Ask any cricketer worth his salt and they will tell you Test cricket is the greatest test there is in cricket. It is, for a reason, the format that the players (past and present) revere the most. It is arguably the toughest format to master for teams, when it comes to being consistent over five days or a full series. It is, therefore, a great achievement for any side to remain unbeaten over a year or more.

When it comes to the debate over the greatest Test sides of all time, consistency over a period of time is the definitive marker to compare. History (and statisticians) has a tendency of remembering dominant Test teams the most: Clive Lloyd’s West Indies. Sir Don Bradman’s Australia. Steve Waugh’s Australia. Ricky Ponting’s Australia. Sourav Ganguly’s India. And now Virat Kohli’s India.

In this report, we will take a look at the greatest unbeaten streaks in the longest format of the game. It should come as no surprise that the aforementioned teams feature prominently in the top five.

(Note: Comparison of the win % for each of the five sides, how many matches were played home & away, and more is at the end of the article.)

  1. West Indies (1982-’84) - 27 matches

The swashbuckling Caribbean superstars went a remarkable 15 years without losing a Test series from the 1980s to the early 90s. Between February 1981 and December 1989, they had a 40-7 win-loss record in nearly 70 Test matches. It is during this period that they went a remarkable 27 Test matches without tasting defeat.

The team was captained by the legendary Clive Lloyd in 26 of those matches, with Sir Vivian Richards leading the side for a solitary match. Wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon, openers Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge and Richards played in each of those 27 Tests. Greenidge scored more than 2,000 runs in that period alone (2,087 at 59.62 average, 6 centuries). Larry Gomes hit seven centuries in that unbeaten streak while Richards and Lloyd were consistent as ever.

Yes, that side had some great batsmen (and arguably the greatest in Richards) but the first thing one remembers when thinking of this West Indies side is the pace attack. During this unbeaten run, the sensational Malcolm Marshall took 127 wickets in 23 matches with 12 five-fors at a strike rate of 42.5. Michael Holding and Joel Garner picked up nearly 100 wickets each (95 and 91 respectively).

Also read: The legend of Malcolm Marshall, the greatest West Indies fast bowler

Defeat: The streak ended in Sydney when a Bob Holland-inspired Australia beat the WI by an innings and 55 runs, albeit in a dead rubber (fifth Test) with WI already wrapping up the series 3-0.

West Indies' 27-match unbeaten streak in Tests

Result Margin Opposition Ground Match Date
drawn - v Australia Sydney 2 Jan 1982
won 5 wickets v Australia Adelaide 30 Jan 1982
won 4 wickets v India Kingston 23 Feb 1983
drawn - v India Port of Spain 11 Mar 1983
drawn - v India Georgetown 31 Mar 1983
won 10 wickets v India Bridgetown 15 Apr 1983
drawn - v India St John's 28 Apr 1983
won inns & 83 runs v India Kanpur 21 Oct 1983
drawn - v India Delhi 29 Oct 1983
won 138 runs v India Ahmedabad 12 Nov 1983
drawn - v India Mumbai 24 Nov 1983
won inns & 46 runs v India Kolkata 10 Dec 1983
drawn - v India Chennai 24 Dec 1983
drawn - v Australia Georgetown 2 Mar 1984
drawn - v Australia Port of Spain 16 Mar 1984
won 10 wickets v Australia Bridgetown 30 Mar 1984
won inns & 36 runs v Australia St John's 7 Apr 1984
won 10 wickets v Australia Kingston 28 Apr 1984
won inns & 180 runs v England Birmingham 14 Jun 1984
won 9 wickets v England Lord's 28 Jun 1984
won 8 wickets v England Leeds 12 Jul 1984
won inns & 64 runs v England Manchester 26 Jul 1984
won 172 runs v England The Oval 9 Aug 1984
won inns & 112 runs v Australia Perth 9 Nov 1984
won 8 wickets v Australia Brisbane 23 Nov 1984
won 191 runs v Australia Adelaide 7 Dec 1984
drawn - v Australia Melbourne 22 Dec 1984
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

2. England (1968-’71) - 26 matches

There is a reason why this England unbeaten streak does not often get mentioned in the same breath as the rest on the list: out of the 26 matches they went unbeaten, only 9 were outright wins and they came predominantly at home. But still, going 26 matches over three years without a defeat is no mean feat.

England had three different captains during this phase: Colin Cowdrey (6 Tests), Tom Graveney (1 Test) and Ray Illlingworth (19 Tests). John Edrich, considered one of the greatest batsmen of his generation, played all 26 Tests in that period followed by Alan Knott and the extraordinary Basil D’Oliveira.

The batting charts were topped by Edrich (2055 runs), D’Oliveira (1427 runs) and, of course, Geoffrey Boycott not far behind (1426 runs). Among bowlers, Derek Underwood was, by some distance, the leading wicket-taker in that period with 91 wickets in 20 matches with 8 five-wicket hauls. One of the left-arm spinner’s greatest performances was responsible for England’s first win in this unbeaten run. At the Oval, Underwood led England to a dramatic win with six minutes left against Australia when he took his fourth wicket in 27 balls. That clinched a 226-run win which squared the Ashes. John Snow and Illingworth were the other top bowlers in that side.

Defeat: The 26-match unbeaten run was ended famously by India in 1971, led by Ajit Wadekar. By winning the third match of the series, India won the three-match affair 1-0 and created history.

Remembering 1971: When Chandrasekhar reigned and India made history in England

England's 26-match unbeaten streak in Tests

Result Margin Opposition Ground Match Date
drawn - v Australia Lord's 20 Jun 1968
drawn - v Australia Birmingham 11 Jul 1968
drawn - v Australia Leeds 25 Jul 1968
won 226 runs v Australia The Oval 22 Aug 1968
drawn - v Pakistan Lahore 21 Feb 1969
drawn - v Pakistan Dhaka 28 Feb 1969
drawn - v Pakistan Karachi 6 Mar 1969
won 10 wickets v West Indies Manchester 12 Jun 1969
drawn - v West Indies Lord's 26 Jun 1969
won 30 runs v West Indies Leeds 10 Jul 1969
won 230 runs v New Zealand Lord's 24 Jul 1969
drawn - v New Zealand Nottingham 7 Aug 1969
won 8 wickets v New Zealand The Oval 21 Aug 1969
drawn - v Australia Brisbane 27 Nov 1970
drawn - v Australia Perth 11 Dec 1970
won 299 runs v Australia Sydney 9 Jan 1971
drawn - v Australia Melbourne 21 Jan 1971
drawn - v Australia Adelaide 29 Jan 1971
won 62 runs v Australia Sydney 12 Feb 1971
won 8 wickets v New Zealand Christchurch 25 Feb 1971
drawn - v New Zealand Auckland 5 Mar 1971
drawn - v Pakistan Birmingham 3 Jun 1971
drawn - v Pakistan Lord's 17 Jun 1971
won 25 runs v Pakistan Leeds 8 Jul 1971
drawn - v India Lord's 22 Jul 1971
drawn - v India Manchester 5 Aug 1971
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

3. Australia (1946-’51) - 25 matches

The team that is often referred to as Sir Don Bradman’s Invincibles is one of the most formidable the game has ever seen. From 1930 to November 1952 (during which cricket was affected for eight years by the World War II), Australia won 46 out of 70 Tests, and lost only 12. The post-war era began with Australia not losing a single match till February 1951.

This particular run was kickstarted by Bill Brown’s captaincy in the historic inaugural Test against neighbours New Zealand and from there, Sir Don Bradman took over, leading in 15 matches till his retirement in 1948. Lindsay Hassett took over the captaincy from 1949 for nine matches. The legendary all-rounder Keith Miller was the only one to feature in all 25 matches.

Not a single soul can be surprised by the fact that Bradman averaged more than 100 in that period, scoring a mind-boggling 1903 runs in 23 innings, with eight centuries. Arthur Morris, who played 23 matches, topped the charts with 2097 runs and 10 centuries in 37 innings. The wicket-takers chart was topped by Ray Lindwall (89 wickets), Bill Johnston (87 wickets), and Miller (70 wickets).

The Invincibles, as they were called was because of that famous tour to England in 1948. As this report sums it up, “the Australians under Donald Bradman played 31 first-class fixtures and three other games across the length and breadth of England and Scotland, and did not lose a single match. They thus became the first Test team to tour Britain and not lose a match, earning themselves the sobriquet of ‘The Invincibles’.”

Defeat: In a dead rubber of the 1951 Ashes, England ended the unbeaten streak in Melbourne inspired by Reg Simpson’s century and Alec Bedser’s 10-wicket match haul.

Australia's 25-match unbeaten streak in Tests

Result Margin Opposition Ground Match Date
won inns & 103 runs v New Zealand Wellington 29 Mar 1946
won inns & 332 runs v England Brisbane 29 Nov 1946
won inns & 33 runs v England Sydney 13 Dec 1946
drawn - v England Melbourne 1 Jan 1947
drawn - v England Adelaide 31 Jan 1947
won 5 wickets v England Sydney 28 Feb 1947
won inns & 226 runs v India Brisbane 28 Nov 1947
drawn - v India Sydney 12 Dec 1947
won 233 runs v India Melbourne 1 Jan 1948
won inns & 16 runs v India Adelaide 23 Jan 1948
won inns & 177 runs v India Melbourne 6 Feb 1948
won 8 wickets v England Nottingham 10 Jun 1948
won 409 runs v England Lord's 24 Jun 1948
drawn - v England Manchester 8 Jul 1948
won 7 wickets v England Leeds 22 Jul 1948
won inns & 149 runs v England The Oval 14 Aug 1948
won inns & 85 runs v South Africa Johannesburg 24 Dec 1949
won 8 wickets v South Africa Cape Town 31 Dec 1949
won 5 wickets v South Africa Durban 20 Jan 1950
drawn - v South Africa Johannesburg 10 Feb 1950
won inns & 259 runs v South Africa Port Elizabeth 3 Mar 1950
won 70 runs v England Brisbane 1 Dec 1950
won 28 runs v England Melbourne 22 Dec 1950
won inns & 13 runs v England Sydney 5 Jan 1951
won 274 runs v England Adelaide 2 Feb 1951
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

4. Australia (2005-’08) - 22 matches

In terms of just rattling off wins after wins, no Test side can come close to the record of Australia from the end of 1990s to late 2007. Sample this: From October 1999 to November 2007, Australia won an incredible 72 Tests out of the 93 they played, with only 11 draws. While Steve Waugh’s side won 16 matches straight before tasting defeat in India, it is Ricky Ponting’s side that came closest to matching the Invincibles in terms of their dominance.

And in this 22-match unbeaten streak, Ponting (captain in all matches) led Australia to a stunning total of 20 wins. The core of that incredible win-machine was formed by Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Brett Lee, who featured in all 22 matches.

The batting chart for this side was dominated (to put it mildly) by Ponting, Hayden and ‘Mr Cricket’ Mike Hussey. Ponting led the way with 2297 runs (10 centuries in 39 innings), followed by Hayden with 2238 runs (9 centuries in 41 innings) and then Hussey with 2120 runs (8 centuries in 33 innings). Gilchrist, responsible for the fireworks, was next on the list with 876 runs.

Lee led the way among bowlers with 102 wickets at a strike rate of 49.5. Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath’s retirements came at the start of 2007 (and towards the end of this win streak). Warne was only behind Lee as he picked up 97 wickets in 36 innings while McGrath was fourth on the list (50) behind Stuart Clark (62).

Defeat: Indian fans will tell you that the streak should have ended at 21 after the controversial Sydney Test after which Anil Kumble famously remarked only one team was playing within the spirit of the game. The unbeaten run would eventually end in Perth, which turned out to be one of India’s greatest away wins.

Also read: Wounded after ignominy of Sydney, Kumble and Co bounced back in style

Australia's 22-match unbeaten streak in Tests

Result Margin Opposition Ground Match Date
drawn - v England The Oval 8 Sep 2005
won 210 runs v ICC World XI Sydney 14 Oct 2005
won 379 runs v West Indies Brisbane 3 Nov 2005
won 9 wickets v West Indies Hobart 17 Nov 2005
won 7 wickets v West Indies Adelaide 25 Nov 2005
drawn - v South Africa Perth 16 Dec 2005
won 184 runs v South Africa Melbourne 26 Dec 2005
won 8 wickets v South Africa Sydney 2 Jan 2006
won 7 wickets v South Africa Cape Town 16 Mar 2006
won 112 runs v South Africa Durban 24 Mar 2006
won 2 wickets v South Africa Johannesburg 31 Mar 2006
won 3 wickets v Bangladesh Fatullah 9 Apr 2006
won inns & 80 runs v Bangladesh Chattogram 16 Apr 2006
won 277 runs v England Brisbane 23 Nov 2006
won 6 wickets v England Adelaide 1 Dec 2006
won 206 runs v England Perth 14 Dec 2006
won inns & 99 runs v England Melbourne 26 Dec 2006
won 10 wickets v England Sydney 2 Jan 2007
won inns & 40 runs v Sri Lanka Brisbane 8 Nov 2007
won 96 runs v Sri Lanka Hobart 16 Nov 2007
won 337 runs v India Melbourne 26 Dec 2007
won 122 runs v India Sydney 2 Jan 2008
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

5. India (2015-’17) - 19 matches

While Ganguly brought the no-fear attitude to Indian cricket in Test matches, it is Kohli who has overseen the most successful era for the country. Already the most successful Test captain for India, Kohli’s captaincy era got off an entertaining start in Australia. With MS Dhoni out of the picture, Kohli’s first full-time assignment was washed out in Bangladesh. Then came a chastening defeat in Galle. And as Kohli has acknowledged since, that defeat spurred India on to be better in the longest format. It was also the first series victory in Sri Lanka for 22 years.

In this unbeaten streak, Kohli was the captain in all 19 matches. The only other player to feature in all matches was R Ashwin as Kohli chopped and changed his playing XIs. Kohli led the way in this period with the bat with 1784 runs in 30 innings followed by Cheteshwar Pujara and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane. With 120 wickets in 36 innings, Ashwin was (by some distance) the strike bowler for India during that unbeaten run. Ravindra Jadeja was second with 72 wickets.

In many ways, this win streak helped establish Kohli and India as the side to beat currently in Test cricket. The No 1 rank, held since 2016, might not be India’s anymore but they were deservingly the best in the world for a few years.

Defeat: One name here: Steve Smith. In what will go down as one of the greatest Test innings, Smith scored a sensational second innings century on a rank turner in Pune. Sure, Steve O’Keefe was the man of the match for his 12-wickets but any one who saw that match will tell you Smith (with some luck) outclassed India. It helped Australia take a 1-0 lead before India bounced back in that dramatic series. But for that one defeat in Pune, Kohli’s side might have actually be the holders of the world record now. From August 2015 till December 2017 in 29 matches, India lost just once.

India's 19-match unbeaten streak in Tests

Result Margin Opposition Ground Match Date
won 278 runs v Sri Lanka Colombo (PSS) 20 Aug 2015
won 117 runs v Sri Lanka Colombo (SSC) 28 Aug 2015
won 108 runs v South Africa Mohali 5 Nov 2015
drawn - v South Africa Bengaluru 14 Nov 2015
won 124 runs v South Africa Nagpur 25 Nov 2015
won 337 runs v South Africa Delhi 3 Dec 2015
won inns & 92 runs v West Indies North Sound 21 Jul 2016
drawn - v West Indies Kingston 30 Jul 2016
won 237 runs v West Indies Gros Islet 9 Aug 2016
drawn - v West Indies Port of Spain 18 Aug 2016
won 197 runs v New Zealand Kanpur 22 Sep 2016
won 178 runs v New Zealand Kolkata 30 Sep 2016
won 321 runs v New Zealand Indore 8 Oct 2016
drawn - v England Rajkot 9 Nov 2016
won 246 runs v England Visakhapatnam 17 Nov 2016
won 8 wickets v England Mohali 26 Nov 2016
won inns & 36 runs v England Mumbai 8 Dec 2016
won inns & 75 runs v England Chennai 16 Dec 2016
won 208 runs v Bangladesh Hyderabad (Deccan) 9 Feb 2017
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

So who was the greatest?

The tables below give the breakdown for the win % of the five sides who went unbeaten longest. As mentioned above, England’s achievements, though admirable, pale in comparison to the other teams when it comes to win % and succeeding away from home.

Ponting’s Australia are the only side among the five with a 80%-plus win record both home and away. The overall win percentage is almost 91%. West Indies’ claim to be the greatest is validated by their away record. The only side to play more away than at home in this list, WI with a 70.59% win record is brilliant. India’s streak, unsurprisingly, was built on a stunning home record under Kohli.

Record of teams with longest unbeaten streaks

Tests unbeaten Wins Drawn Home Tests Away Tests Home wins Away wins
Windies 27 17 10 10 17 5 12
England 26 9 17 15 11 6 3
Aus-Bradman 25 20 5 14 11 11 9
Aus-Ponting 22 20 2 16 6 15 5
India 19 15 4 13 6 11 4
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

Win % of teams with longest unbeaten streaks

Team Overall win% % of Tests played at home Home win% Away win %
WI 62.96% 37.04% 50.00% 70.59%
Eng 34.62% 57.69% 40.00% 27.27%
Aus-1 80.00% 56.00% 78.57% 81.82%
Aus-2 90.91% 72.73% 93.75% 83.33%
Ind 78.95% 68.42% 84.62% 66.67%
(Note: Swipe horizontally on mobile phone to view all columns in the table)

So who do you think was the greatest among these sides? Let us know your thoughts about which of these is the greatest Test team of all time in the comments section or tweet to us at @thefield_in.

Stats courtesy ESPNCricinfo Statsguru and research