The Boxing Day Test between South Africa and England at Durban saw the fiftieth instance in Test cricket of a batsman carrying his bat through a completed Innings.
In the same way that Barack Obama is not the forty-fourth man to occupy the White House, so Dean Elgar is not the fiftieth man to have carried his bat in a Test innings: Desmond Haynes did it three times , and the Australian Bills, , Woodfull and Lawry, and Glenn Turner of New Zealand, each did it twice.
Elgar’s splendid 118* was an admirable innings and it was also a typical innings in a number of ways.
First, and not surprisingly , it was typical of him and the sort of player he is. Elgar represents a very specific type of left- handed batsman. He is not lordly and serene , like Frank Wolley or David Gower; he is not exquisitely audacious like Gary Sobers or Brian Lara; nor is he rapaciously aggressive like Adam Gilchrist or Chris Gayle. He is tough , nuggetty, watchful – a nerdler and a nudger who saves his big shots for the special occasion. He is reminiscent of John Edrich and Allan border; a personal favourite of mine was the Hampshire batsman David Turner. A captain can rely on them, as Elgar showed at Durban and as he will again.
More significantly it was typical of an innings by an opener carrying his bat. This is a very special achievement. Fifty occasions in almost 2,200 Tests makes it a rare event. When a batsman goes in first, particularly in a five day, four innings match, and is still undefeated at the end of that innings when all his team-mates have been got out, or got themselves out, something rather unusual has occurred. It suggests that either the unvanquished opener is some sort of superhero; or that his colleagues hopelessly under-performed ( of course these options are not mutually exclusive) . Even the most cursory study of human nature suggests that the latter is the more likely.
This was certainly the case at Durban. A B de Villiers made 49; nobody else reached 20 . This sort of situation is very common when someone carries his bat , for obvious reasons. If one or two of the others are also playing very well the chances of an opener carrying his bat are clearly reduced – unless there is a sudden collapse. This is what happened at Port of Spain in 1992-93 when Haynes carried his bat for 143* against Pakistan. Richie Richardson made 96 and Phil Simmons 68; but the last eight wickets fell for 53 and Haynes was left high and dry.( West Indies still won. )
Durban is much more typical. When David Warner scored a marvellous century in a thrilling but unsuccessful run chase against New Zealand at Hobart, in 2011 , the next highest run scorer was Usman Khawaja with 27. When Warren Bardsley made 193* against England at Lord’s in 1926 , his main support came from Charlie McCartney, with 39.
Four batsmen have made double centuries while carrying their bats – Len Hutton against the West Indies in 1950, Glenn Turner also against the West Indies at Kingston in 1972-73, Marvan Atapattu against Zimbabwe in 1999-2000 and Virender Sehwag against Sri Lanka in 2008. The highest score by another batsman in any of those four innings was Ken Wadsworth’s 78 at Kingston.
Turner’s 223 was the highest score by a batsman carrying his bat . He also made one of the lowest, 43 * against England in 1969. The lowest is 26* ( out of 47) by A B Tancred for South Africa against England in 1888-89. Woodfull only just beat it, making 30* ( out of 66) against England at Brisbane in 1928-29. England won by 675 runs. There were a number of firsts. It was the first Test at Brisbane. When Percy Chapman declared England’s second innings closed, it was the first declaration in a Test in Australia. And, most significantly of all, it was Don Bradman’s first Test. ( He was dropped for the next one.)
This is not one of those achievements which – like, say, bowling the fastest ball or hitting the highest number of sixes – is likely to become more common with time. The requirements and component parts are too random for that. It is a fact that there were only ten cases of an opener carrying his bat prior to World War Two. But the increase since then is purely a reflection of the number of Tests played . Elgar was the second batsman to do it in five months( Cheteswar Pujara against Sri Lanka was the other: he was out first ball second time around) but before that you have to go back to Warner in December 2011. Between April 2001 and July 2008 nobody did it.
It is an achievement which, though remarkable, has a hint of the fluke about it. When one considers the great openers a lot of the usual suspects are there; apart from those already mentioned, Geoff Boycott (99* at Perth in 1979), Sunil Gavaskar, Conrad Hunte, Gary Kirsten. But no Jack Hobbs, no Herbert Sutcliffe, no Hanif Mohammed, no Gordon Greenidge, no Matthew Hayden. There are a father and son , Nazar Mohammed and Mudassar Nazar.
There was another thing about Durban that was typical: South Africa lost. Perhaps ” typical” is putting it too strongly . But of those fifty games , the side whose opener carried his bat lost 25, winning 13 and drawing 12.
Which has been the greatest innings by an opener carrying his bat in Test cricket? There are a number of contenders.
Hutton is undoubtedly the greatest batsman to have carried his bat in Tests and he did it twice, against the West Indies and Australia, in the space of six months. Both, however, were in losing causes.
Gayle made a remarkable 165* against Australia at Adelaide in 2009/10 to help secure a draw for his beleaguered team. Batting for almost eight hours and hitting sixteen fours and a solitary six, Gayle’s magnificent innings was so out of character that it merits a mention.
England’s captain Michael Atherton achieved something special against New Zealand at Christchurch in 1996/97. He carried his bat for 94* in England’ first innings and , in the second , marshalled a successful run chase in excess of 300 with a composed century.
Saeed Anwar made a huge contribution to Pakistan’s victory over India at Eden Gardens in 1998/99 . Pakistan made a dreadful start to the match , being reduced to 26 for six . India secured a first innings lead of 45. In Pakistan’s second innings Anwar made 188 – three more than the whole side had made first time round – and set up a platform from which Pakistan’s bowlers, led by Shoaib Akhtar , could force victory.
But if I had to pick one innings , it would be Graham Goich’s 154* ( out of 252) for England against the West Indies at Headingley ein 1991. West Indies were still the best side in the world and their attack – Curtly Ambrose, Patrick Patterson. Courtney Walsh and Malcolm Marshall – extremely formidable by any standards. England had not beaten them at home since 1969. Conditions were always challenging for the batsmen and there were a number of rain interruptions while Gooch was batting on the fourth day. The match situation was tense – England had secured a narrow first innings lead, and Ambrose in particular was causing apparently insoluble problems for the other batsmen.
But Gooch was indomitable. He was at the height of his powers; the previous year he had made a triple century and a century in the same match against India. But this was the West Indies. For so long Gooch had been the lugubrious Roundhead to Gower’s engaging Cavalier: now he had the stage to himself and he bestrode it . Batting for seven and a half hours he demonstrated formidable technique and intense concentration.
He batted himself into the pantheon of great players and , sweeter still, he was the architect of a famous victory.
Bill Ricquier, 1/1/2016
The article was published in ESPN Cricinfo: http://www.espncricinfo.com/blogs/content/story/960093.html
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