AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis put on 205 for the fifth wicket

In hot pursuit: Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers' double-century stand against India in 2013 took South Africa agonisingly close to the mammoth target of 458

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Stats feature

The greatest match-changing partnerships in Test history

Some win games, some save them. Starring Laxman, Langer and others

Anantha Narayanan  |  

One joy of doing these analysis-based anecdotal articles is going all the way back, beyond the present and recent eras. For instance, on learning of a Roger Hartigan-Clem Hill partnership for the eighth wicket in 1907-08, I wonder why Hill batted so low and delve into my Christopher Martin-Jenkins tome of Test matches. I find that Hill was suffering from influenza and that makes his innings all the more remarkable. Then I find that it was Hartigan's debut match.

An individual innings does not become great in isolation. Unlike other sports in which players could go solo and score goals and points, cricket, especially batting, revolves around partnerships. A batsman can add runs to the team total only if he has someone at the other end, even a one-legged partner. Partnerships win Tests and save them.

In my last article for the Cricket Monthly, I used a new measure called WinIndex, explained therein, to select a set of great recoveries that led to unexpected Test wins. Jasprit, a long-standing reader, suggested that I study situations in which the WinIndex changed substantially because of a partnership. I converted this into a study of using WinIndex changes to determine partnerships that turned Tests on their heads.

I first created a shortlist of Tests in which the partnerships in decisive matches increased the WinIndex by a margin of 20 or more. Any such change, whether it is 23 to 45 or 41 to 64, would have completely changed the dynamics of the match. In the initial phase, I limited myself to partnerships between players from winning teams. I also limited myself to the third and fourth innings. We are not interested in big partnerships in the first two innings, which generally lead to comfortable wins. In addition, sufficient wickets should have been lost: innings such as 400 for 2 were excluded.

This exercise produced a list of 32 Test matches. I inspected each of these in depth, discovering gems like the Hartigan-Hill stand. I soon realised that opening partnerships and partnerships that move from 30 for 2 to 200 for 2 are not that significant despite the WinIndex changes. The loss of the two top wickets takes away only a third of the batting resources. So I concentrated on partnerships for the third wicket onwards. A team loses half its batting strength when the third wicket falls. This left me with 17 matches in the final shortlist. I selected 11 of these.

Then, in a special selection, I considered one-wicket and two-wicket wins, and identified substantial ninth- and tenth-wicket partnerships that led to wins. Three magnificent match-winning partnerships emerged from this.

The graphs below are really visualisation diagrams, which have been planned to provide as much information as possible about each partnership. The X-axis represents the innings and the Y-axis represents the WinIndex values. The heart of each diagram is a green partnership rectangle. The height of the rectangle represents the WinIndex change and the width of the rectangle represents the partnership share in the team score. The key partnership details are listed within the rectangle.

The selected Tests are presented in a reverse chronological manner. This is to avoid presumption of any implied rank.

1. Justin Langer and Simon Katich, Australia v Sri Lanka, Colombo, 2004
Australia won by 121 runs

© Ananth Narayanan

The two first innings were huge affairs, virtually cancelling each other out. In the second innings, the Sri Lankan stalwarts Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath made serious inroads and reduced Australia to 98 for 5. Because there was no lead of any sort, the WinIndex value for Australia stood at 26%. Katich joined Langer, who was batting serenely, and these two added an imposing 218 runs. When Langer was dismissed for 166 the WinIndex was a respectable 53 because Australia still had Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne. Australia finally set Sri Lanka 370 to win and won comfortably. The Langer-Katich partnership raised the WinIndex by 27, and against top-class bowling.

2. Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff, England v New Zealand, Christchurch, 2002
England won by 98 runs

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This is a match well known to Test followers for Nathan Astle's memorable 222 in the fourth innings. However, equally stirring things happened earlier in the match. England secured a lead of 81 but were in some strife at 106 for 5. The lead, and the match-to-date Runs per Wicket (RpW) of 19, meant that England were just about ahead in terms of WinIndex, at 55%. Then Thorpe and Flintoff added 281 and took the game away. If New Zealand had been set 300 to win, they might have succeeded. The Thorpe-Flintoff partnership moved the WinIndex to 90%, a jump of 35%. The bowling was sub-par: Chris Cairns was injured and those were early days for Daniel Vettori. Incidentally, this is one of two Tests in this collection with a starting WinIndex value above 50.

3. VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid, India v Australia, Kolkata, 2001
India won by 171 runs

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Arguably the most discussed partnership of all time. Laxman was batting with ease at one end in a follow-on situation. When Sourav Ganguly was out at 232 for 4, India were still 42 runs behind and the WinIndex value was 36, indicating a comfortable Australian win. Then came one of the greatest partnerships in Test history. Laxman and Dravid added 376 runs for the fifth wicket, during which they batted through an entire day. When Laxman left at 608 for 5, India's lead was a huge 334 and the WinIndex had swung dramatically in their favour, to 62. Despite a late declaration, India won comfortably. The Test contained everything: a hat-trick, a contentious follow-on decision, excellent bowling by Harbhajan Singh and (surprisingly) Sachin Tendulkar, and most of all, a partnership for the new millennium. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne were mastered completely.

4. Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist, Australia v Pakistan, Hobart, 1999
Australia won by four wickets

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Two close sub-250 innings were followed by a huge Pakistan effort in the third innings, led by Inzamam-ul-Haq. Australia's target of 369 seemed a bridge too far, especially after Saqlain Mushtaq, Azhar Mahmood, Shoaib Akhtar and Wasim Akram had dismissed the top five Australian batsmen for 126. The WinIndex value was 29, indicating an easy win for Pakistan. Gilchrist, playing in only his second Test, joined Langer for a magnificent partnership of 238. Langer's steady batting meshed beautifully with Gilchrist's almost-run-a-ball innings. When Langer was dismissed a few runs away from victory, the partnership had taken the WinIndex value to 95, the highest increase for any mid-innings partnership.

5. Martin Crowe and Jeremy Coney, New Zealand v Pakistan, Dunedin, 1985
New Zealand won by two wickets

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Pakistan had a useful first-innings lead of 54 and set New Zealand a tough target of 278. Their attack had a single world-class bowler in Akram, but when New Zealand slumped to 23 for 4, it looked like Pakistan would win big. The WinIndex value was an understandable 20. The incomparable Crowe got together with Coney for a match-winning partnership of 157. The WinIndex value moved to 52, since even at 180 for 5, when Crowe was dismissed, it was a wide-open game. New Zealand then slumped to 228 for 8 before Coney and Ewen Chatfield added the required 50 runs in another stirring partnership and secured an unlikely two-wicket win.

6. Graeme Wood and Craig Serjeant, West Indies v Australia, Georgetown, 1978
Australia won by three wickets

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This was a Test played by Packer-depleted teams. West Indies had six debutants, and could only reach 205. Australia, led by Bob Simpson, but with most of their stars staying back at home, managed a lead of 81. Helped by hundreds from the debutant Basil Williams and Larry Gomes, West Indies set them a difficult target of 359. When the fearsome Sylvester Clarke dismissed the top three batsmen, Australia were reeling at 22 for 3 and the WinIndex was a justifiably low 21. At this point, Serjeant joined Wood, the opener. The two added 251 priceless runs, which moved the WinIndex value to 57. It still needed the late order to contribute effective runs to seal the win. The Test was reminiscent of the one four months earlier in Perth, when Australia chased down 339 against India.

7. Neil Harvey and Sam Loxton, South Africa v Australia, Durban, 1950
Australia won by five wickets

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This was an incredible Test. Take a look at the scores in the first three innings. What sort of a pitch was it? The RpW at this stage was just over 16. For Australia, the target of 336 must have looked like a climb up Devil's Peak on crutches. In addition, they had to face Hugh Tayfield. They were 95 for 4 when Sam Loxton joined Neil Harvey. The WinIndex pointed to a virtually unwinnable 27. It was left to Harvey to orchestrate the chase in a masterly manner. First came a partnership of 135 to steady the ship. When Loxton was dismissed at 230 for 5, the WinIndex had moved up to 51. The game was still winnable for both teams. Harvey's unbeaten partnership of 106 with Colin McCool took it Australia's way. Both partnerships are contenders, but the first of those set up the match.

8. Jack Fingleton and Don Bradman, Australia v England, Melbourne, 1937
Australia won by 365 runs

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Another Test about which much has been written. A quagmire of a pitch led to Bradman and Gubby Allen each declaring with nine wickets down. Australia's lead of 124 was huge. Bradman did what modern captains do not even think of. Remember India having 40 minutes to bat on day three at the SSC in 2015, sending their top five batsmen in, and finishing at 21 for 3? Bradman was a better tactician and sent Nos. 9, 10 and 11 in to bat first. Bill O'Reilly and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith were soon out, but Frank Ward played out 75 balls. Soon Australia were 97 for 5. The lead of 221, coupled with the fact that Bradman, Fingleton and Stan McCabe were still available, sent the WinIndex to a high 70. In a magnificent partnership, Fingleton and Bradman added 346 for the sixth wicket and moved the WinIndex up to 95. Australia won comfortably. This is the second Test in the list with a starting WinIndex value exceeding 50.

9. Patsy Hendren and Les Ames, England v West Indies, Port-of-Spain, 1930
England won by 167 runs

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Herman Griffith, with help from Learie Constantine and Ellis Achong, dismissed England for 208. England, in turn, restricted the West Indian lead to 46, but found themselves struggling at 52 for 3 (at which point the WinIndex value was 33). A huge upset seemed in the offing when Hendren was joined by the inexperienced Ames at the crease. These two added 237 runs for the fourth wicket. The WinIndex value when Ames fell at 289 for 4 had risen to 58. Hendren continued his innings and added 136 more to set West Indies a tough target of 380, which they fell well short of.

10. Roger Hartigan and Clem Hill, Australia v England, Adelaide, 1908
Australia won by 245 runs

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In this timeless Test in Adelaide, England secured a lead of 78 against Australia's sub-par total of 285. In the second innings, Australia were struggling at 180 for 7, meaning their lead was just 102 and the WinIndex value a low 24. However, the redeeming feature for Australia was that Hill, one of their top batsmen, had been ill with influenza, and came in at No. 9 to join Hartigan, playing in his first Test. Hartigan and Hill added 243 runs and took the team to 423 for 8, and the WinIndex moved up by 32 to 56. Then Hill batted with Sammy Carter to add 78 more. The target of 429 was too much for England and they lost heavily.

11. Gordon White and Dave Nourse, South Africa v England, Johannesburg, 1906
South Africa won by one wicket

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A weak England team was caught on the wrong foot on a lively Wanderers pitch and slid to 15 for 3 before recovering to 184. Then South Africa were all at sea and were dismissed 93 behind. England's second innings was almost a repetition of their first, and eventually South Africa were set an imposing target of 284. They lost two wickets for 22, recovered somewhat, but slid again to 105 for 6. Nourse joined White, playing in his first Test, with the WinIndex at a tough 25. The pair added 121 invaluable runs for the seventh wicket. The WinIndex moved to an exact 50. Two more wickets went down, and at 239 for 9 the WinIndex value had sunk to 39. Nourse and Percy Sherwell, the wicketkeeper-captain, calmly added 48 runs and South Africa emerged victorious by one wicket. An interesting sidelight in this Test was that South Africa fielded four legspinners.

Winning sub-100 partnerships for the eighth or ninth wicket
For this selection I shortlisted 28 Tests that were won by one or two wickets and then careful screened each match, looking at the partnerships for the eighth and ninth wickets. I concentrated on stands of 50 runs or more and selected three out of five Tests with such partnerships. One of the two left out (Dunedin, 1985) has already featured above for another partnership.

12. VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma, India v Australia, Mohali, 2010
India won by one wicket

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Both teams produced 400-plus scores, but Australia's second innings was a sub-par effort of 192, after they lost their last six wickets for 38. The target of 216 seemed easy, but Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger made early inroads. India continued to lose wickets steadily and found themselves in a hole at 124 for 8. The WinIndex value was 25. The only consolation for India was the presence of the eternal saviour, Laxman. An injury to Bollinger helped too. Laxman's flair and Ishant's sound defensive technique formed an effective combination and they added 81 for the ninth wicket. When Ishant, having faced many more balls than Laxman, was lbw to Hilfenhaus for 31, the WinIndex value was 60. Laxman shepherded Pragyan Ojha through a nerve-wracking three overs to win the Test by a single wicket.

13. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed, Pakistan v Australia, Karachi, 1994
Pakistan won by one wicket

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Australia, with a first-innings lead of 81, were cruising at 171 for 2 in their second. Akram and Waqar Younis took out the last eight wickets for 61 and left their team a tough but gettable target of 314. The Pakistan innings had single-digit scores alternating with good innings, and when the smoke cleared, Inzamam was staring at a scoreboard that read 258 for 9, with Mushtaq walking in. The WinIndex value was still at 33 because the target was still 56 runs away. And then a miracle happened: Inzamam and Mushtaq added the required runs and won the Test. Since the partnership was still unbroken when Pakistan won, the WinIndex value finished at 100.

14. Jeff Dujon and Winston Benjamin, West Indies v Pakistan, Bridgetown, 1988
West Indies won by two wickets

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With only three runs between them, Pakistan and West Indies each cancelled out the other's first innings. Malcolm Marshall's searing pace limited Pakistan to 262 in their next, and the final target of 266 seemed a reasonable one. Akram bowled beautifully and was well supported by Abdul Qadir to reduce West Indies to 207 for 8. The WinIndex value was a fighting 41. Dujon and Benjamin kept their team on course. Benjamin was the more adventurous of the two, outscoring his more illustrious batting partner as they knocked off the required runs without having to call the last man to the crease.

Finally, a summary of all the winning partnerships in one place.

© Ananth Narayanan

Extra: A special partnership in a special Test

15. Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud, Australia v West Indies, Brisbane, 1960
Match tied

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What more can be said of this match? The first tied Test was arguably the greatest Test of all time. A middling third innings set Australia a seemingly easy task of scoring 233 to win. Then came a hurricane called Wes Hall. Australia were left floundering at 92 for 6. The WinIndex value was 27. Benaud joined Davidson, whose deeds in this Test had already qualified as an all-time great all-round performance. They batted with authority and took Australia to within seven runs of the target. Australia's winning chances went past 90. A spate of run-outs followed, and the match ended in a tie. This was a match-saving and a match-winning partnership at once: call it a match-tying partnership.

Match-saving partnerships
In my article on Test comebacks, I considered only decisive Test matches, but in this article I will extend the scope to cover Tests where teams achieved draws despite being way behind.

Unfortunately, I have no WinIndex to assist me here. That applies only in decisive matches. Therefore I adopted different methods to arrive at shortlists, and after detailed perusal, finally selected these seven Tests. Because of this roundabout method of selection, I might have missed out on some worthy partnerships, for which my apologies.

Unlike for match-winning partnerships, here I considered first and second innings too but could not find any stands worthy of inclusion from those innings. The nearest was a partnership for the eighth wicket between Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq in Sheikhupura in 1996.

For the diagrams, I set notional values as the starting and ending WinIndex values. So as not to indicate bias, these Tests are presented in a chronological order.

16. Ken Mackay and Lindsay Kline, Australia v West Indies, Adelaide, 1961

© Ananth Narayanan

The fact that I have selected a second Test from the same series speaks volumes about the 1960-61 rubber between Australia and West Indies. Australia, set 460 to win, were struggling at 31 for 3 at stumps on the fourth day. Wickets continued to tumble on the next day and Australia were in the abyss at 207 for 9 with over two hours left for play. However, Mackay and Kline stood firm and kept out the tough West Indian attack. They added only 66 runs but the time they used up makes this one of the greatest match-saving acts ever.

17. Wasim Raja and Wasim Bari, West Indies v Pakistan, Bridgetown, 1977

© Ananth Narayanan

After two 400-plus totals in the match, Pakistan's second innings was a horror story. From 68 for 1 they slumped to 113 for 6 and 158 for 9. The lead of 172 seemed wholly inadequate against an attack of Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Joel Garner and Vanburn Holder. Raja was batting beautifully when he was joined by Bari, who had almost drowned the day before. The two Wasims added 133 runs for the last wicket to set West Indies a target of 306. It is another story that Pakistan almost won the match, only to be denied by the West Indian pair of Roberts and Croft, who survived for nearly ten overs.

18. Allan Border and Dave Gilbert, Australia v India, Melbourne, 1985

© Ananth Narayanan

India secured a huge first-innings lead of 183. Then, for the second time in the match, an average Indian bowling attack got the better of a strong Australian batting line-up, reducing them to 231 for 9 - only 48 ahead with almost a whole day remaining. Border batted like a champion and Gilbert defended very well. Their tenth-wicket stand lasted nearly two hours and helped save the Test, as India were left with insufficient time to score 126 after rain interrupted play.

19. Daryll Cullinan and Lance Klusener, South Africa v India, Johannesburg, 1997

© Ananth Narayanan

India scored 410 in the first innings and took a lead of 89. They declared their second innings late on the fourth day, setting South Africa a tough target of 356. The Karnataka trio of Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad and Anil Kumble bowled beautifully to reduce South Africa to 95 for 7 with over two sessions remaining. That's when Cullinan and Klusener put up a match-saving partnership of 127 runs for the eighth wicket. After Klusener left, Allan Donald stood firm for five overs to earn an honourable draw.

20. Nathan Astle and Danny Morrison, New Zealand v England, Auckland, 1997

© Ananth Narayanan

In the very next Test match, many time zones away in Auckland, an equally stirring partnership saved the day for New Zealand. Their first-innings total of 390 proved inadequate as England secured a lead of 131. New Zealand finished the fourth day on 56 for 3 and lost a cluster of wickets in the pre-lunch session to find themselves reeling at 142 for 9, leading by just 11. Astle was the rock at one end, while Morrison played his part, facing 133 balls for 14 runs in a 106-run stand that lasted just under three hours, to secure a remarkable save.

21. Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, South Africa v India, Johannesburg, 2013

© Ananth Narayanan

This was an astonishing Test. Two innings either side of 250 gave India a lead of 36 runs. On the back of Cheteshwar Pujara's lovely hundred and Virat Kohli's 96, South Africa were set a record target of 458. They were 197 for 4 when de Villiers joined du Plessis at the crease and batted as only he could, scoring a hundred in 162 balls. The fifth-wicket stand took the score past 400, but once these two batsmen and JP Duminy were dismissed, South Africa surprisingly (or not) shut shop. The match ended in a pulsating draw, with South Africa eight runs short.

22. Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling, New Zealand v India, Wellington, 2014

© Ananth Narayanan

Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami shot New Zealand out for 192. India slipped to 228 for 6, but contributions from the lower order took the lead to a huge 246. In the second innings, it was Zaheer Khan's turn to pick up early wickets and New Zealand were precariously placed at 94 for 5. A three-day defeat loomed. Then Watling joined McCullum and the two added 352 runs before Watling was dismissed. Even at 446 for 6, New Zealand were not safe. McCullum and Jimmy Neesham added another 179 runs to seal the draw, but it was the first of the two partnerships that was the real match-saver.

The summary for match-saving partnerships is presented below:

© Ananth Narayanan

The 22 partnerships listed in this article featured 42 batsmen. Only two batsmen featured in two partnerships each. They are the incomparable Laxman and the underrated Langer.

Those who have read Ray Robinson's classic Between Wickets can never forget the amazing prose used to describe Stan McCabe's three match-saving acts. Only the 232 in Nottingham in 1938 warranted further consideration. However, it came in the first innings and while I was tempted to include the 77-run last-wicket partnership with Chuck Fleetwood-Smith, I finally decided against it.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems