The chase masters: Wisden’s all-time fourth-innings Test XI
@swaris16 5 minute read
Sarah Waris picks out Wisden’s all-time fourth-innings men’s Test XI, a team of players who shone as games went deep.
The fourth innings of a Test match is generally regarded as the toughest to play in. The pitch is often the toughest, and assists spinners the most. Days of effort on the field might have worn you down as well.
Some all-time greats have struggled in the fourth innings, but some have cherished the opportunity of playing under these conditions. We present an XI of cricketers who were exceptional in the last session of a game.
Stats in bold refer to fourth innings only
Sunil Gavaskar – India
1,398 runs @ 58.25, 100s: 4, 50s: 8
Three of Gavaskar’s greatest fourth-innings efforts – at The Oval in 1979, Madras in 1986, and Bangalore in 1986/87 – did not result in wins, but he does have the best average among openers with at least 700 runs. The 221 at The Oval is one of only two double-hundreds by an opener in the fourth innings of a Test match.
Gavaskar faced a hundred balls seven times in the fourth innings, and double that count on four of these.
Graeme Smith – South Africa
1,611 runs @ 51.96, 100s: 4, 50s: 9
While Smith’s strike rate nearing 63 in the fourth innings indicates his inclination to go for a win, which makes him a fit in our XI alongside Gavaskar. His most famous performance in a chase was perhaps the 246-ball 154 that helped South Africa chase 281 in Edgbaston in 2008. In 2004, he batted 209 balls to save the Galle Test match… and who can forget the spectacle of him emerging with a broken hand in Sydney in 2008/09?
Don Bradman – Australia
734 runs @ 73.40, 100s: 3, 50s: 4
No list will ever be complete without Bradman, who – to no one’s surprise – sits comfortably at the top of the averages chart. He batted in the fourth innings 15 times, of which he reached fifty on seven occasions. The highlight was an unbeaten 173 in Headingley on his last tour, in 1948, when he helped Australia chase a then world record of 404.
Ricky Ponting – Australia (captain)
1,462 runs @ 50.41, 100s: 4, 50s: 6
From 43 innings, Ponting remained unbeaten 14 times – the most by any Australia batter, almost inevitably guiding Australia to a win. The most famous of these – Old Trafford 2005, Fatullah 2005/06, and his 100th Test match in Sydney 2005/06 – came in the span of nine months. As captain, his average in the fourth innings leapfrogged to 71.61, so he will lead our XI.
Younis Khan – Pakistan
1,465 runs @ 50.51, 100s: 5, 50s: 6
No other player from Pakistan with at least 850 runs in the second innings averaged more than 45, which is evidence of the consistency of the middle-order batter. Younis averaged 66.81 in the fourth innings in Asia, on wickets that usually wear down by then, which is a huge testimony to his skills against the turning ball.
In 2007, he scored 67 not out, 126, 130, 107 not out in four consecutive Test match fourth innings, but his finest – 171 not out in Pallekele in 2015 – came much later in his career.
Rishabh Pant – India (wk)
368 runs @ 61.33, 100s: 1, 50s: 2
Pant pips AB de Villiers and Mohammad Rizwan for the role. All three have batted seven times in the fourth innings, and are the only ones to average over 50. However, Pant’s average sees him surge ahead. While de Villiers and Pant are both exciting batters and can change the complexion of the game on their day, Pant is picked for the variety he brings courtesy of being a left-hander.
Pant’s only hundred – at The Oval in 2018 – ended in a defeat for India, but the 97 and 89 not out in consecutive Test matches on the 2020/21 tour of Australia brought happier results.
Garry Sobers – West Indies
607 runs @ 46.69, 100s: 2, 50s: 2
36 wickets @ 35.02, BBI: 6-73
Since this is a fourth-innings XI, Sobers will probably end up bowling more spin – orthodox and wrist – than pace, and lurk absurdly close to the bat to pluck catches out of thin air. There is also his batting average, which, while lower than his career average, is better than most in the world. He need not bat this this low down the order, mind you, especially if the team is chasing against the clock.
Shane Warne – Australia
138 wickets @ 23.14, 5-fors: 7
Warne averaged below 25 in the fourth innings in every continent, which demonstrates his versatility . Strangely, his highest average (53) in a country in the fourth innings was in India, but he was brilliant everywhere else in Asia. He has also picked up the most wickets among all bowlers in the fourth innings of a Test.
Curtly Ambrose – West Indies
58 wickets @ 16.13, 5-fors: 3
Ambrose was difficult to play even on a flat pitch. On a worn-out fourth-innings surface, he could be near-unplayable, for the ball would land on a length at great pace and could go for either the throat of the batter the stumps. That he has the best average among fast bowlers with 50 wickets is, thus, no surprise.
He took 6-34 to rout South Africa for 148 in 1992, 6-24 to destroy England for 46 in Port of Spain in 1994, and was part of the attack that clinched the one-run win in Adelaide in 1993/94 and the one that blew away India for 81 in 1997. His career best of 8-34 also came in the fourth innings.
Rangana Herath – Sri Lanka
115 wickets @ 18.08, BBI: 8-63
Herath stepped up after Muttiah Muralitharan retired, and was a force to reckon with in the fourth innings. His 12 fourth-innings five-fors – 11 of which resulted in wins – are the most for a spinner. He picked up a wicket every 43.5 balls, and was the most crucial player for Sri Lanka when it came to bowling out the rivals.
At Durban in 2011/12, Herath’s 5-79 helped Sri Lanka win their first Test match in South Africa, while his 7-48 helped Sri Lanka defend 176 against India at Galle in 2015. But his most memorable series came against Australia at home in 2016: across three fourth innings, Herath claimed 14 wickets at 13.71, and Sri Lanka swept the series 3-0.
Glenn McGrath – Australia
103 wickets @ 19.49, 5-fors: 5
The only fast bowler with more than 100 wickets in the fourth innings, McGrath’s sub-20 average and economy rate of 2.34 on tired pitches bears testimony to his relentlessness over long spells (the 5-92 at Bridgetown in 1999, for example, came across 44 overs). He would be at the batters, without conceding runs, until they caved in.
Of course, there were also days when he ran through the opposition – the 5-28 in Port of Spain in 1999, the 4-36 against England at the Gabba in 2002/23, and his career-best of 8-24 against Pakistan in Perth in 2004/05 are all examples.