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.)
- 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).
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
|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|
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.
England's 26-match unbeaten streak in Tests
|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|
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
|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|
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.
Australia's 22-match unbeaten streak in Tests
|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|
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
|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|
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|
Win % of teams with longest unbeaten streaks
|Team||Overall win%||% of Tests played at home||Home win%||Away win %|
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 Scroll.in research
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