VVS Laxman drives on his way to 281

Artist at work: Laxman in Kolkata


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What were the greatest Test performances over the last 50 years? How does one weigh up monumental batting feats against epic bowling efforts? These were some of the questions that a panel of 25 cricketers, broadcasters, writers and statisticians had to consider in the Cricket Monthly 50 from 50 January cover feature. Here are the final results. (Read an explanation of how the list was compiled here)

No. 1
VVS Laxman: 59 and 281
India v Australia, Kolkata, 2001
VVS Laxman's performance, which could be uncontroversially described as sublime, began on the second evening of the second match in Kolkata, and it proved that there are second chances in Test cricket. He was barely off the mark when India were seven down for fewer than 100. When his sparkling 59 was ended by a decision he still believes incorrect, the Indians were all but swallowed by Waugh's Australians for a record 17th successive Test win. Beamed up to No. 3 from No. 6 for the follow-on, Laxman came to the crease with his team 222 runs behind. He batted through the third day, getting to 109, then the entire next day, reaching 275, before falling on the final morning for 281. Along the way he constructed, against the best attack in the world, an innings if not quite flawless (there was the odd inside or outside edge), then certainly chanceless, and timeless, and arguably peerless. Strokes fell like light rain off his bat. He was hampered by a dicky back, his spine required straightening at intervals, Kolkata's humidity was wrenching, the noise at an overcapacity Eden Gardens delirious, but somehow he was oblivious to it all. He batted as if in a dream, and watching him was like that too. Soon after getting to his double-century, hailed by Ian Chappell on air as a "masterpiece", there was the sight of Laxman dancing down and out to about 10 wickets wide of leg stump to thread Shane Warne from the rough into a gap in the covers. When India clinched dramatic victory on the final evening, it was the finest in their Test history, and Laxman's performance would live on ever longer. In the Indian context this was a cultural achievement, a work of sporting art that reflected the common desire of a diverse people. In cricket terms it is simply, according to our jury, the greatest Test performance of the past 50 years. - Rahul Bhattacharya

Ian Botham: for best results, taunt and sit back

Ian Botham: for best results, taunt and sit back Adrian Murrell / © Getty Images

No. 2
Ian Botham: 50 and 149 not out; 6 for 95 and 1 for 14
England v Australia, Headingley, 1981
Ian Botham's confidence was low and his mood unpredictable when England arrived for the third Test at Headingley. The loss of the captaincy hung heavily on him but from that rejection, and inspired by Mike Brearley, his former mentor who had made an emergency return to the job, he began Botham's Ashes. His spirits were lifted by six wickets in the first innings - he took the last five after Brearley, aware that he was not bounding into the crease as in days of old, taunted him as "the sidestep queen". With the bat he made his first half-century in 20 innings, but by Saturday night England looked out of the match, 500-1 shots according to the bookmakers, and Botham's customary barbeque carried, for England at least, an alcohol-fuelled fatalism. When Graham Dilley joined Botham on the fourth day England were 92 in arrears, the situation so hopeless the batsmen began to outhit each other for the hell of it. Botham feasted on width and good fortune, batting with rediscovered ebullience. Lofted drives came with a lavish back-swing, his cuts carried finesse as well as power, and when he lapsed into a slog or two the ball careered away safely. The cheers became louder, the smiles broader. England plundered 175 runs in the last session, ultimately setting 130. Botham finished unbeaten on 149 - a player reborn - and all that was left was for Bob Willis, steaming down the hill, to bowl England to an 18-run win. - David Hopps

The jury

Qamar Ahmed veteran cricket writer; Russel Arnold former Sri Lanka batsman, commentator; Scyld Berry cricket correspondent, Daily Telegraph; Colin Bryden editor, South African Cricket Annual; Greg Chappell former Australia captain, coach; Dylan Cleaver sports editor at large, New Zealand Herald; Tony Cozier veteran writer and commentator; Ranjit Fernando former Sri Lanka batsman, commentator; Gideon Haigh cricket historian; Malcolm Knox author, cricket writer for the Sydney Morning Herald; Sanjay Manjrekar former India batsman, commentator; Neil Manthorp sportswriter in Cape Town; Suresh Menon editor, Wisden India Almanack; Fazeer Mohammed Trinidad-based broadcaster, journalist; Mark Nicholas former Hampshire captain, commentator; Ramiz Raja former Pakistan captain, commentator; S Rajesh stats editor, ESPNcricinfo; Christian Ryan Melbourne-based writer, author; Osman Samiuddin sportswriter, the National; Mike Selvey former England bowler, chief cricket correspondent, the Guardian; Utpal Shuvro sports editor, Daily Prothom Alo; Rob Steen sportswriter; John Traicos former Zimbabwe offspinner; John Wright former New Zealand opener, coach; Andy Zaltzman stand-up comedian, writer

No. 3
Michael Holding: 8 for 92 and 6 for 57
England v West Indies, The Oval, 1976
It was a searing summer. The weather was hot and so was the West Indies bowling. This was the summer of grovel, and Brian Close and John Edrich, and Viv Richards. And, at its end, The Oval was witness to one of the greatest of all fast-bowling performances. The year-long drought had reduced the outfield to a parched brown wasteland, criss-crossed with the herringbone lines of drainage. There was a pitch too, bleached white, low and flat, so that Richards took himself to the fringe of a triple-hundred and Dennis Amiss made an emotional double. For the bowlers, it was a graveyard. Giants of the game - Andy Roberts, Bob Willis, Wayne Daniel, Vanburn Holder - produced combined match figures of 5 for 394. In this context, Michael Holding's 14 for 149 - 8 for 92 and 6 for 57 - defies belief even now. He was lightning fast through the air, full of length and straight, always attacking the stumps, so that all of his first-innings wickets were bowled or lbw, and all but two in the second innings likewise. Stumps were simply detonated from the ground. It was a triumph of sheer thrilling unadulterated pace. Pace like fire. - Mike Selvey

Eat my dust: Lara lays into Australia at Kensington Oval

Eat my dust: Lara lays into Australia at Kensington Oval Ben Radford / © Getty Images

No. 4
Brian Lara: 153 not out
West Indies v Australia, Bridgetown, 1999
Can there have been a purer distillation of the entire breadth of one man's genius? Can there have been a greater embodiment of a much-cherished, not-often-glimpsed quality in sportsmen? This was Brian Lara and this was how he won matches. Lara had scripted an epic in the previous Test, in Kingston, so a personal redemption from having begun the series with his captaincy on probation was well underway. Here he arrived at 78 for 3, late on the fourth afternoon, still 230 from the target. He survived an anxious 20 minutes and then a spicy first hour against Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie the next morning. Stuart MacGill and Shane Warne became his relief; he took three fours in MacGill's first over; he put one Warne delivery on the roof of the Greenidge-Haynes Stand. McGrath pinged his helmet. They had words, a little contact, and then Lara waved him away dismissively, before equally dismissively pulling him for four. A cover drive off Warne, with 28 needed, had Tony Cozier cooing "Oooh." This was peak Lara, manipulating the fields as meticulously as Steve Waugh set them. He found one final gap, through extra cover: did we know it would be the last gasp of West Indian greatness, by one of the last great West Indian batsmen? - Osman Samiuddin

All-round, everywhere: Botham was all over the Jubilee Test like a rash

All-round, everywhere: Botham was all over the Jubilee Test like a rash © Getty Images

No. 5
Ian Botham: 114; 6 for 58 and 7 for 48
India v England, Bombay, 1980
England were on their way back from a bruising 3-0 defeat to Australia. India had played 19 Tests from the start of 1979. In the middle of this strangely isolated Test - to mark the BCCI's 50 years of existence - Ian Botham, with luggage full of Australian beer, was to display his fizzing range of all-round tricks. The Wankhede Stadium pitch was more grassed than usual, and the ball both swung and cut. Botham first dismissed Sunil Gavaskar and then knocked out the middle order to finish with 6 for 58. England tottered at 58 for 5 before Botham played Superman for more than three hours, smashing 114 off 144 in an innings of technical control and clean hitting. A 171-run sixth partnership with Bob Taylor was given a lease of life with Gundappa Viswanath's recall when they had put on only 85. England led by a trifling 54, but Botham was writing the entire script - five of the top six Indians were his, with their lead only 4. John Emburey looks back: "I'm not sure how much sleep he got in all the time he was there." Sleep-deprived or not, 13 for 106 and a century were to be Botham's best all-round figures - even better than Headingley. - Sharda Ugra

Waste not: Richard Hadlee used a rubbish bin to refine his control and accuracy at the Gabba

Waste not: Richard Hadlee used a rubbish bin to refine his control and accuracy at the Gabba © Getty Images

No. 6
Richard Hadlee: 54; 9 for 52 and 6 for 71
Australia v New Zealand, Brisbane, 1985
A rubbish bin substituted for the umpire in the technical drill that set Richard Hadlee on the path to his Gabba masterpiece. New Zealand's coach Glenn Turner had thought Hadlee was inhibited by the presence of the umpire and bowling from too wide on the crease. The rubbish bin was used to work out the right distance for the umpire to stand, and Hadlee soon found himself bowling fiendishly from stump to stump. Other factors helped - an Australian team weakened by the South African rebel defections, a Brisbane pitch tinged green, and weather that took the players off the field regularly, which kept Hadlee refreshed. But it was still a supreme demonstration of piercingly accurate fast-medium, moving the ball just enough in the air and off the seam. Few knew this better than Kepler Wessels, pinned in front of the stumps by a ball swerving back late from that wicket-to-wicket line Turner had wanted. The second innings unfolded less smoothly for Hadlee, as Allan Border and Greg Matthews held up New Zealand's drive to victory, but the latter's wicket to yet another ball in the fifth-stump channel opened the way to a triumphant finish. "You dream about the ultimate," said Hadlee, "but it very rarely happens." - Daniel Brettig

Massie rocks England: the debutant gets his fifth, on day one at Lord's

Massie rocks England: the debutant gets his fifth, on day one at Lord's © PA Photos

No. 7
Bob Massie: 8 for 84 and 8 for 53
England v Australia, Lord's, 1972
The 1970s produced no shortage of one-hit wonders, and not just in music. Bob Massie's Test debut remains one of the most startling outliers in history. He played only six Tests but still holds the Australian record for most wickets in a match, his 16 at Lord's part of cricket lore. Three factors combined to make Massie's display possible: a heavy atmosphere conducive to swing, his mastery of moving the ball both ways, and Dennis Lillee pushing England's batsmen onto the back foot at the other end. On the first day Massie bowled a 20-over spell, broken only by lunch - these were conditions not to be wasted. In the second innings he adopted a round-the-wicket attack to England's right-handers and they duly obliged by edging his outswingers. His 16 for 137 was a Test debut record bettered only by Narendra Hirwani 16 years later, by one run. Massie's outswinger deserted him on the 1973 tour of the West Indies, and he faded quickly from both international and state cricket. He will forever be remembered, though, for Massie's Match. And he did it wearing sideburns befitting a 1970s one-hit wonder. - Brydon Coverdale

Muttiah Muralitharan starred in Sri Lanka's first Test win in England

Muttiah Muralitharan starred in Sri Lanka's first Test win in England © Getty Images

No. 8
Muttiah Muralitharan: 7 for 155 and 9 for 65
England v Sri Lanka, The Oval, 1998
England thrust their arm out for a genial handshake, handing a one-Test tour to ODI world champions Sri Lanka, when the tourists were leaning in for a kiss on both cheeks. The most eager man in the delegation was Muttiah Muralitharan, elbow cocked and eyes wild. Here he was at his most elemental; the doosra was nowhere to be seen, and his work was almost entirely without subtlety. For now, he had this dramatic, fast turn. All through the match, England's batsmen kept offering genial handshakes. Murali's offerings kept leaning in to kiss them on both cheeks. During the second innings at The Oval, the offbreak's Platonic ideal was realised. Mark Butcher raced at the bowler and when he began playing his stroke, found the ball had already slipped past. Graeme Hick stayed home to play Murali off the pitch, but was startled when the ball pounced to strike his pad. John Crawley nudged forward into that ideal window between too-far-forward and too-far-back, but Murali wriggled the ball through the gate. The game was won by 10 wickets. Arjuna Ranatunga left the country with a strut. Next time Sri Lanka came to England, they played more than one Test. - Andrew Fidel Fernando

Graham Gooch stood tall against West Indies' fierce pace at Headingley in 1991

Graham Gooch stood tall against West Indies' fierce pace at Headingley in 1991 © PA Photos

No. 9
Graham Gooch: 34 and 154 not out
England v West Indies, Headingley, 1991
West Indies fielded Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson, Malcolm Marshall and Courtney Walsh. Only Marshall was past his peak and even then he had all his canniness. It was Headingley in early season, and in the days when the ball went up and down as well as sideways. The temperature was cool, with rain around, so that every time a batsman got in on that pitch - and Gooch was the only one who did - he soon had to go off and start again. England had not won a series against West Indies for 21 years, so there was pressure there. And scoreboard pressure too: England had taken a first-innings lead of 25 but they were soon 38 for 3 in the second, the fast bowlers all over them. England were going down the pan against the world champions, yet again. But Gooch stayed in, for seven and a half hours, and he drove - boy, he could drive - and he hooked when they tried to intimidate him, and he scored an unbeaten 154 out of 252. Imagine it: he faced 28 overs of Ambrose, and 25 of Marshall, and survived. West Indies' target was 278. They never got close. England 1-0 up. A generation-long jinx broken. - Scyld Berry

Stellar in '66: Garry Sobers had talent of galactic proportions

Stellar in '66: Garry Sobers had talent of galactic proportions © PA Photos

No. 10
Garry Sobers: 174; 5 for 41 and 3 for 39
England v West Indies, Headingley, 1966
A few months earlier, the Caribbean's most famous calypsonian, Mighty Sparrow, had extolled him as "Sir Garfield Sobers, the greatest cricketer on earth or Mars." The 1966 summer confirmed Sobers as probably the greatest cricketer in the solar system. No one has had a more profound effect on a series (722 runs at 103.14; 20 wickets at 27.25; and captain of his team that took the five-Test series 3-1). With bat and ball and down to his master stroke in employing the gentle medium-­pacer Peter Lashley to remove Geoffrey Boycott in the second innings, Headingley was his apogee. His 174 with 24 fours featured a hundred between lunch and tea on the second day, during a stand of 265 with Seymour Nurse; it was followed by 5 for 41 and 3 for 39 in all his three bowling styles. As the innings victory was completed on the fourth afternoon, he hurried off to the dog races for a little relaxation, Colin Cowdrey, his opposing skipper, providing him with the ride. Tony Cozier

Read Nos. 11-20 here

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