Greatest Test Performances

The 50 in seven graphs

A breakdown of the greatest Test performances of the last 50 years: one team, one player and one decade stand out

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).

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Honourable mention to Viv Richards, and the incomparable Garry Sobers, who has two entries (Headingley '66, Lord's '66) though less than half his 20-year career falls in the period under consideration.

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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.

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On first glance 27 batting entries to 15 bowling appears to reinforce the enduring partiality towards batsmen. On closer look, it's not so bad: a team usually has six batsmen to four bowlers and correspondingly a greater pool of batting performances. Three of the top 10 performances are pure bowling, and a fourth (Hadlee '85) is close to one. In terms of type within type, seven of the 15 bowling entries are to spinners, and nine of the 27 batting entries are to openers. Genuine all-round performances are rare: and so they comprise four of the top ten.

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What accounts for the 1980s domination? It could be that it coincides with West Indian pomp: close to half the '80s entries feature West Indies as perpetrators or opposition. It could be the serendipity of the great allrounders: six entries between them over the decade. Could it also be the fact that the '80s are the perfect midpoint between nostalgia and accessibility? The least represented period is the last 10 years: only one from the current decade (Pietersen '12), and one (Smith '08) from the second half of the 2000s. More on that topic here.

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London leads with its two venues, and The Oval pips Lord's by five to four. A fine variety in The Oval handful too: sheer pace (Holding '76), two very different spin exhibitions (Chandrasekhar '71, Muralitharan '98) and two very different batting feats (Richards '76, Gavaskar '79). Headingley comes in alongside Lord's with four, and three of those are in the first 10: Botham '81, Sobers '66, Gooch '91. The Antigua Recreation Ground proves its batting reputation by supplying three entries that range from the super-fast (Richards '86) to the super-vast (Lara '94, Lara '04).

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Seventeen against England! Since England were rarely a top opposition in this period, it must have to do with the symbolism and glee of beating the former colonisers. And also perhaps to do with the power of the British press: the great performance against England is the one more likely turn into lore. Next are Australia, another team that everyone loves to beat, and another with a traditionally strong press: four of the top six (Laxman '01, Botham '81, Lara '99 and Hadlee '85) are against them. Fittingly, five of the seven entries versus West Indies are of batsmen coping with the feared fast bowlers.

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The overwhelming majority of the entries are, as expected, in victories. Of the four losses, three are by Indians in the 1980s: Kapil '82, Amarnath '83, Gavaskar '87. Gavaskar's other entry (The Oval '79) was not in a win either, which about sums up his situation. The lone non-Indian in a losing performance? Who else but Lara (Colombo '01)? Indeed, only one of Lara's four entries was in a victory (Barbados '99). All eight entries in drawn matches are batting performances. A little on that here.

Text by Rahul Bhattacharya. Illustrations by Girish TS



  • POSTED BY Tom on | January 26, 2016, 0:02 GMT

    Sohaib Qureshi: Hanif's 337 is undoubtedly one of the greatest all-time performances, but the performances covered here are only those within the last fifty years (presumably 1965 onwards), so the period doesn't include that match.

  • POSTED BY Sohaib Qureshi on | January 25, 2016, 16:53 GMT

    Hanif Muhammad's 337 match saving runs after follow on, battling 970 record minutes, if not worthy then it is the most ridiculous list of all time.

  • POSTED BY Shehan on | January 25, 2016, 16:42 GMT

    Selected Greatest Performances by team shows why this list is flawed and ridiculous. I am afraid these stats do not justify the pathetic selctions among real greatest performances in this list. For an example, according to this list Gowers innings, which wasn't worth the MOM award, is a greater performance than Mahela Jayawardene's 374 against a strong South African attack.

  • POSTED BY Hamza Salman on | January 25, 2016, 12:13 GMT

    Worth mentioning another glaring omission: Imran Khan's memorable single-handed battles with England in the first Series he was made skipper in - the 1982 tour of England, with all the umpiring travails (David Constant, Palmer saga), and the way the brilliant all-rounder dominated the Series as he completely overpowered Botham, ending the 3-Test Series with 21 wickets at an average of sub-20, being the virtually the lone fit pace bowler from his side, and batting average of over 60, not to mention his riveting strategic captaincy. I would doubt if there are more than a handful more forceful and dominating shows put on by any cricketer in Test history in a 3-Test Series overseas.

  • POSTED BY madhu on | January 25, 2016, 7:44 GMT

    Of all the lists I have seen over the years, this is the most ridiculous. A list not containing Roy Fredericks at Perth in the top 10, I don't have to even name the year or the teams involved. Everybody can recognise the innings I am talking about

  • POSTED BY Ray on | January 24, 2016, 18:02 GMT

    "A fine variety in The Oval handful .. sheer pace , two very different spin exhibitions and two very different batting feats". Unfortunately, the chances of any bowling performances at the Oval post 2016 figuring on any updated list must be quite slim, given the current state of the wickets.

  • POSTED BY Bennett on | January 24, 2016, 16:41 GMT

    One of the greatest all-rounder performances came from Mushtaq Mohammed who scored 121 and 56 runs and took 5/28 and 3/69 against the powerful W.Indies in their own den in 1977. He had the added pressure of captaincy and defeated one of the most powerful sides in cricket history 266 runs. I would venture to say this was greater than some of Botham's performances, and of some of the other entrants...how it got missed is baffling.

  • POSTED BY Hamza Salman on | January 24, 2016, 12:24 GMT

    The choice had to be subjective, but some performances missed out are blatantly obvious. Quite surprised (if not shocked) to see omission of the 8th greatest Test innings of all-time according to Wisden - Azhar Mahmood's crunching 132 (off merely 163 deliveries) in Durban 1998, off a rampant Saffie attack, as he clobbered the powerful bowling that was in the process of decimating the batting team. Azhar scored 90% of the team's last 106 runs and was instrumental in a memorable 29 run triumph for Pakistan.

  • POSTED BY Vinod on | January 24, 2016, 9:58 GMT

    As an indian i feel Hirwani's 16 on debut - great achievement - but not worthy on this all time lists, he had helpful conditions the same as bob massie on his debut-am not downgradin their performances but surely not a top 50'er-neither does kumble's 10 deserve on this list-he has bowled better than that on most occasions for lesser rewards. I feel Dean jones @ Madras Tied test 1987 was a herioc innings-that should be a top 10ner, Dale steyn 7 for at nagpur was awesome, Rahul at aDelaide was awesome , all in all enjoyed the selections, the memories that go with these, and am sure these were completely bias free and selected on pure perforemances - might go some way to convince people that cricinfo is not hostage to that 'one' country, cricinfo please publish

  • POSTED BY Aniruddh on | January 5, 2016, 7:52 GMT

    Absolutely ridiculous to see this Gower's innings here, that too from a match where Randall won the MoM. Is the panel suggesting that whosoever decided MoM in that match was not capable enough? I was very excited to see this list going up there but this innings doesn't even deserve top 1000 let alone top 50. Where is Dravid's 180 / Bhajji's 13 wickets from same match as VVS Laxman's, Where are Sachin's Chennai Innings, his guard against SA in SA or at Perth or his Oval's match saving innings. I can count many from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, England, WI (Chanders/Sarwans century in chase of 418), ZIM, NZ (If the this 72 is here for what it could have been then why not Astle's fastest 200 against Eng where had he continued they would have chased 500+), SA (Smith's 4th innings bat works, ABD, Amla, Faf's batathons), etc. It could have been any other innings but these 100 Gower runs in 2 innings are questionable and sad that Gower made to the list with this.

  • POSTED BY Sushreyo on | January 5, 2016, 1:56 GMT

    It is interesting to see Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram and Glenn McGrath completely missing from this list. These three were maestros known for consistency rather than sudden bursts of madness. However, it is hard to disagree with most entries to this list. I was rather surprised that McCullum's 302 against India, to save the Test match after being more than a 100 runs down with only 5 wickets in hand, never featured in this list! One or two of the entries, great though they were, seemed to be a tad overrated as well. But then again, such articles will always be met with disagreements. Thanks TCM for this wonderful list!

  • POSTED BY Arun on | January 4, 2016, 19:46 GMT

    No Sachin, Ponting, McGrath, Akram...but nothing to be surprised because it is more about selecting the best/ unique performance rather than best players. However, performance in loosing cause could have been avoided in the nominations. Draw is acceptable because saving a test match is in itself as good as winning under many circumstances. But no credits to be taken away for great performances irrespective of result. Good to see that VVS' 281 is ranked No.1. I think anyone who has seen that match / innings will remember it for lifetime.

  • POSTED BY peter on | January 4, 2016, 17:14 GMT

    VIKPAI...because the 216 was against west indies at adelaide. chennai was 210, and i agree should be in this list

  • POSTED BY Vikram on | January 4, 2016, 10:55 GMT

    how come Dean Jones 216 in Chennai is not on this list?

  • POSTED BY Osama Ali on | January 4, 2016, 10:38 GMT

    Absence of Tendulkar, Akram and Waqar from 50 years test history make this list flawed and useless!!!!

  • POSTED BY ahmed on | January 4, 2016, 9:55 GMT

    surely laxman Kolkata epic is all time great but sachin 135 against wasim waqar akhtar saqlain was one of most deserving innings to be here as it was close to Lara 144 in Bridgetown even better the pitch was square turner and reverse swing was ample and he was injured facing 3 all time great reverse swing exponent pressure of Ind pak match.