Cricket has seen several men produce magical moments through their performances. There have been some who have managed to defy all odds, enthral millions and overcome the pain barrier, just to contribute enough for their country. Their unbelievable ability to push themselves beyond the threshold of pain and play on is what makes them champion cricketers.
It first happened in the Bodyline series of 1933, when the rivalry between Australia and England went beyond comprehension. The urge and the obsession to outsmart each other often got the best and sometimes, the worst out of both sides. Douglas Jardine’s England had a 2-1 lead in the five-match series, when they travelled to Brisbane to play the fourth Test.
Edward Paynter, an English batsman with an extraordinary batting average of 84.42 against the Aussies, was hospitalised due to tonsillitis while Australia scored 340 in the first innings. In reply, England was struggling when captain Jardine pulled Paynter out of the hospital and sent him in to bat. The journey from the hospital bed to the Brisbane pitch seemed to have lifted Paynter’s spirits. From 216 for six, England earned an unexpected first innings lead thanks to Paynter’s hard fought 83 and a 92-run stand for the ninth wicket with Hedley Verity. Paynter then went back to his hospital bed at the end of England’s first innings, only to return to hit the winning runs in the fourth innings, a six off Stan McCabe to give England an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match Test series.
Australia’s Rick McCosker is still remembered for the indomitable spirit and the fearlessness he showed against bitter rivals England in the Centenary Test played in 1977 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. McCosker was hit by a bouncer from Bob Willis when he mistimed his attempt to play a hook shot off a short-pitched delivery on the first day of the Melbourne Test. What first looked like a bruise was in fact a broken jaw and many expected him to be out for months. But, what remains etched in everyone’s memory is the image of McCosker walking out at number 10 with several layers of bandage around his head supported by a baggy green cap on top in the second innings. He scored 25 runs, including a pull shot for four off a short pitched delivery as Australia won the game by 45 runs.
In the early 1980s when West Indies was almost impossible to beat, England captain David Gower thought he could pull one off. This thought occurred when he saw West Indian batsman Gordon Greenidge struggle to stay on his feet. It was the Lord’s Test of 1984 where England fancied their chances and declared early to set a target of 342 for the visitors. What followed was something Gower wouldn’t have imagined. Greenidge limped his way to a stunning double century, an innings laced with some of the best shots through the point region on the off-side as he took his side to an unexpected victory.
Another West Indian legend once did the unthinkable. He is more known for his ability to instill fear in the minds of any batsmen when he has the ball in his hand, but what he did with the bat in the Headingly Test against England in 1984 speaks volumes about him and his will power. Malcolm Marshall walked out at number 11 and batted with one hand as he had injured his left thumb while fielding. He stood tall against the English bowling attack and gave good company to Larry Gomes as Gomes brought up his century. Marshall then returned to the field to help his side win the game as he finished with figures of seven for 53.
Here is the video of Marshall’s innings:
Fifteen years later, India’s best batsman Sachin Tendulkar played a long painful innings with a stiff back as India were chasing a target of 271 in the second innings against Pakistan at Chennai in 1999. This was the first Test between India and Pakistan after a gap of nine years and Sachin was in no mood to give in to his troubled back at the cost of conceding the match. Unfortunately for him, he was running out of partners and with just 17 runs required, he hit Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq over the top but mistimed his shot and was dismissed after a fighting knock of 136. He didn’t manage to win the game for India but his knock under such conditions was truly commendable.
Former Australian captain Steve Waugh is still considered one of the best captains to have played the game. His name evokes the image of a man who never gave up, never was intimidated by his opponent and was ready to put up a fight till the very end of any situation. His never-say-die attitude often reflected in his batting too. In the Ashes in 2001, Waugh injured his calf as Australia sealed the series by taking a 3-0 lead in the five-match Test series at Trent Bridge. England pulled one back in the fourth Test at Headingley. Steve Waugh could barely move a limb and yet he came back to score an unbeaten century to give Australia a 4-1 win.
India had their own version of Rick McCosker in leg-spinner Anil Kumble during their tour of West Indies in 2001. Kumble was struck by a nasty bouncer from West Indian fast bowler Mervyn Dillon and broke his jaw in the fourth Test at Antigua in 2001. But the wily leg-spinner returned to the field with a bandage around his head and picked up the crucial wicket of Brian Lara. The game ended in a draw but his urge to contribute even when he was severely injured has been one of the most inspiration moments in the game. Sir Viv Richards stated that it had to be one of the bravest things he had seen in the game.
Several years later, the crowds at Sydney erupted when South African opener Graeme Smith walked out to bat at number eleven. South Africa played Australia in the final Test of the three-match Test series at Sydney, having already won the series 2-0 against the home side. Smith retired hurt on 30 in the first innings when a rising delivery from Mitchell Johnson hit the South African skipper on his left hand. Smith left the field and the Proteas were expected to bat with just nine wickets in their second innings. They were chasing 376 in the second innings and lost their ninth wicket at the score of 257 as Australians began to celebrate victory. But, they were only shocked to see Smith walk out to bat at number 11 in a bid to save his side from a Test defeat. He and Makhaya Ntini had to see out nine overs in order to snatch a draw and the duo came agonizingly close to doing so before Smith’s injury got the better of him and he was clean bowled by a delivery from Johnson with less than three overs to go. The Proteas lost but Smith’s act of bravery was something even he should’ve been proud of.
The most recent one comes from one of the best all-rounders of the game, Jacques Kallis. In the Adelaide Test between Australia and South Africa in 2012, Kallis played through a hamstring injury in order to deny Michael Clarke & Co. a 1-0 lead in the four-match Test series. Chasing a mammoth total of 430, South Africa were staring at a defeat when the Australian bowlers left the Proteas at 45 for four. Wicket-keeper batsman AB de Villiers too was dismissed after his crucial 89-run partnership with Faf du Plessis for the fifth wicket. An injured Kallis walked in with South Africa at 240 for five and plenty of overs to play out in order to sustain a draw.
Kallis limped his way to 46, a knock involving six boundaries and more importantly put on 99 runs with du Plessis for the sixth wicket. This partnership frustrated the Aussie bowlers and drained them out. Though Kallis got out, the sheer will power to stay at the crease for 40 overs despite a hamstring injury proved crucial for South Africa to eke out a draw from a match that had Australia written all over it.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is an Editorial consultant at CricketCountry and a sports fanatic, with a soft corner for cricket. After studying journalism for two years, came the first big high of his professional life – the opportunity to interview his hero Adam Gilchrist and talking about his magnificent 149 in the 2007 World Cup final. While not following cricket, he is busy rooting for Chelsea FC)