These are a rare occurrence. And not surprisingly, there have only been 34 instances of them in the history of Test cricket. They connect St John’s to Chennai, Port of Spain to Leeds, Chennai to Brisbane and Leeds to Pallekele. A 300-plus chase in Test cricket is a special achievement and not many teams, not even some of the greatest to have played the game, have managed to achieve the feat. Thus, what was achieved today at St John’s 18 years ago by an unfancied West Indies team against the all-conquering great Australian side led by Steve Waugh is the stuff of legends and a historic event in the history of Test cricket.
For long the record for the highest successful chase was held by Don Bradman’s ‘The Invincibles’ who gunned down 404 at Leeds in the 1948 Ashes. The great Neil Harvey set the match up for Australia hammering a brilliant 112 in the first innings helping the visitors to come close to England’s total of 496. The home team declared their second innings at 365 for the loss of eight wickets setting Australia a daunting 404. Little did they know what was in store!
Arthus Morris (182) and captain Don Bradman (173 not out) put together a brilliant match-defining stand of 301 for the second-wicket defying the likes of Alec Bedser and Jim Laker to take Australia on the brink of victory. They finally won by 7 wickets chasing down the target in just over 114 overs and with it won the Ashes.
The record set by The Invincibles was finally broken some 7000 kms away in Port of Spain in April, 1976 although partially! The two Indian greats - Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath, recorded hundreds and chased down a massive 403-run target set by a strong West Indies unit led by Clive Lloyd and boasting of the likes of Viv Richards and Michael Holding. India ended with a score of 406 for 4 and as such recorded the highest fourth innings score in a successful chase in history overtaking the effort of Bradman’s team in 1948 - who still held the record in terms of the highest successful chase as their target was a solitary run more than India’s.
Two successive century partnerships - between Gavaskar (102) and Mohinder Amarnath (85) and then Amarnath and Gundappa Viswanath (112) set the chase up for India and they overhauled the target facing 147 overs with six wickets in hand.
The record for the highest successful chase was finally broken some 55 years later by a highly unfancied West Indian XI against one of the greatest teams to have played Test cricket at St John’s in Antigua in 2003. 0-3 down in the four-match series and set a monstrous 418, West Indies were reeling at 74 for 3 before skipper Brian Lara and Ramnaresh Sarwan resurrected the innings with a 91-run partnership. But Lara’s exit spelt doomsday for the West Indies and they were expected to capitulate and fold up against the likes of Glenn McGrath and co.
But then came the counter-attacking partnership which stunned the Australians and the cricketing fraternity. Sarwan (105 off 139 balls) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (104 off 154 balls) put together 123 for the fifth wicket to get West Indies right back into the contest. The lower-order fired and found two heroes in Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes as West Indies chased down the target of 418 on Day 5 with three wickets in hand. They had created history against all odds!
South Africa’s modern greats, Graeme Smith (108) and AB de Villiers (106 not out) were the standout performers with the bat as they hunted down Australia’s target of 414 in the series opener at the W.A.C.A. in 2008. It was a special effort by the Proteas who trailed by almost a hundred in the first innings. Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and JP Duminy all played support acts registering a half century each in the chase. It remains the second-highest chase in Test cricket history!
While these are the only four 400-plus successful chases in Test cricket, there have been some memorable chases when the target has been between 300 and 400.
West Indies found a new hero in Kyle Mayers in 2021 as he blasted an unbeaten 210 to help his team run down 395 set by Bangladesh in Chattogram. It is the fifth-highest successful chase in history.
A scintillating 83 off just 68 deliveries by opener Virender Sehwag, fifty froom Gautam Gambhir and then an unbeaten 103 by Sachin Tendulkar and 85 from Yuvraj Singh took India to one of their most memorable wins in Test history as they chased down 387 set by England in Chennai in the series opener in 2008.
Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist put together a splendid double century stand for the sixth-wicket taking Australia from 126 for 5 and on the brink of defeat to a stunning win as they mauled down 369 set by Pakistan in Hobart in 1999. Langer scored a patient 127 off 295 deliveries while Gilchrist blasted an undefeated 149 off just 163 deliveries as Australia romped to a famous win by four wickets.
Ben Stokes produced one for the ages when his stunning performance - a sensational unbeaten 135 off 219 deliveries took England to a thrilling one-wicket win in the Ashes in 2019. Chasing 359, Stokes batted brilliantly with the lower-order and tail, put together a nerve-wracking 76-run stand for the final wicket with Jack Leach (who contributed 1) to pull off a stunning win for the hosts in Headingley.
Rishabh Pant remained unbeaten on 89 and coupled with fine performances from Shubman Gill who set up the chase with a sublime 91 and a dogged fifty from Cheteshwar Pujara, helped India gun down 328 at The Gabba in January 2021 - against all odds against one of the best attacks in their own backyard. A second string Indian team without the services of some of their leading batsmen and their entire pace quartet had pulled off a remarkable win against the Australians and with it took the series 2-1.