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Records and Cricket

Copyright 1998 by Hot Off The Internet and Miss Frances Bush.
This work may not be reproduced or distributed without permission.

Cricket is full of records. So full, in fact, that hardly a Test match goes by without a commentator announcing (or being prompted to announce by the shadowy man at the back of the box) that 'This is now the highest seventh-wicket partnership for Pantsland against Trouserstan on this ground,' or something of the sort. These records are often all the less remarkable, when you consider that it this may well be only the fifth time the two teams have met at that venue, and one of those matches was rained off.

Some records are more worthwhile and enduring, though. Of these, surely the most notable, and the one least likely to be surpassed any time soon, is Jim Laker (1922-1986)'s match figures of 19 Australian wickets for 90 at Old Trafford, Manchester, in the fourth Test of the 1956 series. Having taken 9 for 37 (the last seven wickets in 22 balls) to wrap up Australia's first innings, Laker went one better in the second by taking all ten. No other bowler in over a thousand Test matches played has taken ten wickets in an innings, nor taken more than 17 in a match.

England, not surprisingly, won the match by an innings and 170 runs and retained the Ashes.

Probably because the numbers are bigger, and such things appeal to batsmen, batting records tend to attract more attention than bowlers' efforts. When Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya began a day of the first Test against India at Colombo in 1997-8 on 326, the President and thousands of spectators turned up in the hope that he would go on to make a record score. Jayasuriya was out in the first hour for 340, but the team went on to reach the highest-ever innings score in a Test match, 952-6 dec.

Unfortunately, all this happened on the last day of the match. India had already made 587-8 dec, and taken two days over it, so there was no prospect of a result. The match was a remarkable milestone in the history of the game, or a complete waste of time. Take your pick.

Much the same is true of the match in which the record Jayasuriya was chasing was set. West Indies and England met at St John's, Antigua, for the last match in the 1993-4 series, when West Indies already had a winning 3-1 lead. Batting first, West Indies made 593-5 dec, of which Brian Lara (b.1969) made 375. When Lara passed the previous record score, 365, on the third day, there was a carefully-managed 'impromptu' celebration involving the previous record holder, Sir Garfield Sobers, whose record had stood for 36 years.

On a placid batting pitch, England matched West Indies' total in the remaining 2.5 days, and the match was drawn. The event proved more significant for Lara, though. He became an overnight megastar, with the ego to match. Playing for Warwickshire in the 1994 English county season, he made a record first-class score of 501 not out (in another drawn match, and against lowly Durham). He discarded his bat supplier, Gray-Nicolls, and started selling his own line of 'Lara' 375 and 501 bats - actually rebadged Gray-Nicollses. (Incidentally, Gray-Nicolls' catalogue still refers to the 'record breaking' Scoop 2000 model, but makes no mention of Lara, in whose hands it was at the time.) He fell out with West Indies' management and very nearly got himself sent home from the 1995 tour of England. He now makes no secret of his ambition to captain West Indies, but although still ranked in the world top ten, he has yet to regain the heights of 1994.

Ahem. Two more batsmen deserve a mention here. One is Sobers (b.1936), whose 365 not out in a West Indies total of 790-3 dec against Pakistan at Kingston, Jamaica in 1957-8 remains the highest individual score in a completed Test match. (West Indies bowled out Pakistan for 328 and 288 to win by an innings and 174 runs.)

The other is Sir Leonard Hutton (1916-1990), who held the record until Sobers came along. His 364 at the Oval in 1938 helped England to a total of 903-7 dec against Australia (for whom Bradman was injured in the field and could not bat) and victory by an innings and 579 runs. Australia had already retained the Ashes.

The point - obvious, I know - is that records and statistics alone seldom tell the whole story. The feats of Laker, Sobers and Hutton helped to win Test matches, whereas Lara and Jayasuriya merely enhanced their personal prestige.

To English cricket watchers, though, one record is more familiar than any of these, and never fails to tell the whole story. At Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in 1975-6, India, batting last, scored 406-4 to beat West Indies, the highest winning score ever made in the last innings of a Test match. At least once in every English summer, as yet another visiting side sets England an enormous target, or two whole days to survive, BBC TV displays this record at the head of a list showing that England's best effort was 332-7 to beat Australia at Melbourne. And that was nearly seventy years ago.

-- Miss Frances Bush, Spinster, Tunbridge Wells

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