THE GREATEST REARGUARD IN TEST HISTORY (.......that you've never heard of)
Cricket is a very unique sport in the sense that it lasts not just for hours but days by design. Cricket is also very unique because you can receive a bollocking for 5 days and still come out unbeaten. Some of the most thrilling tests in recent times have been draws. Faf Du Plessis walked in the midst of a South African collapse of 5 wickets for 17 runs. He scored a 78 in his 1st test innings to avoid the follow on. He walked in, for a second time, at 45/4 after 21 overs with winning out of question. He batted for 466 minutes & 376 balls to save the test for South Africa. That fact that he scored 110 runs was just incidental. Runs were irrelevant. It was down to the balls (pardon the pun) and Du Plessis’ helped SA live to fight another day which they eventually did and won the series.
Some of the most famous innings in test cricket are remembered just for avoiding defeat. The longest test innings lasted for 970 minutes. This is disputed by the man who played it. He claims it was 1 minute shy of 1000. 970 or 999 it showed tremendous tenacity & resolve to keep the enemy at bay after following on and trailing by 473 runs. Hanif Mohammad walked for a second time in the fading moments of day 2 and batted deep into day 6 (yes it was a 6 day test) to ensure that the West Indies would snatch a draw from the jaws of victory.
Michael Atherton may have been McGrath’s bunny or Walsh’s or Ambrose’s but you can never forget his fierce battle with the fiery Allan Donald at Trent Bridge or even more famously the near 11 hour blockathon at the Bullring. The target was impossible to reach and therefore it was again down to….you guessed it….balls. 492 balls of steely determination to keep the foes at bay. A fantastic innings to live and fight another day.
Quick segue: Here are a set of questions with the same answer.
- Who scored the 1st ODI hundred?
- Who faced the 1st ever ball in the Cricket World Cup?
- Who scored the 1st hundred in the Cricket World Cup?
If you said any answer other than Dennis Amiss you would be amiss. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Dennis Amiss has also played the greatest ever defensive innings in the history of test cricket: His 1st ever test & first class double hundred at Sabina Park in 1974. His 2nd double hundred at test level was lost in the din of spanking 291 by Viv Richards and quite possibly the greatest ever display by a fast bowler: Michael “Whispering Death” Holding’s 8/92 & 6/57 at an Oval shirtfront in 1976. Amiss struggled against Lillee/Thommo in the Ashes and it was deemed that he wasn’t good enough against quality pace bowling but he proved all his detractors wrong with a magnificent show. In all he averaged nearly 71 vs West Indies.
The West Indies’ bowling in 1974 wasn’t as fierce as it would be about half a decade later but the attack had comprehensively destroyed England away in the summer of 1973. The new ball was shared between Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien and they were ably supported by Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs. It wasn’t half bad. It was actually Amiss’ 2nd 100 of the series. The first was kind of a dress rehearsal to this epic. England were bowled out for 131 and let the home side score 392. Amiss & Boycott added 209 without loss at the end of day 3. Amiss moved on to 174 and England were sitting pretty at 338/2, a lead of 77 runs. Amiss’ dismissal at that juncture lead to a Lance Gibbs induced collapse as 7 wickets fell for just 54 runs. West Indies comfortably won by 8 wickets early on day 5. An excellent test full of magnificent performances is unfortunately remembered more for Tony Greig’s eventual non-running out of pocket dynamo Alvin Kallicharan than anything else.
With almost everyone contributing, England finished on 353 on day 2 of test 2. A fairly decent 1st innings proved insufficient when the Windies openers, Fredericks & Rowe, wiped out 60% of that total on their own. A disciplined English bowling did not allow the free flowing West Indies top-middle order of Kallicharan, Supercat & Kanhai to punish them on day 3. The Caribbeans lead by just 81 runs at the end of day 3 with 6 wickets in hand. It was a decent comeback after Fredericks & Rowe flayed 159/0 at the end of day 2. West Indies made up for that on day 4 by scoring 149 runs in just 30 overs in the 1st session on day 4. After losing Kallicharan early, Julien & Sobers added 112 runs for the 6th wicket. Julien’s aggressive 66 off just 58 balls would be considered aggressive even in this age of T20 bashing. Ahead by 230 runs, West Indies declared at lunch. With a win out of question, England had to bat out 10 hours to survive. A tough ask even on the flattest of pitches & poorest of bowling.
Amiss walked out for the 2nd time in the match & 2nd time in the series to save a test. His 7 hour vigil in the 1st test was not backed up by his teammates. England kept losing wickets at regular intervals but Amiss stood firm at his end. He completed his century and remained unbeaten on 123 with nightwatchman Derek Underwood for company and the score on 218/5 effectively -12/5. The only silver lining was that fantastic wicketkeeper and irritating lower order pest Alan Knott was yet to come. West Indies were favourites by a country mile.
As is the case with any great innings luck plays a meaty role and it did when Amiss was dropped by Sobers on the 3rd ball of the day at backward short leg. Derek “Deadly” Underwood bravely defied a barrage of bouncers to survive 75 minutes before Sobers had him caught behind. 74 balls whittled away by Deadly were as crucial as Amiss’ redoubtable resistance. England must have breathed easy when lower order irritant Alan Knott walked in to join Amiss. Knott was a master at holding fort. A batsman who was good enough to score 5 100s & 30 50s. He would score 364 runs (1 100/3 50s) against Lillee/Thommo at their most furious when most of the other English batsmen were falling like 9 pins. Unfortunately this test was one of those rarest occasions where he failed in situations he usually excelled. England were reeling at 271/7 just 41 runs ahead. A 2-0 lead for West Indies seemed a formality.
The English tail had other ideas. Chris Old joined his dogged opener and batted for 104 minutes. He ate up nearly 17 overs (101 balls) of the day and like Deadly withstood a barrage of bouncers. Chris & Dennis added 72 runs for the eight wicket taking the lead past 100 before the seamer bowed out at 343. 113 runs ahead, 2 wickets in hand, more than 2 hours (30+ overs) left. Wipe out 10 & Jack quickly, Windies would need to score at around 4-4.5 runs per over to win. Not out of reach for a powerful batting line up of Fredericks, Rowe, Kalli, Supercat, Sobers & Julien.
Pat Pocock played 25 tests spread over 17 years and scored a massive 206 runs at an average of 6.24. The Windies were licking their lips at the prospect of victory but Pocock had other ideas. He broke a habit of a lifetime and batted for 88 minutes with those minutes becoming longer and longer for the home side. He consumed 83 balls for his masterpiece and helped Amiss extend the lead by another 49 runs. Amiss & Willis would not be cowered down and batted for nearly an hour and England finished the day at 432/9, 202 runs ahead. Even if there had been a 6th day, as was the norm in the 60s in West Indies, it would have given England a fighting chance for victory with a bowling that read Willis, Old, Greig & Deadly.
Amiss spent 570 minutes and 563 balls fending off bouncers, 5th day wicket, walking top order batsmen wickets, and with a little help from uncharacteristically stubborn tailenders helped England save the Kingston test of 1974. He would never score more than those 262 priceless runs ever in his career, test or first class. A match that felt long lost at the end of day 4 ended with England keeping West Indies within striking distance. The 3rd test would follow a similar script and England would yet again grit their teeth to draw the test thanks to a 6 hour 129 by Keith Fletcher and a 3 hour 67 by that great tormentor Knott. After a rain affected draw in the 4th test, England won a thrilling 5th test by 26 runs defending just 225 through Tony Greig’s 8/86 & 5/70 to draw the series. A series West Indies should have won 3-1 in all probability.
In my opinion, the only innings that is rival to this epic by Amiss is Hanif’s epic in Kensington Oval. Although Pakistan were under unrivaled pressure Hanif’s fellow batters did their jobs. He was able to add 100+ runs for each of the first 4 wickets. 152 for the 1st, 112 for the 2nd, 154 for the 3rd and 121 for the 4th. Pakistan began day 6 with an extremely hard set Hanif and 52 runs ahead with 7 wickets in hand. The West Indies bowling was also pretty substandard. Only Roy Gilchrist was a bowler of note and it was more of a reputation. Sobers was yet to hit the height of the 60s and Collie Smith, who was considered a better allrounder than Sobers and tragically died in a car accident with him, was a tyro. Pakistan’s bowlers broke down on flat pitches and West Indies eventually cruised to a comfortable 3-1 win.
Hanif’s epic may be a greater innings but Amiss’ epic is hardly mentioned in the same breath. It is just as good if not better and should be celebrated as much and I am pretty darn sure that Amiss told Garry Sobers at the end of the day, “I didn’t fall down Garry. You never got me down Garry, you never got me down“.