15 of the highest impact 20 cricketers in Test history (min. 50 Tests) are either bowlers or bowling all-rounders. ‘Bowlers win matches’! You bet.
However, it is very interesting that the highest impact batting performances top the highest impact bowling performances in Test history by quite a bit. Jim Laker, who produced the highest impact bowling performance in Test history, actually has two batsmen ahead of him when it comes to impact – the first two on this list. Abdul Qadir produced the second-highest impact bowling performance, but all 15 batsmen on this list registered a higher impact.
If you think about it, that’s probably fair. A solitary mistake by a batsman ends his stay, whereas a bowler gets multiple chances. Moreover, a batsman sometimes has to rescue his side single-handedly or he puts together such a weight of runs that the opposition can’t breathe.
At Impact Index, a batting performance in an innings, however stunning, is not evaluated only for its singularity, but in the context of the whole match, which also accounts for how the opposition responded – in both innings.
Of course, in some matches, a team bats only once, and puts up such a high score that even the opposition’s twenty wickets are not enough for it. On this list itself, 7 of the 15 performances are of that kind.
Some highly notable performances – like Laxman’s classic 281, for example, has a very high impact (India’s highest impact batting performance ever) but is only ninth on this list. Its impact reducing partially (and relatively) due to all the others who scored runs in that match, most notably Rahul Dravid (who made 215 runs in the match, 180 in that classic innings), but also Matthew Hayden (164 in the match) and Steve Waugh (134 in the match). Of course, the context of each innings is different, and therefore so is the value of each knock – based on match situation, and innings circumstances (fall of wickets).
Here, then, are the fifteen highest impact performances in the history of Test cricket. We only consider the match context here, not the series context (which is another story).
It is interesting that there are 5 Englishmen on this list, 3 Australians, 2 Pakistanis (Inzamam-ul-Haq is the only batsman on the list twice), and 1 West Indian, Indian, New Zealander and Sri Lankan on the list. Interesting, because England is, by no means, the most successful Test side ever, even if they are the oldest and so have played the most.
1. Ian Botham-50 and 149 not out vs Australia, Headingley, 1981.
England, down 0-1 in the series, and responding to Australia’s substantial 401, were struggling at 87 for 5 when Ian Botham came out to bat. He made a quick-fire 50 in 54 balls but England was still cleaned up for 174 and followed-on. Botham came out again at 105 for 5 as his team still trailed by 122 runs. It seemed a formality. But then came Botham’s once-in-a-lifetime innings of 149 in 148 balls, with 27 boundaries and 1 six. Graham Dilley (56) and Chris Old (29) were the only ones to give him support. It was quite emphatically a solo show. Set 130 to win, Australia collapsed for 111 as an inspired Bob Willis took 8-43. The innings changed the momentum of the series, and England went on to win the Ashes 3-1.
2. Jonathan Trott-184 vs Pakistan, Lord’s, 2010.
Pakistan had the momentum coming into the fourth Test at Lord’s having beaten England at The Oval. Mohammad Amir continued from where he had left off and England were in tatters at 102 for 7.
Jonathan Trott (who had come out to bat at 31 for 1) witnessed the carnage from the other end. But in Broad he found an able partner and the pair put together a world-record 332 run-stand for the eighth-wicket before Broad departed for 169. England amassed 446 with Trott the last man dismissed for 184 – showcasing his ability to absorb pressure and score big runs from tough situations. Graeme Swann played the leading role thereafter as England skittled Pakistan for 74 and 147 to win by an innings and 225 runs. Unfortunately, the infamous involvement of a few Pakistani players in spot-fixing eclipsed the actual on-field performances in this match.
3. Sanath Jayasuriya-38 and 253 vs Pakistan, Faisalabad, 2004.
The honours were even after Pakistan were restricted to 264 in reply to Sri Lanka’s first innings score of 243. After the early loss of Atapattu in the second innings, Jayasuriya,(who had made 38 in the first innings), took charge and forged partnerships with Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Samaraweera, the last of whom was dismissed at 309.
Sri Lanka added 129 more to finish at 438. This, despite the aggregate runs scored by numbers 6 to 11 being eleven – such was Jayasuriya’s domination. He was the last man dismissed for 253 in just 348 deliveries – an innings which included 33 fours and 4 sixes. Pakistan were bowled out for 216 in the second innings handing the visitors a 201-run victory.
4. Inzamam-ul-Haq –329 vs New Zealand, Lahore, 2002.
This is straightforward. Batting first, Pakistan were 57 for 2 when Inzamam-ul-Haq walked in. It was 643 all out when he walked out, for 329 in almost ten hours of batting. In an ostensibly shell-shocked reply, New Zealand managed 73 and 246. Pakistan won by an innings and 324 runs. The second Test, and the tour, was abandoned due to a bomb blast at Karachi.
5. Michael Hussey-28 and 134 not out vs Pakistan, Sydney, 2010.
Michael Hussey scored 28 from 2 for 2 which worsened to 10 for 3 and was the second-highest scorer as Australia were destroyed for 127 in the first innings. Pakistan in reply posted 333. Hussey came out to bat at 144 for 2 in the second innings (still under pressure from the deficit of the first innings) and top-scored with an unbeaten 134. Australia tripled their first innings score, putting 381 on the board, setting the visitors a target of 176. Hauritz and co. skittled Pakistan for 139. Australia won by 39 runs.
6. Patsy Hendren-77 and 205 not out vs West Indies, Trinidad, 1930.
England, batting first, were 12 for 2 when Patsy Hendren walked in to bat. It soon worsened to 12 for 3. Under immense pressure, Hendren top-scored for England in the first innings as they posted a total of 208. West Indies, in reply, managed to grab a lead of 46 runs. Hendren came out to bat at 49 for 2 in the second innings, which soon worsened to 52 for 3. England were effectively 6 for 3 when Hendren decided to shift the nature of the match, again. This time, he remained unbeaten till the end as England declared at 425. The 237 runs partnership between Hendren and Les Ames (105) for the fourth wicket ended up being the defining partnership. West Indies, in reply, were bowled out for 212 chasing 380.
7. Brian Lara-213 vs Australia, Jamaica, 1999.
Lara put behind a series-whitewash against South Africa and a payment dispute with the board to produce an absolute masterclass in the second Test in Jamaica (Australia had thrashed the hosts by 312 runs in the first Test).
Australia posted 256 in the first innings. Lara came out to bat at 5 for 2 (which soon became 17 for 3 and 34 for 4). He established his authority and put together a 322-run stand for the fifth-wicket with Jimmy Adams, finally being dismissed for 213. West Indies amassed 431. Australia were dismissed for 177 in the second innings. West Indies won by ten wickets.
Lara’s 213 was not only the highest impact performance with the bat but the highest overall impact performance in West Indies cricketing history.
Lara produced two more gems in the final two Tests. West Indies won the third but Australia came from behind to draw level the four-match series.
8. Stuart Broad-169 vs Pakistan, Lord’s, 2010.
Stuart Broad’s performance came in the same innings as Jonathan Trott’s at number 2 on this list. With England looking down the barrel at 102 for 7, Broad and Trott (184) produced a world record partnership of 332 runs for the eighth wicket to take England to a total of 446 runs. Pakistan, in reply, were decimated for 74 and 147 in their two innings’. Almost a quarter runs (25%) of the entire match came from Stuart Broad’s bat. The fact that England needed to bat only once to win the match also made sure that Broad’s
9. VVS Laxman- 59 and 281 vs Australia, Kolkata, 2001.
India had lost the series opener. In the second Test at Eden Gardens, Australia amassed 445 in the first innings. India were in tatters at 88 for 4 when Laxman came out to bat. He scored a fluent 59 in just 83 balls. However, with no other meaningful contribution, India were bundled for 171.
Following on, Laxman promoted to number three, joined hands with Dravid at 232 for 4 (with India still facing a deficit) and put together a staggering 376-run partnership before being dismissed for 281. India declared at 657 for 7. Australia, set 384, were dismissed for 212, handing India their most famous Test win by 171 runs. Laxman registered his first
10. Harry Graham-105 vs England, Sydney, 1895.
After being put in to bat first, Australia were 26 for 3 when Harry Graham walked in to bat. Soon, the situation worsened to 51 for 6 as Bobby Peel and Johnny Briggs shared most of the spoils. Graham stitched together a 68 runs partnership with Joe Darling (31) for the seventh wicket to restore some pride. Albert Trott (85) then played the perfect second fiddle to Graham as a 112 runs partnership ensued for the eighth wicket. Australia eventually ended with 284 runs. England, in reply, were shot out for 65 and 72 in both their innings as George Giffen and Charlie Turner terrorized them. Hence, Graham scored 76% of England’s combined score in both the innings’. The performance helped Australia level the 5-match series at 2-2 which they eventually lost 2-3.
11. Kane Williamson- 69 and 242 not out vs Sri Lanka, Wellington, 2015.
New Zealand after batting first, were 31 for 1 when Kane Williamson walked in to bat. New Zealand kept losing wickets at regular intervals as they posted 221 with Williamson top-scoring. The next highest scorer was Ross Taylor with 35 runs. Sri Lanka, riding on Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 gained a significant lead of 135 runs. New Zealand responded with a solid opening stand of 75 runs when Williamson walked into bat but it was soon 79 for 3. At 159 for 5, Williamson found an able ally in BJ Watling (142) as both posted an unbeaten partnership of 365 runs before declaring. Chasing 390, Sri Lanka were shot out for 196. Williamson and Watling’s performance also helped New Zealand secure the 2-match series 2-0. This remains the highest impact batting performance by a New Zealander in Test history.
12. Graham Gooch- 34 and 154 vs West Indies, Leeds, 1991.
England had a solitary win in 33 Test matches against the West Indies between 1976 and 1990. They had not won a series since 1969 (and had lost 8 and drawn 1) against them.
In the 1991 series-opener at Leeds, England were cleaned up for 198 but came back strongly dismissing the West Indies for 173.
A red hot Ambrose ran through the England top-order in the second innings (22 for 1, 38 for 2, 38 for 3). Gooch, opening the innings, stood firm at the other end and resurrected the innings with a 78-run stand with Ramprakash. There was another collapse as England, from 116 for 3 were reduced to 124 for 6. Gooch then partnered with Derek Pringle and put together 98 for the seventh-wicket. He remained unbeaten on 154 in England’s total of 252. The second-highest score in the innings was 27. West Indies, set 278, were knocked over for 162.
West Indies won the third and fourth Tests but England came back from behind to draw level the series at The Oval.
13. Inzamam-ul-Haq-23 & 75 vs New Zealand, Hamilton, 1993.
In a very low-scoring encounter at Hamilton, Inzamam first came in to bat at 45 for 4, and scored 23. Pakistan posted 216. New Zealand, in reply, posted 264. In Pakistan’s second innings, Inzamam came in to bat with Pakistan reeling at 25 for 4 which soon worsened to 39 for 5, still trailing New Zealand by nine runs. Rashid Latif (33) and Inzamam started their rescue act, stitching together a partnership of 80 runs before Latif got out. Inzamam fell too 39 runs later but by then they had given the Pakistani bowlers something to bowl at. New Zealand, chasing 127, collapsed for only 93 runs in their second innings to give Pakistan a memorable victory. This is the only performance on this entire list which doesn’t feature a century.
So, Inzamam-ul-Haq is the only batsman to feature twice on this list – both such different innings, and showcasing very different skills. There’s a reason why he was the highest impact Asian batsman in Test history till Sangakkara overtook him narrowly recently.
14. Javed Miandad- 211 vs Australia, Karachi, 1988.
Miandad walked out at 21 for 2 and batted for more than ten and a half hours to score 211. Pakistan amassed 469. Their spinners, led by Iqbal Qasim, annihilated Australia for 165 and 116 to register an emphatic victory by an innings and 188 runs -their largest at the time and their third-largest ever. Miandad got a
15. Arthur Morris-196 vs England, Kennington Oval, 1948.
This match would eventually be remembered as Don Bradman’s last Test but that remains a gross injustice to Arthur Morris. Batting first, England were blown apart for only 52 as Ray Lindwall wreaked havoc. Australia, in reply, got off to a solid opening start of 117 runs thanks to Morris and Sid Barnes. Bradman came and departed on the same score but Morris stood strong as Australia eventually posted 389. The next highest scorers were Barnes (61) and Lindsay Hassett (37). England fell eight runs short of Morris’ individual score in their second innings as Australia won the 5-match series 4-0.
Nikhil Narain/Soham Sarkhel
Illustrations by Vasim Maner & Rajni Kanth
NOTE: This piece is up-to-date as of August 2016