The thrill of the chase: four of the best in Test cricket

Tony Bishop

The Thrill of the chase

What a time we are enjoying in Test Cricket. We have just witnessed two quite magnificent run chases to win a series and a match in the early days of what, lets face it, has been a pretty miserable 2021.

First, India, stricken with injuries and without their captain pulled off a magnificent win in Brisbane. And now, a depleted West Indies have gloriously hunted down Bangladesh with the fifth highest run chase in test history and the highest by any team in Asia, for a remarkable 3 wicket win in Chattogram.

Long live the collective spirit of the gritty underdog. Long live test cricket in its purest, five-day form.

We have celebrated elsewhere the supreme efforts of Kyle Mayers and the West Indies tourists, but what of the four chases that sit above Chattogram on the role of honour? The West Indies now feature in 3 of the top 5.

There are chases that are all about context and turning around a win in unlikely circumstances. Twice at Headingley in 1981 and 2019 of course. But here let's look at the stories behind the top four based on pure volume of runs chased.

4. The magnificent India win that prompted a bloodbath: Port of Spain 1976

This was a famous victory for India, chasing down a target of 403 to temporarily tame the pace powered attack of the West Indies. It prompted Clive Lloyd to promise the 'blood bath' that followed in Jamaica, leaving India to head for home with broken bones and battered egos. The West Indies went on to head for England whose captain Tony Greig promised to make them grovel. Enough said, but it does show what a side the West Indies were and thus how impressive India's win in Port of Spain was.

The heroes of India's chase were Sunil Gavaskar (102), Mohinder Amarnath (85) and Gundappa Viswanath (112*), with opener Anshuman Gaekwad (28) and Brijesh Patel (49*) also playing vital knocks.

"It was a dream finish. It was out of this world. It was a miracle. Call it what you will, but the like of it comes only once in a cricketer's lifespan," the Times Of India said in the match report two days later. How surprising the victory was can be gleaned from the fact that Lloyd was so confident of victory that he declared the West Indies second innings in search of an outright win.

"What we achieved was rare. The last time a side chased 400-plus to win a Test was Bradman's team in 1948," Viswanath said in an interview in 2016.

3. Bradman's farewell to Yorkshire: Headingley 1948

Like India's triumph in the West Indies, this win for Australia was in a series perhaps best remembered for its final match, where Eric Hollies left the Don forever marooned on 99.94. Bradman's powers may have been waning, but they still helped his 'Invincibles' to a thumping 4 -0 series win and they had to achieve a record at Headingley to do it.

England had held the advantage in a compelling Test from the very first day when Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook shared 168, their highest opening stand. But that all changed on the fifth day, despite Australia having been set an astonishing 403 for victory.

Arthur Morris and Bradman both scored centuries as the visitors ran out comfortable winners by seven wickets.

Don Bradman's 29th century was his last in Test cricket. It was his 19th against England, and his fourth at Headingley, where he averaged a remarkable 192.60. He had scored a record 5,028 runs in Ashes contests.

2. AB de Villiers finally lifts South Africa's Aussie Hoodoo: Perth 2008

Since their return to the international arena in the early 1990s, South Africa's only win in Australia had been at the SCG in 1994. Fourteen years later AB de Villiers erased that hoodoo as they sealed their most satisfying win with a record-breaking chase of 4 for 414 that buried Australia.

In a thrilling encounter at the WACA, South Africa registered the second-biggest successful pursuit in history and did it so comfortably that they could have got 500. Australia's only answer was Mitchell Johnson, who took a career-best 11 for 159.

While Smiith, Kallis and JP Duminy left an exciting mark, it was the effort of de Villiers scoring 106* that sealed the success. The 24-year-old with a mind clear of chaotic defeats and tortuous failures, sailed South Africa through the trouble and picked up his seventh century with a pull for four off Johnson. Serial chokers maybe. But not on this famous occasion. In fact, they went on to win the match and the series at the MCG.

1. A consolation West Indies win, but still the record to be beaten: Antigua 2003

In reaching a target of 418 against Australia, West Indies' batsmen set a new mark for the most successful fourth innings total in Tests, topping India's 406-4 in Port of Spain 27 years previously.

When they set about that formidable total, obituaries were already being written. No side in the history of Test cricket had made as many in the fourth innings to win a game, and only two had made more than 369. The St John's pitch was starting to play up, and West Indies were up against one of the best teams ever to play the game. "Quite simply, they had no chance" said Lawrence Booth in the Guardian.

In chasing down that 418 for seven wickets, West Indies, erased the record that had haunted them for 28 years. In 1976, their spinners allowed India to score 406 for 4 to win a Test at Port-of-Spain. At the time, this was thought to be impassable.

The series may have been already lost to Steve Waugh's all conquering Aussies, who had won the first three tests by 9 wickets twice and 118 runs, but a chastened West Indies on this occasion were able to play without fear.

Australia's hopes of thwarting the dramatic comeback took an upturn in the fourth over of the day, when Brett Lee dismissed key man Shivnarine Chanderpaul with 46 runs still needed.

But Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes combined in an unbeaten partnership of 46 to clinch victory 40 minutes before lunch. Banks, 38 not out overnight, was denied a maiden Test half-century by the aggressive Drakes, who struck 27 from 47 balls. The twin centuries for Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan had set the platform for the unexpected triumph.

Withholding Glenn Mcgrath and persisting with Stuart MacGill until just 10 were needed, was seen as a rare tactical error by Steve Waugh. "We knew the game would end in a result – we just had to make sure it ended in our favour" said the victorious Brian Lara.

A "dead rubber" it may have been, but it sits squarely top of the pile of run chases. Today's West Indian victors at Chattogram can look back in pride at the company they have joined in that top 5 list.

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