They say the true test of a batsman is in the fourth innings of Test match. The pitch has deteriorated a great deal, the odd ball keeps really low and some really take off from a length, there's a lot of turn and it is at times unplayable.
Apart from the treacherous wicket, the very pressure of chasing a score, however achievable it may be, tends to put the best of batsmen in self-doubt.
Here's the top five batsmen in terms of runs scored in the fourth innings in a winning cause. The minimum runs scored should be 500 runs.
The Australian skipper has scored 835 runs in the last innings wins. He averages a phenomenal 93 at a very impressive strike rate of 66. Both these stats are better than his career stats!
Three of his 37 hundreds have come in fourth innings victories. Two of them have come against South Africa (and interestingly, in both Matthew Hayden scored 90+). Each time Aussies chased down a target of 275+.
In one of them, at the Sydney Cricket Ground, he scored a ton in each innings.
Punter shall be considered an all-time great for several reasons. This is just one of them.
Aussie opener Justin Langer scored 849 runs and like his more famous colleague, he too has a better average and strike rate than his career stats. His average is close to 50 at a strike rate of 63.
This includes two centuries and five half centuries. Both these tons came while batting at No. 3. One of these, came in the match-winning partnership of 238 (in less than 60 overs) along with Adam Gilchrist against Pakistan at Hobart in 1998.
Langer, despite his limited abilities, was a very gritty player and through sheer determination, won matches for his country.
Perhaps Yuvraj Singh can learn a thing or two from Langer, after he sleepwalked through the Australian Test series last year.
One of the most destructive opening batsmen in the history of cricket, Greenidge batted 23 times in fourth innings wins scoring 850 runs at 65.
His 214 not out at Lord's, chasing 342, is considered as one of the greatest innings in Test cricket.
Haydos has 900+ runs at a superb average of 57 and a S/R of 64. Both stats are, yet again, above their career stats.
Apart from the solitary hundred, he has three scores above 85.
One of the hardest hitting openers, he has provided phenomenal starts in many a fourth innings to set up victory for his team.
Smith has scored 919 runs at a stupendous average of 84, which is 34 more than his career average.
He has three centuries in fourth innings wins. He scored an unbeaten 154 to take his team home against England last year.
But his most memorable innings would be his 108 to set up the historic win against Australia. They chased down 414 at Perth few months back.
Having come into the Test scene, he was made the captain in just one year to become the youngest South African captain.
He has always lead from the front. Much of Saffers' success in the last 5 years has depended on this opening batsman. He carries a huge weight of expectations on his shoulders.
He has transformed South Africa from a bunch of chokers to a self-confident unit that dethroned Australia in their own backyard. He has done that not just by his captaincy skills, but by leading by example and showing the batsmen "how it's done".
Therefore, given the context, his presence at the top of the list is even more creditable.
If he manages to maintain this fourth innings record anywhere close to where it currently is, then there is no doubt about that he'll be considered as an all-time great.
And, by the way, he is just 28.
Some things I noticed. All the five batsmen average better than their career average and score at a very good clip (60+ S/R). That not only says something about their batting skills, it also says a lot about their intent to win the match for their teams.
Where are the legends?
No Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar in the list.
In fact, my query for players with most runs in fourth innings in Test wins, with over 500 runs, threw up just nine players.
Two of the greatest batsmen did not figure in that list. In other words, these legends could not win as many Test matches for their teams. In fact, these two average in the mid-30s in the fourth innings.
The fact that these guys did not play in teams that had good bowling attacks probably explains this anomaly.
The presence of three Aussies (contemporaries at that), who played in teams that had the best bowling attack in the world, in this list only reiterates the above premise.
This list, by no means, claims that these five are the best contemporary Test batsmen. If we consider drawn Test matches, the list will be completely different but then a Test victory is precious.
Individual batting brilliance cannot win matches on its own.
It takes the entire team to perform well over a five-day period to win a Test. That's why it is called a "Test" match.
P.S. I had initially titled this "The Best Fourth Innings Batsmen" but when I wrote the conclusion, I renamed the title.