Over the course of merely a month, England all-rounder Ben Stokes became a nation exemplar for the second time after his astounding 135* guided England to level the ongoing Ashes series 1-1, in what can be termed as an absolute masterclass.

Chasing a mammoth 359, things looked bleak for the home team after they found themselves languishing at 286/9. But with Jack Leach managing to hold the ground, Stokes showed no mercy towards the Australian bowlers, hitting them as if he was playing a One Day International.

Stokes’ maturity on the day was exemplary, to say the least. Having taken 50 balls to score his first two runs on Saturday, the 28-year-old was well and truly aware of his gravity after the wickets kept on falling.

But is it justifiable to say this was ‘The Greatest Knock’ of all time? Quite frankly, cricket has seen far more influential individual innings over the years, and here we list down the top five.

1. Sunil Gavaskar’s 221

(India vs England, 1979)

Facing the bowling attack comprising of Bob Willis, Ian Botham, Mike Hendrick, Peter Willey and Phil Edmonds was a nightmare for any batsman. As for India, they were facing this vicious lineup away from home. What was more tiring was the fact that they were chasing a world record target of 438.

India started their chase quite cautiously, with Sunil Gavaskar forming a formidable 213-run first wicket stand with Chetan Chauhan. As the game approached its final day, India still had a mountain to climb. But as soon as Chauhan departed, Gavaskar went into a frenzy. Taking full control of a dodgy situation, he launched a ferocious assault on arguably one of the most fearsome bowling attacks.

Along with his Mumbai teammate Dilip Vengsarkar, Gavaskar somehow made 438 quite achievable. Gavaskar went past the 200-run mark and soon surpassed the previous highest score by an Indian against England (Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi’s 203). With no rule of slow over rate in stand, England played cleverly, bowling just six overs in 30 minutes.

With India needing 73 off 12 overs, Phil Edmonds dismissed Vengsarkar. For Gavaskar though, he kept on going and surpassed a career-best score of 220. And with 49 required in last eight overs, Ian Botham struck the jackpot, dismissing Gavaskar at 221. An epic innings of 443 balls, which lasted eight hours, came to an end. The job, however, was half-way done. An impossible 438 wasn’t achieved, but England were deprived of the win by arguably one of the finest batsmen of the generation.

2. Gordon Greenidge’s 214

(England vs West Indies, 1984)

England’s then captain David Gower had thought victory is well within his reach, thus declaring at 300 seemed like a decent decision. Having already been bowled out for 245 in first innings, chasing a stiff 342 was a mountainous task for the Windies, to say the least.

England just couldn’t have asked for a better start as Desmond Haynes was dismissed in no time. Little did England know that this would be the last wicket they would enjoy. As it turned out, Gordon Greenidge had decided to play one of his most memorable knocks in the Mecca of cricket, Lord’s.

Scattering his shots all across the field, Greenidge completed his century in 135 deliveries. What made this knock more special was the fact that he was playing with an injured leg. Scoring 150 in just 189 deliveries, Greenidge went on to score 214 in 242 deliveries with 29 fours and two sixes in a winning cause.

“It was Greenidge's day, the innings of his life, and his ruthless batting probably made the bowling look worse that it was.,” read the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanck.

3. Brian Lara’s 153

(West Indies vs Australia, 1999)

Australia had dominated the opening three days of the third Test of their West Indies tour. Riding on the back of Steve Waugh’s 199 coupled with Ricky Ponting’s 104, Australia registered 490 before bowling West Indies out for 329.

A disastrous second innings performance by Australia left West Indies to chase a firm 308. On the fourth day, the Men in Maroon began their batting just like their opponents; losing early wickets. At 105/5, the target was pretty much out of sight. As for Lara, who arrived at 78/3, he stood firm.

As the final day approached, the Australian pacers stood on guard, but Lara had other ideas. Realizing the need of the hour, he became more aggressive. While the other kept returning back to the hut, West Indies needed a miracle. At 248/8, Australia had well and truly seen the victory from distance. A 54-run stand between Lara and Sir Curtly Ambrose, however, turned the strides.

At 302/ 9, anything was possible. West Indies needed five runs to draw and six for a victory. It was a dramatic finish, to say the least. Facing McGrath, West Indies needed five more runs to win after Gillespie had thrown a wide in the previous over. Lara managed two in the first deliver and a single after McGrath delivered a wide. Now with Courtney Walsh on strike, the crowd was on the edge of their seat. For McGrath, he misjudged the line and bowled wide of the off stump, and there it was - Lara had guided his team to a sublime victory.

4. Mark Butcher’s 173

(England vs Australia, 2001)

An Australian team at its peak was a nightmare for every single opponent. Meanwhile, after losing the first three Tests of the 2001 Ashes series, England had hardly anything to play for. Such was the level of their brilliance that Adam Gilchrist didn’t bat before Australia decided to declare their innings at 176, leaving England a target of 315 to chase.

As the English batsmen approached, the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie dismissed the openers in no time. And this is when a certain Mark Butcher combined with captain Nasser Hussain to give Australia a scare. What was more scintillating was the fact that Australia deployed as many as seven fielders on the off-side, but Butcher somehow managed to scrape through the gaps in time.

Having never had a successful tenure in the Ashes, Butcher defied the odds enroute to scoring a match-winning 173*; that too against the likes of McGrath, Gillespie, Shane Warne and Brett Lee.

5. Kusal Perera’s 153

(South Africa vs Sri Lanka, 2019)

Twenty years after Lara’s 153 against Australia, Sri Lanka’s Kusal Perera delivered a performance of a lifetime against South Africa away from home. After being down at 52/3 on Day 3, Sri Lanka needed a miracle while chasing 304. On came Perera and defied odds in absolute style.

While he was standing his ground firm, Sri Lanka were reduced to 226/9, 78 runs away from victory. Last man Vishwa Fernando joined Perera on crease and while South Africa had thought the victory is in their kitty, Fernando clenched on the crease as Perera went into the frenzy.

As it turned out, Perera and Fernando guided Sri Lanka to an emphatic victory, with both Perera (153*) and Fernando (6*) registering their highest scores in Test cricket.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Anthony Devlin