Australia’s best individual Test innings since 1980 (part 2)

Date: February 8, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Two days ago here on ‘The Roar’, I posted numbers 10 to 6 in my top-10 Test innings played by an Australian batsman since 1980.

Here now are the final five.

5 – Mark Waugh, 116 v South Africa at Port Elizabeth 1996-97

The Waugh brothers may be twins, but alike they are not, especially with bat in hand.

Steve was viewed as a fighter, a man who placed an incredibly high value on his wicket and eschewed flashiness for grit and substance. Mark, on the other hand, radiated grace and ease at the wicket and was often criticized for the way he seemingly gifted his innings to the opposition.

Perhaps it was because of the way he seemed to so easily ply his trade that he was viewed at time as casual. In the end, Steve averaged 51, Mark averaged 42.

But no mistake, Mark played some truly memorable and influential innings, indeed he started with a century on debut against England in Adelaide in 1990-91, ironically in place of his brother.

His apogee with the willow however came against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 1996-97.

The second Test of the series, it was a match that swung one way then the other.

On a verdant strip Mark Taylor elected to bowl, with the home side knocked over for 209. In reply, Australia showed how competitive that total was when they were humbled for a mere 108.

South Africa then extended its overall lead to 269 on the back of a second innings of 168. It left the visitors with 270 to chase for victory in both the match and the series. Enter Mark Waugh.

As teammates fell around him, Matthew Elliott the best of them with 44, Waugh batted as if he was in a different match on a different pitch. On what appeared a veritable minefield to others, Waugh looked totally at ease and in control, whether in defence or attack.

Having arrived at the crease at 2/30, he departed at 6/258, 12 shy of victory which Australia nervously reached for the loss of a further two wickets.

Waugh’s innings was the point of difference in the match.

4 – Mark Taylor, 144 v West Indies at Antigua 1990-91

As an Australian opening batsman, the two decades from the mid-1970s were not pleasant. The main reason being the fact that you were guaranteed of having to face the fearsome pace barrage of the great West Indian sides of that period. And fearsome they were.

It seemed like a never ending production line of fast bowlers – sadly history tells us that would not remain the case. On all manner of pitches, in all conditions, back in that 20-year period the seemingly obligatory pace quartet devastated, demoralized and bruised opposing batsmen.

Australia’s Caribbean odyssey in 1990-91 was yet another test of resolve and courage. By the time the teams convened at Antigua for the fifth and final Test the Windies held an unassailable 2-0 lead.

Perhaps it was because the series was gone and the pressure eased that upon winning the toss the tourists raced to 5/355 on the opening day, the highest opening day total to that time in the Caribbean. The innings was eventually terminated at 403.

Uncharacteristically, the West Indies response was just 214. That performance stuck in the craw of an extremely proud team.

It responded with a fearsome display of pace bowling, despite the loss of Patrick Patterson to a leg injury. Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose peppered the Australians with a barrage of short and fast deliveries.

Taylor weathered the hostility for six hours in compiling 144 in a total of 265.

Australia successfully dismissed the Windies for 297 to win by 157 runs but had it not been for Taylor’s innings – no other batsman surpassed 35 – the result would likely have been very different.

3 – Dean Jones, 210 v India at Chennai 1986-87

Some feats in sport seemingly transcend the playing field and enter folklore. Dean Jones’ innings at Chennai – Madras as it was known then – in is a case in point.

Chennai is one of the cricket world’s most unfavourable venues. Situated right on the Bay of Bengal, during cricket season it is notoriously hot and humid.

And just to add to the atmospheric challenges an open sewerage channel – elegantly named the Buckingham Canal – runs alongside the Chidambaram Stadium. When the wind changes in the afternoon the stench that wafts over the ground produces almost an uncontrollable urge to empty the contents of your stomach.

As a victim on more than one occasion I can assure you it is quite literally a nauseating experience.

But in September 1986, despite a confluence of all these events, Jones eked out an incredible performance. David Boon (122 in 332 minutes) and Allan Border (106 in 255) also endured the claustrophobic air. But it was Jones who went well beyond either.

He withstood 502 minutes in the middle, during which time he suffered horrific cramps and bouts of vomiting in compiling 210.

By the end he was pretty much batting from memory amid delirium. Following his dismissal he was whisked to hospital where he was placed on a drip to replace the fluid that had seeped from his body whilst at the crease.

In the end, the Madras Test is also remembered for another reason – the second tie in Test cricket history.

2 – Allan Border, 100 not out v West Indies at Port-of-Spain 1983-84

The final Test of the 1983-84 summer, against Pakistan at the SCG, brought down the curtain on three of the great careers in Australian cricket – Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh.

It left the national team with a heavily depleted squad for its next series which, unfortunately for them, was in the Caribbean.

The opening encounter at Georgetown was drawn.

If ever Border’s greatness as a batsman was put beyond doubt it was in the second Test at Port-of-Spain.

Singlehandedly he denied the West Indians victory.

In honesty, either of his innings in this match could have been ranked in this position – he made 98 not out in the first dig in a courageous six-hour vigil.

Remarkably, against an attack spearheaded by Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Wayne Daniel his total time at the crease for the Test was over 10 and-a-half hours, during which time he never gave a chance.

After batting first, Australia was bowled out for 255 with the Windies responding with eight declared for 468. It left the tourists 213 runs in arrears.

What Terry Alderman couldn’t achieve in the first innings, he did in the second – hang around long enough for Border to reach three figures.

Alderman and Rodney Hogg incredibly batted in partnership with Border for over two-and-a-half hours.

In the end, the Australians, also aided by rain forced a draw, with Border reaching his century by striking the last ball of the match for four.

Unfortunately, the West Indies swept the remaining three Tests to take the series 3-0.

1 – Kim Hughes, 100 not out v West Indies at Melbourne 1981-82

At his best, Hughes was as good to watch as any batsman across any era. His twin innings in the 1980 Lord’s Centenary Test (117 & 84) were exhilarating.

But his finest hour was, I believe the best innings played by an Australian at Test level in the last three decades.

It came in the first Test at the MCG against the West Indies in December 1981.

Fatefully, Australia won the toss and batted on a pitch that on the first few days proved treacherous with balls either flying off a length or barely bouncing.

It wasn’t long before the home side started to fold like a house of cards – Hughes came in at 3/8 and it soon became 5/59. The prospect of a sub-100 innings was very much on the cards and had it not been for Hughes’ heroics that would have been the case.

He was on 71 when he was joined in the middle by Alderman.

Up until that point the dashing number five had batted with tremendous resolve, fluctuating between desperate defence and his normal desire to attack the loose ball.

But sensing that his number 11 partner may not last for long he took to the attack almost every delivery – an attack that comprised Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft.

He no sooner secured his century and Alderman was out, and so was the side, for 198.

Greg Chappell dubbed Hughes’ effort against the might of the West Indies the finest innings he saw in Test cricket. Ian Chappell said it is ‘the bravest innings I have seen’. In the end Australia won the match by 58 runs.

So there you have it, my ten best Test innings played by an Australian batsman since 1980.

I was fortunate enough to see several live.

I wish I could have witnessed them all first-hand.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 7 February 2013