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Ranked: The ten best match-saving fourth-innings efforts of the 21st century

by Divy Tripathi 5 minute read

Pakistan batted out a mammoth 171.4 overs to stave off defeat against Australia, with Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan both making hundreds. Divy Tripathi ranks the best fourth-innings knocks to save a Test this century.

10. Dwayne Smith – 105* (105) vs South Africa at Cape Town, 2005

This knock doesn’t stand out for it’s lengthy defiance or unimpeachable defence, but earns a spot because of its sheer absurdity. Long before he became a globe-trotting T20 star, Dwayne Smith was a useful all-rounder for West Indies, and on his debut he put on a show to remember. West Indies had been crushed in the first two Tests, before being set a target of 441 at Cape Town on an extended final day. When Smith entered, the Proteas still had a sniff, with six wickets left to take in a little over 22 overs.

But Smith slammed the door shut with an array of dazzling strokes, smashing Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini and the rest to all parts. At the time, it was the fastest century on Test debut.


9. Faf du Plessis – 134 (309) vs India at Johannesburg, 2013

One of two entries for Faf du Plessis on this list, and one of two in which he combined forces with AB de Villiers to take away a near-certain win. This time his blockathon came against India and almost snatched a historic win for South Africa. Set a would-be world record 458 to win, the Proteas ended up just eight runs shy of their target, with du Plessis’ exit followed by South Africa completely shutting up shop, before Dale Steyn slammed the final ball for six to spark wonders of what might have been.

Back to Faf and AB, who had added 205 runs in 62.3 overs to put South Africa on the brink of victory, with even the draw looking unlikely when the hosts found themselves four down an hour into the final day.

8. Ian Bell – 78 (213) vs South Africa at Cape Town, 2010

Belying his purported lack of grit, Ian Bell made a habit of fourth-innings stonewalls, facing 150 balls or more in the fourth innings on five occasions. Here he stood tall against an all-star South Africa attack featuring Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, and Jacques Kallis. He came in at No.7 after the use of a nightwatchman with England already five down and only halfway through the required number of overs.

Bell eventually fell within two overs of the close, but Graeme Swann and Graham Onions batted England to safety nine down, with the latter blocking out the final over for the second time in the series.

7. Usman Khawaja – 141 (302) vs Pakistan at Dubai, 2018

Usman Khawaja played one of his greatest knocks in what was Australia’s toughest year in the last decade. Bereft of Steve Smith and David Warner following Sandpapergate, Tim Paine’s side were in desperate need of a lift. But when they were set 462 to win in 140 overs – despite Khawaja’s first innings 85 – it appeared they wouldn’t get one.

But his innings helped set up an eight-wicket-down survival, answering questions about his temperament, his ability away from home, and his technique against spin all in one.

6. Matt Prior – 110 (182*) vs New Zealand at Auckland, 2013

This is a chancier, flashier, quicker knock than most in this list, but what it lacks in bloody-mindedness it makes up for in drama. England batted a whole 143 overs to save this Test, and ensured that they returned home with honours even, and the last few were packed full of incident, with Prior surviving despite the ball hitting his stumps, and Monty Panesar crawling back into his crease to avoid a run out.

For New Zealand, it was the case of ‘so near yet so far’ as they failed for the second time to bowl England out on the last day, having to settle for a 0-0 stalemate. The Black Caps had England on the mat at 159-6 in the 86th over but the tourists managed to hold on. Ian Bell’s 271-ball 75 and Stuart Broad’s 77-ball six both played their part, but it’s Prior’s century that sticks in the memory.

5. Hashim Amla – 25 (159) vs Sri Lanka at Colombo, 2014

From the late 90s to early 2010s, series wins in Sri Lanka were as rare as they come. Hashim Amla ensured one by helping the Proteas draw the second Test, keeping South Africa’s proud unbeaten record going away from home.

Leading 1-0 in the series, South Africa never looked like having much intent to win the second Test, scoring at a fraction over two an over in the first innings, Amla making an unbeaten hundred, and at just under 1.5 an over in the second. They kept out 111 overs and ended up eight down.

4. Rishabh Pant – 97 (118) vs Australia at Sydney, 2021

The 2020/21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy became a testament of India’s fighting spirit and this Test, in particular, saw several fighting knocks from the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravichandran Ashwin, and Hanuma Vihari. But it was Rishabh Pant who changed the course of the game by unleashing a flurry of aggressive strokes on the fifth day, briefly giving India hopes of a remarkable win, and disrupting Nathan Lyon enough to neuter the off-spinner even after his departure.

3. Babar Azam – 196 (425) vs Australia at Karachi, 2022

Babar Azam lived up to his reputation when his country needed him the most. He made his first Test hundred since 2020, and then piled misery on the Australia bowlers to raise hopes of an unlikely Pakistan win.

The hosts had been bowled out for 148 in the first innings, and were under immense pressure in the second innings after being set a target of 506. All of this didn’t seem to matter to Babar, who played an all-time great knock.

2. Faf du Plessis – 110* (376) vs Australia at Adelaide, 2012

Another debutant knock takes second spot on this list, with Faf du Plessis’ second entry in this list setting up one of the greatest rope-a-dope Test series wins of all time. Australia expended all their energy in battering South Africa across the first two Tests. But du Plessis, again with help from AB de Villiers (33 off 220), kept them at arm’s length, reaching safety eight down, and by the decider the Aussies were exhausted.

1. Ricky Ponting – 156 (275) vs England at Manchester, 2005

The 2005 Ashes is remembered as one of the greatest Test series of all time, and even though they were vanquished, it required several heroic performances from Australia to make it so. Chief among them was Ricky Ponting’s innings at Old Trafford. England had levelled the series with an epic two-run victory at Edgbaston, and came within a wicket of carrying that momentum through to a series lead in Manchester. But Ponting stood firm, and despite falling just before the job was done, Australia held out.

Still, Michael Vaughan used Australia’s celebrations at having secured a draw to motivate England, and at Trent Bridge, a nervy series win was theirs. At The Oval came another match-saving classic, Kevin Pietersen’s skunk-headed 158. But coming in the third innings, it doesn’t quite qualify for this list…

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