Conventionally, we tend to analyze parameters like average, runs scored, number of hundreds, and other related stats to gauge the greatness of a batsman. But in some cases, a time-specific parameter has to be reviewed carefully to get a comprehensive overview of the greatness of a particular player.
Cricket has been one such sport in which fans have witnessed the dominance of a single team over a period of time. For better understanding, let us consider the period of Test cricket played between 1970 to mid-2000s.
In the '70s, the West Indies side was the most dominant team in Test cricket. However, following the retirements of several all-time greats, their reputation as one of the most feared oppositions began to fade during the later stages of the next decade.
Australia took over the mantle from West Indies in the 1990s and managed to stay invincible in Test cricket until the fag end of the 2000s, when teams like South Africa and India began to pose credible challenges regularly. The performances of a Test player against the best team during his playing days should therefore be considered while determining his stature as an elite Test player.
For instance, former Indian batsman VVS Laxman has a phenomenal record against the mighty Australian team of the early 2000s. His overall Test record is also decent, but it does pale in comparison to his stats against the Australian team.
So in this context, we are going to look at the five Test cricketers who have scored most centuries against a single opponent. Also, we attempt to discern whether these five Test batsmen scored runs against difficult oppositions or took advantage of fragile bowling attacks.
#5: Sachin Tendulkar (IND) - 11 centuries vs Australia (1991-2013)
Sachin Tendulkar's batting exploits in the mid-90s made him the game's universal superstar of that decade. But two defining moments of his career came during the latter stages of the 90s, and catapulted Tendulkar into an elite league of all-time greats.
Incidentally, both of those moments transpired while he was playing against the Australian team. The first instance was in 1998 during a Test match in Chennai. During the second innings of that game, he scored a breathtaking century (155 off just 191 balls) against a strong Australian bowling attack to help India set up a daunting 348-run target. India went on to win the match by a 179-run margin.
If the previously mentioned innings was a counter-attacking knock, the latter was a case study of perseverance and grit. Sachin played a majestic knock of 241* (off 436 balls) at Sydney in 2004 against a bowling lineup which comprised of Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Nathan Bracken and Stuart MacGill.
Such fabulous batting exploits against the Australian team earned Sachin many laurels, as Australia was the best team in the world during his playing days. It also helped him in securing and cementing his legacy as one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the sport.
He played 39 Test matches against Australia during his illustrious career and scored 3630 runs at an outstanding average of 55. He hit 11 centuries and 16 fifties against the Aussies in Tests.
#4 Steve Smith (AUS) - 11* centuries vs England (2010-2019*)
In the modern era, Steve Smith is one of the few batsmen who is known for playing marathon innings in Test cricket. His marvellous consistency levels have earned him the moniker of 'modern-day Bradman' in the cricket circuit.
His proclivity of scoring Test runs against every opposition even while playing in alien conditions has made him the indisputable monarch of Test cricket during the last decade.
After 2010, the English team's bowling lineup has constantly managed to breach the defenses of many great contemporary batsmen like Virat Kohli, Pujara, and David Warner. Actually, most of the visiting batsmen have struggled to counter the swing and surrendered their wickets to Jimmy Anderson and co.
Smith, however, decoded the swing bowling strategies of masterful bowlers like Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, and Ben Stokes, and employed his custom batting technique which proffered him rich dividends. He has consistently scored runs in difficult conditions while playing against strong teams, so Steve Smith is indeed an elite player in the history of Test cricket.
Smith has played 27 Test matches against the England team until now and has scored 2800 runs at an average of 65.11. He has hit 11 centuries and 9 fifties against England in Tests, and is expected to add more to this tally once international cricket tours resume in full capacity.
#3 Sir Jack Hobbs (ENG) - 12 vs Australia (1908-1930)
Sir Jack Hobbs finished his career as the most prolific century scorer in first-class cricket - his gargantuan record of 199 centuries has withstood the test of time and looks insurmountable. He has numerous accolades to his name and was the first batting superstar of the sport.
In total, Hobbs played just 61 Tests during his international career. Of those, he played 41 Test matches against the Australian team alone and scored 3636 runs at an average of 54.26. He hit 12 centuries and 15 fifties in those 41 Tests against the Aussies.
The early era of cricket majorly involved contests between Australia and England. Understandably, Hobbs played most of his Test matches against Australia and scored the majority of his international centuries against them.
#2 Sunil Gavaskar (IND) - 13 centuries vs West Indies (1971-1983)
Sunil Gavaskar is one of the most prolific run-scorers in the history of Test cricket. He made his Test debut in 1971 at Port of Spain against the hosts, the West Indies. He made an immediate impact in that series and scored a truckload of runs. The Little Master scored 774 runs in four matches in his debut series, which is still an unconquered record after almost 50 years.
Two of his memorable innings against West Indies came in the fifth Test of his debut series. Sunil Gavaskar scored a magnificent century in the first innings of that match and then hit a spectacular double century in the second innings. At the time, he was only the second batsmen to have achieved that feat after KD Walters did so in 1969.
During his playing days, the West Indies team was considered the best team in the world. West Indies had a fearsome pace attack during those times, which is considered as arguably the best bowling attack of all time.
Gavaskar managed to score runs consistently against such a high-quality opponent. Such performances elevated his stature as an elite batsman in the history of the sport.
During the course of his illustrious career, Sunil Gavaskar played 27 Test matches against the West Indies team and scored 2749 runs at an average of 65.45, including 13 centuries and 7 fifties. His highest Test score of 236* came against the West Indies during a Test match in Madras in 1983.
#1 Don Bradman (AUS) - 19 centuries vs England (1928-1948)
Former Australian captain Don Bradman was a prolific run-scorer against the English team throughout his career. Similar to Sir Hobbs, Bradman also played the majority of his Test matches (37 out of 52) against the English team. The fascinating part here is that his average against England (89.78) is slightly less than his career average (99.94).
The Bodyline Ashes series (1932-33) is etched in cricketing history as one of the most controversial Test series of all time. When all his teammates struggled vigorously to score runs, Bradman showcased his skills and went on to become the second-highest scorer in that series, with his 396 runs coming at a healthy average of 56.57
When these statistics are associated with any other batsmen in the history of the game, they will be deemed decent. But such were the standards set by Bradman that they looked highly unimpressive. He then went on to redeem himself and scored heavily against the English team during the future tours.
Bradman played 37 Test matches against the Three Lions and scored 5028 runs at an average of 89.78, including 19 centuries and 12 fifties.