Steve Waugh 157 not out v England, The Oval 2001
Steve Waugh was stretchered off two Test matches previously, having torn his calf muscle while batting. A despondent Waugh was told he faced six months on the sidelines, but a phone call from his wife lifted him off the canvas and inspired him to try and be fit to lead the team and lift the famous Ashes urn at The Oval in the fifth match of the series.
Waugh limped to the crease at 2-292 to a standing ovation from the English crowd, but the following morning the effect of nursing his calf resulted in other leg and buttock muscles to feel the strain. Batting with his brother, Mark, the conversation was typically short and to the point. ‘No tight singles, I'm going to have a slog’.
A classic Waugh repertoire of slog sweeps, fierce square cuts and brutish cover drives followed and the runs were flowing.
Limping and wobbling at the crease, on 99 Waugh punched down the ground and took off for a tight single. He stretched, he dove and an iconic image was born as Australia's captain, lying on the turf, raised his bat.
Matthew Hayden 130 v Sri Lanka, Galle 2004
Like India, Sri Lanka was a venue that had gone unconquered under Steve Waugh’s leadership so it naturally marked a land of significance for the 2004 Australians. Ricky Ponting was the new skipper, and his side was charged with the task of overcoming a red-hot Muthiah Muralidaran. First up, they failed, as Murali claimed six wickets to rip out the tourists for 220 and Sri Lanka made 381 in reply.
Matthew Hayden channelled his subcontinental form of 2001 to reverse the fortunes of the Australians, who until the left-hander’s intervention had looked like succumbing to the wiles of Murali on his home track.
Hayden’s aggressive 130 erased the sizeable deficit and paved the way for middle-order pair Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann, who added outstanding hundreds of their own to build on the Aussie advantage. Hayden set the tone for Australia and his batsmen to follow, as he refused to let Murali settle into a line and length and consequently dictated terms for large periods.
It was an innings that swung the match and Australia, boosted by a rejuvenated Shane Warne, went on to take a 1-0 series lead and never looked back.
Damien Martyn 161 v Sri Lanka, Kandy 2004
Australia led this series 1-0 but had been rolled by Murali and co for a paltry 120 in the first innings of this second Test. Sri Lanka’s tail wagged in response and they went into the second innings with a lead of 91 and Murali spinning a web. Australia had lost their previous Test series in Sri Lanka and in Ricky Ponting’s first Test series as captain, the tourists were desperate to reverse that result.
It’s difficult to split a pair of knocks in this Australian innings, but Damien Martyn’s 161 gets the nod ahead of Adam Gilchrist’s superb 144 because it was the former who ensured the lead was extended out to a match-winning one in what was a riveting Test match.
Gilchrist replaced an injured Ponting at No.3 and, with Martyn, put Australia back on top. The flamboyant left-hander was out with the lead at 135 and Sri Lanka still very much in the contest, and it was at this point that Martyn took control.
Patiently, playing back and late to the spin, he extended the Australian advantage, until after a marathon nine hours at the crease facing 349 deliveries, he was the last man out. By then, Sri Lanka’s target had blown out to 352.
In making 324, the home side gave Australia and almighty scare, but it was Martyn’s epic knock that ensured the lead was just enough. The result gave Australia an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series and ensured a winning start to the Ponting era.
Ricky Ponting 156 v England, Old Trafford 2005
In what makes a fair case for the greatest Test series ever played, this was one of Ricky Ponting's finest knocks ever. A team full of champions had been ambushed by an upstart England, and a comfortable Australian victory at Lord's had been followed by that epic Edgbaston thriller that levelled the series 1-1. Australia knew they were in for a fight. Enter Old Trafford, where cricket had captured the nation. Australia had surrendered a 142-run lead to England on the first innings, and that ballooned to 422 by the time England declared in their second dig.
But Ponting wasn't about to let this Test go and mounted one of the great Ashes innings of defiance against Flintoff, Harmison and Hoggard in their pomp. He found himself walking to the middle in the second over of a final day, where Old Trafford had to lock the gates with thousands outside trying to get in, and didn't leave again for another 93 overs knowing he needed to bat the day to save the Test match.
Under enormous pressure, Ponting went about it like it was business as usual, scoring at a decent clip to keep England at bay. He later described it as the innings he was most proud of in his Test career, not so much for the runs, but for the way – as captain and the No.3 batsman – he put his hand up for the team to get them through.
It nearly all went wrong, though, when he gloved a ball down the leg side to be the ninth wicket and left final pair Brett Lee and an injured Glenn McGrath to bat out the final four overs. They did, with Ponting unable to watch, a swirl of torment raging inside him, and the epic Test series rolled on.
Michael Clarke 161 not out v South Africa, Cape Town 2014
With the No.1 Test ranking up for grabs and the series level at 1-1, this was as close as Test cricket gets to a world championship bout. Australia won the first Test, then lost the second amid questions surrounding captain Michael Clarke’s form. The skipper laughed off the critics, and promptly showed them exactly why he found the line of inquiry comical.
Clarke won the toss and chose to bat, safe in the knowledge that a massive first-innings total would put Australia in command of the match. Clearly out of sorts despite his own protestations, Clarke weathered a sustained spell of brutal fast bowling from Morne Morkel, in which he was struck repeatedly around the ribs, arms, shoulders and back. Scans later revealed a fractured shoulder and a heavily bruised forearm, but Clarke kept at it, getting through the most difficult period and ultimately thriving.
Like Steve Waugh in the Caribbean almost two decades earlier, it was a century made under extremely challenging conditions, a defining knock for the veteran of more than 100 Tests, and an innings that set up Australia’s return to the world No.1 ranking.
Clarke’s 161 was an instant classic as Australia went on to win the match by 245 runs and return to the top of Test cricket. It completed a golden summer and was the highest point the national side had reached since their historic 2006-07 Ashes.
Steve Smith 109 v India, Pune 2017
It wasn’t his prettiest, it wasn’t his most fluid and it wasn’t faultless, but by gum it was one of the toughest, most important and best centuries Steve Smith has scored.
Smith’s 109 was worth almost 250 in a low-scoring match on a Pune pitch that spun at right angles from the first ball.
No other player in the match got close to three figures as Smith put his stamp on the series with a second-innings ton that the captain himself rated as one of his finest. Against an Indian attack that featured the world’s top two Test spinners, Smith used his feet, played patiently and remained unfazed if the ball beat his outside edge.
The century set up Australia’s first win in India in 13 years and was the first of three tons in the series, a feat never before achieved by an Australian captain in India.
Usman Khawaja 141 v Pakistan, Dubai, 2018
With a top score of 26 in nine previous Test innings in Asia, there were more than a few question marks over Usman Khawaja's ability against spin bowling as he headed off for his first tour of the UAE. And if his first innings of 85 didn't completely silence his many critics, his match-saving century in the second innings finished the job.
As his side fought to secure an unlikely draw, Khawaja registered just the fifth century by an Australian in the fourth innings of a Test in Asia, joining Bob Simpson, Mark Taylor, Ricky Ponting and David Warner in reaching the milestone.
This was a man who had learned from his mistakes on previous subcontinent tours; Khawaja preferred to stay on the back foot in defence instead of lunging forward and he also used the reverse sweep to effectively deal with balls landing in the footmarks outside his off stump.
In the first Test of Australia's new era where they will be without - for at least a year - their best two batsman, Khawaja has already put his hand up to take on that mantle in the interim.
And his innings in Dubai will go down as one of the greats of its era.
– with Adam Burnett, David Middleton & Martin Smith