Topsy-turvy Tests

Teams scoring 500 runs and yet losing the match! Test cricket if full of such quirks.

Paving the way for India’s victory: V. V. S. Laxman congratulates Rahul Dravid on scoring a century at the Adelaide Oval in December 2003. Dravid (233) and Laxman (148) added 303 runs for the fifth wicket to help India recover from 85-4.   -  Getty Images

The idea for this article came to me at the end of the Perth Test in the recent Ashes series. England scored 400 and yet lost the Test by an innings and 41 runs. I thought, rather naively, that I would do a study of such matches. I set up a filter and identified the Tests in which teams scored 400 and lost. I almost fell off my chair when I saw that there were 118 such matches (47, 32, 28 and 11 matches respectively when 400-plus were scored in the four innings). That works out to one in 20 Tests, which means I may need an entire issue of Sportstar for the article. Therefore, I quietly raised the bar to 500 runs and came out with a manageable number.

First innings

I have organised the article by innings so that the match situations are comparable. The team that scores 500-plus in the first innings is not sure of anything until both teams complete their innings. If a 500-plus score is matched by a 700-plus, as it happened in Chittagong recently, the last day could be extremely dicey.

The order is by the score, within the concerned innings.

1. Test #2246 (2017): New Zealand vs. Bangladesh.

Basin Reserve, Wellington. New Zealand won by 7 wickets.

Bangladesh: 595 for 8 decl.

New Zealand: 539.

Bangladesh: 160.

New Zealand: 217 for 3.

This was the mother of all such defeats. Bangladesh could as well have gone on to 600 before declaring. An inexplicable collapse in the panic-driven third innings (the RpW for the other three innings is 64.3) cost Bangladesh the match. There was no reason for such a collapse since the pitch was still good, as the New Zealand second innings showed.

Bangladesh almost repeated this recently.

2. Test #42 (1894): Australia vs. England.

Sydney Cricket Ground. England won by 10 runs.

Australia: 586.

England: 325.

England: 437 (F/O).

Australia: 166.

This was the first win for a team after being forced to follow on. Two other such wins followed: at Headingley in 1981 and Calcutta in 2001. Almost everyone scored in England’s second innings. Robert Peel and John Briggs ran through Australia on the sixth-day pitch, despite Australia starting at 113-2.

3. Test #1673 (2003): Australia vs. India.

Adelaide Oval. India won by 4 wickets.

Australia: 556.

India: 523.

Australia: 196.

India: 233 for 6.

This win for India came from nowhere. Ricky Ponting’s 242 led Australia to a massive total. From 85-4, India recovered through the gentlemen-pair of Rahul Dravid (233) and V. V. S. Laxman (148). Then Ajit Agarkar had his day in the antipodean sun, capturing 6-41. India successfully chased down the runs for victory, but not without minor hurdles on the way.

4. Test #1819 (2006): Australia vs. England.

Adelaide Oval. Australia won by 6 wickets.

England: 551 for 6 decl.

Australia: 513.

England: 129.

Australia: 168 for 4.

This match is almost identical to the New Zealand-Bangladesh Test already featured. This time the RpW for the other three innings was 51.3. England collapsed to 129, after being 69-1. Both these Tests are proof that one bad session is enough for a team to lose a Test. Nevertheless, one must point out the quality of the attack: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Stuart Clark. It is interesting to note that England had lost only 6 wickets in their first innings.

5. Test #635 (1968): West Indies vs. England.

Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad. England won by 7 wickets.

West Indies: 526 for 7 decl.

England: 404.

West Indies: 92 for 2 decl.

England: 215 for 3.

A quirky Test, if ever there was one. West Indies, after scoring over 500 and taking a lead of over 100, made a quixotic declaration, setting England a mere 215 to win. Did Garfield Sobers really think that he and Lance Gibbs would run through the strong English batting line-up (John Edrich, Geoff Boycott, Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, Basil D’Oliveira and Alan Knott) in four hours? England won quite comfortably. This was Sobers, the punter, at work, betting on an outside chance.

Powell power: West Indies’ Kieran Powell kisses his helmet after scoring a century against Bangladesh at the Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium in Dhaka, in November 2012. His knock enabled West Indies to set Bangladesh 245 for victory, which the host team failed to get.   -  AFP


6. Test #365 (1953): Australia vs. South Africa.

Melbourne Cricket Ground. South Africa won by 6 wickets.

Australia: 520.

South Africa: 435.

Australia: 209.

South Africa: 297 for 4.

This was a highly competitive Test, unlike some of the previously featured ones. South Africa trailed by 85 runs, but bowled very well to dismiss Australia for just over 200. This meant South Africa had a tough, but not insurmountable target of 295 to win. Almost every South African batsman contributed and the target was achieved quite comfortably. It was the result of good cricket all-around.

7. Test #180 (1929): Australia vs. England.

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 5 wickets.

England: 519.

Australia: 491.

England: 257.

Australia: 287 for 5.

Very little separated the two teams in the first innings: England’s lead was only 28. England’s second innings was like the curate’s egg, good in parts. Three fifties and very little else although there were many starts. The tough target of 287 was achieved through contributions from almost all batsmen. Don Bradman scored 123 and 37 not out.

Second innings

Now we come to instances of teams scoring in excess of 500 runs in the second innings, and still losing. The dynamics here are quite different to the Tests already featured. The size of the first innings score is an important factor and gives an idea of the quality of the pitch.

8. Test #705 (1973): Australia vs. Pakistan.

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 92 runs.

Australia: 441 for 5 decl.

Pakistan: 574 for 8 decl.

Australia: 425.

Pakistan: 200.

Australia’s first innings declaration was a sporting one: at lunch, on the second day, at 441-5, with Greg Chappell going strong on 116. Pakistan did not look the gift horse in the mouth and batted for nearly two days, taking a substantial first innings lead. Australia, in the second innings, was coasting at 251-1 but then lost wickets quite frequently and could only set Pakistan a target of 293. However, three run-outs meant that Pakistan fell nearly 100 runs short. The irony is that the team that scored 400 won, and the team that scored 500, lost.

9. Test #2057 (2012): Bangladesh vs. West Indies.

Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur. West Indies won by 77 runs.

West Indies: 527 for 4 decl.

Bangladesh: 556.

West Indies: 273.

Bangladesh: 167.

The two huge first innings scores separated by only 29 runs. Kieran Powell’s century enabled West Indies to set Bangladesh a middling target of 245. No Bangladesh batsman scored 30 and the team lost owing to its own failures. This was the proven inability of the early Bangladesh teams to perform consistently in both the innings.

10. Test #1194 (1992): Sri Lanka vs. Australia.

Sinhalese Sports Club Ground, Colombo. Australia won by 16 runs.

Australia: 256.

Sri Lanka: 547 for 8 decl.

Australia: 471.

Sri Lanka: 164.

This could easily be amongst the top-five greatest Tests of all time. Australia conceded a lead of nearly 300 runs. No one scored a hundred, but then no one scored below 10, and Australia steadily built up a good third innings score of 471. However, the final target of 181 was way below par. At 132-3, Sri Lanka’s win looked a certainty. However, Greg Matthews and Warne ran through the next six batsmen for the addition of only 32 runs. The first innings shortfall of 291 runs is the highest deficit from which a team recovered to win a Test.

11. Test #1813 (2006): England vs. Pakistan.

Headingley, Leeds. England won by 167 runs.

England: 515.

Pakistan: 538.

England: 345.

Pakistan: 155.

This is almost similar to Test #2057. Two huge first innings scores, followed by a reasonable third innings meant that Pakistan had to chase over 300 runs for victory. It fell way below the target. None of the Pakistan batsmen crossed 41.

12. Test #1857 (2008): Australia vs. India.

Sydney Cricket Ground. Australia won by 122 runs.

Australia: 463.

India: 532.

Australia: 401 for 7 decl.

India: 210.

India went past Australia’s huge first innings total and secured a useful lead. Matthew Hayden (123) and Michael Hussey (145 not out) helped Australia declare at lunch time on the fifth day. During the last hour, India looked like saving the Test. However, Michael Clarke captured the last three wickets for nothing. This was one of the most controversial Tests of all time.

13. Test #2162 (2015): England vs. New Zealand.

Lord’s, London. England won by 124 runs.

England: 389.

New Zealand: 523.

England: 478.

New Zealand: 220.

England’s sub-par first innings score meant that it conceded a 134-run lead. England’s second innings score was a huge one, and included two typical innings from Alastair Cook (162) and Ben Stokes (101). The target of 345 was always going to be tough, and the all-round bowling strength of England gave the team a well-deserved win.

14. Test #112 (1911): Australia vs. South Africa.

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 89 runs.

Australia: 348.

South Africa: 506.

Australia: 327.

South Africa: 80.

The target (246) for South Africa was not too formidable, but Tibby Cotter and Bill Whitty bowled unchanged to dismiss the visiting team for well below this target.

Nail-biting finish: The Australian players celebrate after defeating India in the second Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, in January 2008. Part-time spinner Michael Clarke (left, leading the celebrations) claimed the last three wickets off five balls for nothing to clinch Australia a dramatic 122-run victory in the penultimate over of the match.   -  AFP


Third innings

Surprisingly, there is only a single Test match in which a team scored in excess of 500 runs in the third innings and lost.

15. Test #618 (1967): England vs. India.

Headingley, Leeds. England won by 6 wickets.

England: 550 for 4 decl.

India: 164.

India: 510.

England: 126 for 4.

Boycott scored 246 in 10 hours of batting and England declared with a huge score. The below-par batting of the Indians forced them to follow on, nearly 400 runs behind. The India captain, M. A. K. Pataudi, held the innings together and with good support from the other batsmen, the team batted for well over 12 hours and crossed 500. The final target of 126, though, was not a defendable one, however much the spin twins of India, B. S. Chandrasekhar and E. A. S. Prasanna, tried.

Fourth innings

There is not a single instance of a team scoring above 500 in the fourth innings and losing. South Africa scored 654-5 and drew the timeless Test in Durban in 1939. Therefore, I have lowered the cut-off to 450 for the fourth innings only. Two Tests qualify.

16. Test #1594 (2002): New Zealand vs. England.

Jade Stadium, Christchurch. England won by 98 runs.

England: 228.

New Zealand: 147.

England: 468 for 6 decl.

New Zealand: 451.

After two relatively low first innings scores, England set New Zealand a massive target of 550. New Zealand was down in the dumps at 252-6 before Nathan Astle played one of the greatest counter-attacking innings ever and scored 222 off 168 balls. He added 118 runs for the 10th wicket as New Zealand fell short by 98.

17. Test #2240 (2016): Australia vs. Pakistan.

Woolloongabba, Brisbane (D/N Test). Australia won by 39 runs.

Australia: 429.

Pakistan: 142.

Australia: 202 for 5 decl.

Pakistan: 450.

Australia did not enforce the follow-on and set Pakistan a massive 490 to win. Asad Shafiq batted out of his skin and helped Pakistan move from a desperate 220-6 to 450. He had partnerships for each of the late order wickets, barring the 10th.



Seventeen Tests out of nearly 2300 played already, works out to 0.7% — which is nearly one in 135 Tests. In terms of frequency, such a result happens slightly more than once in a decade. However, it is very interesting to note that nine out of these 17 Tests have been played in the past 18 years (one every two years), after the turn of the millennium.

It is possible that big totals do not deter teams nowadays. Maybe another reason is that, playing to save a Test is fast becoming a lost art. A third relevant factor might be the accelerated pace of scoring: 500 runs might have required over 200 overs in the mid-1960s, while the same score might very well be reached in 150 overs nowadays. This leaves enough time for a decision.

For instance, Bangladesh scored 595 in 152 overs (RpO of 3.91). Australia scored at well over 4 runs per over in Adelaide against India. India scored at nearly 4 runs per over in Sydney in 2008. New Zealand’s scoring rate at Lord’s in 2015 was almost 4. New Zealand’s breakneck scoring rate was in excess of 5 in Christchurch during that epic chase. All these teams ended up losing the matches.