When Ryan Harris made a crucial 68 not out in Australia’s first Test against West Indies, he continued a great tradition of lower-order Australian batsmen who have scored half centuries.
“It was about time,” was how Harris described his innings when receiving the man-of-the-match award from Tony Cozier.
For Harris this was his first Test fifty, after his 10 Tests to date had yielded just 127 runs.
For many of Harris’ predecessors, scoring a 50 has often been a one-off occasion.
Tracing back to 1962-63, when Graeme McKenzie made 76 at the SCG against South Africa batting at number eight, there have been at least 16 other batsmen in the bottom four who have had at least one great day in the sun with the bat.
Who could forget well-known ‘bunny’ Glenn McGrath’s 61 against New Zealand in 2004, made during a career when he struggled to average just over seven in 138 innings?
Merv Hughes was ecstatic when he scored his first run in Test cricket, but he made two scores in the 70s in 1989, which seemed completely improbable earlier in his career.
After McKenzie, Eric Freeman had a top score of 76, which was joined by other lower batsmen such as the late Terry Jenner, whose 74 was the top score in Australia’s total of 304 against England in 1974-75.
The great Dennis Lillee (73 not out), Max Walker (78 not out), current Test selector Andy Bichel (71) and the rejuvenated Brad Hogg (79) also have just one score over 50.
They are joined by others, for whom the 70s seemed to have been the equivalent of nervous nineties.
Commentator Geoff Lawson (74), Bruce Yardley (74), umpire Paul Reiffel (79 not out), Nathan Hauritz (75) and Damien “the bowlologist” Fleming (71 not out) all failed to reach 80.
Although these five had more than one half century they could not break the 80 barrier. Indeed another commentator Kerry O’Keeffe appears to be the only one who has made it to the 80s, when he scored 85.
Others who have had just one real day of success with the bat include commentators Brendan Julian (an undefeated 56) and Gavin Robertson (57). Ben Hilfenhaus (56 not out ) is also in that club, which includes ’70s cricketer Dave Colley (54).
Brett Lee top scored with 64 among his five Test half centuries and, of course, the great Shane Warne was dismissed for 99 as his best innings from 12 post-50 scores.
While there is a great story behind all of these they are all surpassed by Jason Gillespie’s unbelievable 201 not out against the Bangladeshis.
While he scored two other Test half centuries, he showed all of those bowlers what was needed to get to three figures twice in the same innings!
This is a fine overall record, which says something about the steel of the Aussie tail in recent years.
Is it because more emphasis has been put on practising their batting?
Are some of Australia’s tail-enders almost in the all-rounder category despite their position in the batting order?
Or is it simply that these bowlers are taking great delight in showing everyone that they can actually bat?