 off 136 balls. However, with the next highest score of 35, Australia couldn’t get over the finish line.
Chasing a middling 300 against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in 2014, England slumped to 111 for 5 in nearly 30 overs. Jos Buttler created an innings of sheer incandescence and almost took England home. His 121 took a mere 74 balls and he was last out.
Mahela Jayawardene’s 103 in the final of the 2011 World Cup was a top-class innings and only the all-round batting strength of India saw them through.
Now comes an innings talked about by millions of Indians across the years. Chasing 351 against Australia in Hyderabad in 2009, Tendulkar scored 175 in 141 balls and was dismissed a few runs before the end. Unfortunately, the Indian late order messed up and India fell a mere three runs short.
Charles Coventry scored a magnificent 194 in Bulawayo in 2009 and anchored Zimbabwe to 312. But that was not enough to win after Tamim Iqbal replied with a 138-ball 154. Coventry’s innings remains the highest score by a member of a losing side in an ODI.
Now comes one of the most famous ODI matches of all time. In Johannesburg in March 2006, Australia became the first team to cross 400, and went some distance beyond. Then South Africa overhauled that huge target. Ricky Ponting’s 164 finished on the losing side. On another day, it could have been Herschelle Gibbs’ 175 that ended in defeat.
In the 2003 World Cup, Canada faced the strong West Indian team in Centurion and John Davison made a magnificent 111 in 76 balls, with no one else in his side reaching 20. West Indies responded with the highest ever scoring rate in an ODI innings that lasted beyond 20 overs.
In the same World Cup, Sri Lanka posted an above-par total of 272 in Bloemfontein. In New Zealand’s reply, Scott Styris made 141 off 125 balls but got little support from the rest of the line-up.
In the Singer Cup final in 1996 in Singapore, Pakistan could score only 215, but it proved to be enough despite an innings of utter brilliance from Sanath Jayasuriya. He got to his fifty in 17 balls – then the world record – but the innings petered out after his dismissal.
In the 1993-94 Sharjah tri-series final, Basit Ali compensated for the openers’ tardiness (26 runs in 76 balls) with an unbeaten innings of 127 in 79 balls, a score that wouldn’t be out of place today. However, Pakistan’s middling 284 was overhauled by a Lara special.
In the 1987 World Cup, New Zealand posted a competitive 242 against Zimbabwe, who fell short by only three runs. Dave Houghton produced one of the greatest innings ever in a losing cause. This innings was among the subjects of my first ever article, titled “Triple”, in which I compared three magnificent efforts: Richards’ 189 not out, Kapil Dev’s 175 not out and Houghton’s 142.
Finally, a Javed Miandad masterclass. We go back to 1982, when a run-a-ball hundred was almost unheard of. In a shortened match against India in Lahore, Miandad scored 119 in 77 balls and took Pakistan to 252 in 33 overs. It would be remiss of me to not refer to Zaheer Abbas in the same game: 105 in 82 balls (7.63 runs an over). But both these efforts were in vain since a peculiar rain-rules calculation declared India the winner by 18 runs even though they scored only at 7.14 (in 27 overs). Could India, or for that matter any other team, have scored 78 runs in the last six overs? Not really on the cards, especially in 1982.
In the first of the ODI bowling performances above, Sri Lanka put up a modest total in Kandy in 2017 and India reached the target quite comfortably. However, Akila Dananjaya produced a fighting effort, taking 6 for 54, most of which were top-order wickets. There were just not enough runs to bowl with for Dananjaya.
In the 2015 World Cup, Australia were dismissed for 151 by New Zealand in Auckland. However, New Zealand’s chase was anything but comfortable, thanks to a wonderful spell of 6 for 28 by Mitchell Starc. Two contrasting innings by Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson saw New Zealand through.
In the 2011 World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan, Wahab Riaz delivered one of the most hostile spells of fast bowling in an ODI and took five top wickets for 46. Unfortunately for Pakistan, their batters could not complete the task. And Tendulkar was dropped four times.
The next spell is featured here more because of the accuracy of the bowling than for the number of wickets taken. Bangladesh could only manage 124 and looked down and out against Zimbabwe in Mirpur in 2008-09. Shakib produced a magical spell of 10-4-11-3 and reduced Zimbabwe to 44 for 6. But Zimbabwe’s late-order batters produced useful cameos and the side scraped home narrowly.
A similar spell was bowled by Kenya’s Aasif Karim in a low-scoring 2003 World Cup match in Durban against Australia. Karim dismissed Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann and Brad Hogg in a memorable spell of 8.2-6-7-3, while the rest of the bowlers went for nearly eight runs per over.
In another match in the same World Cup, Australia could only manage 208 against New Zealand in Port Elizabeth. Shane Bond’s 6 for 23 accounted for their top four batters. Unfortunately, New Zealand’s batters fared miserably and fell nearly 100 runs short.
In Sharjah in 2002, Muttiah Muralitharan’s masterly 10-3-9-5 restricted New Zealand to 218 and Sri Lanka came close but could not quite finish the job.
In the 1999 World Cup semi-final at Edgbaston, Shaun Pollock bowled a cracking spell of 5 for 36 to restrict Australia to 213. Unfortunately for him, South Africa messed up the last few deliveries and tied the match, eventually leading to them exiting the tournament.
Imran Khan’s 6 for 14 in the Rothmans Cup match against India in Sharjah in 1984-85 is arguably the greatest bowling spell in a losing cause in ODIs. He took five of the top six wickets to dismiss India for 125, and Pakistan should have won, especially since India’s bowling line-up was not all that strong. But Pakistan’s propensity to self-destruct was evident and they lost big – six batters scoring a single among them.
At Edgbaston in 1977, Greg Chappell broke England’s back, taking the first four wickets and finishing with 5 for 20, to restrict England to 171. But that was a hundred runs too many as Australia collapsed to 70.
Finally, the only performance on this list in a World Cup final. Gary Gilmour’s 5 for 48 against West Indies at Lord’s in 1975 wasn’t that well supported by the other bowlers and the West Indies total of 291 was enough to win.
Let us move to the all-round performances.
A couple of months earlier Marcus Stoinis had produced a similar performance against New Zealand in Auckland, taking three top-order wickets and scoring a magnificent 146. He walked in at 54 for 5 and took Australia to within six runs of the target before running out of partners. Whatever yardstick you use, this Stoinis special is the best all-round performance ever.
In Hobart in the 2015 World Cup, Zimbabwe’s Sean Williams took three Ireland wickets and then scored 96 in 83 balls. Zimbabwe fell five short.
In Kolkata against England in 2016-17, Hardik Pandya showed his extraordinary skills in an all-round display of three wickets and a quick-fire 56, but a similar performance from Ben Stokes gave England the match.
In Ranchi in 2014-15, Angelo Mathews anchored the Sri Lankan innings with a masterly 139 at much better than a run a ball. Then he dismissed the Indian openers, but India won the match narrowly thanks to an identical score from Virat Kohli.
In a triangular series in Dubai in 2014-15, opener Javed Ahmadi held the faltering Afghanistan innings together with a run-a-ball 81. Then he made life difficult for Ireland with a four-wicket haul. But Ireland recovered from 129 for 7 to win a close match.
In February 2009 in Sydney, Grant Elliott dismissed Ponting and Michael Clarke and then scored a beautifully measured hundred in a chase of 302. Unfortunately New Zealand fell short by over 30 runs.
In a 2008 match between Canada and Bermuda in King City, Sunil Dhaniram produced a memorable all-round performance, taking five wickets and then scoring 79 from No. 7, but Canada fell 11 short of their target of 196 from 47 overs.
Chris Gayle made an uncharacteristically slow hundred in a 2006 Champions Trophy match against England in Ahmedabad and then took three top-order wickets in a very economical spell. But it was not enough for a West Indies win.
Thomas Odoyo went in with Kenya at the edge of the abyss, at 45 for 6 against Bangladesh in Nairobi in 2006. He scored a beautifully structured 84 to take them to 184 and then tore through the Bangladeshi middle order with four key wickets. When he finished his quota, Bangladesh needed 25 off 48 balls with only two wickets in hand – and Odoyo could do nothing but watch as Mashrafe Mortaza and Abdur Razzak took Bangladesh home with four overs to spare.
In Zimbabwe’s 1999 World Cup match against Australia at Lord’s, Neil Johnson produced a magnificent all-round performance. He opened the bowling and took 2 for 43, dismissed Adam Gilchrist and Mark Waugh, and then opened the batting and scored an unbeaten 132. However, Zimbabwe lost by 44 runs.
In Pune in 1995-96, Chris Cairns scored an electrifying 87-ball 103, rescuing New Zealand from a top-order slump and taking them to a total of 235. He then took three wickets, but India’s middle order saw them home.
At the WACA in 1987, Steve Waugh chipped in with a sterling 82 and then took four Pakistan wickets. Pakistan, however, had the last laugh, winning by one wicket.
In the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup at the WACA in 1984, Michael Holding bowled economically to restrict Australia to 211. Then he came in to bat with West Indies floundering at 102 for 7 and played a stroke-filled 64, nearly taking his team home.
A footnote: in my recent Cricket Monthly article on “contras”, I mentioned Fawad Alam’s unique achievement of three hundreds and zero fifties. Well, last week he made it four hundreds and no fifty. Four hundreds in a total of 710 runs. Amazing indeed.
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