We finished yesterday’s review of matches where world-record innings were scored with Don Bradman’s famous 334 at Headingley.
That innings was part of Bradman’s record 974 runs in a Test series, breaking a record the great Wally Hammond set barely 18 months earlier. Hammond would soon have his revenge.
Wally Hammond, 336 not out — England versus New Zealand, Eden Park, March 1933 — match drawn
Five years younger than Bradman, Hammond set astonishing scoring records early in his career, culminating in 905 runs in the 1928/29 Ashes series in which Bradman made his debut. Hammond was the dominant county batsmen of his era and if not for Bradman, we may still be looking at his own Test achievements with a sense of awe. But there was plenty of room for him in Bradman’s shadow and Hammond didn’t like it.
After the Bodyline series – tactics Hammond disliked – England did a short tour of New Zealand including two Tests against a team who wouldn’t win their first Test for another 20 odd years. In the series, Hammond scored 563 runs for once out.
At Eden Park, England batted on to allow Hammond to go past Bradman, before declaring 400 runs ahead. Rain then intervened to result in a draw. To be fair to Hammond, he scored quickly – 295 runs in a day and his ten sixes in the innings were a record for 60 years. However, an earlier declaration would have given England a much better chance for a win.
Nearly 90 years later, the only real memory of that match is the fact that Hammond set the record, not that England blew a chance to win the series.
Len Hutton, 364 — England versus Australia, The Oval, August 1938 — England won by an innings and 579 runs
As a cricket-loving kid, this match was as scary as the bogeyman. If the sheer size of the number 903 or the impossibility of losing a match by an innings and 579 runs weren’t enough, the sight of Bradman’s record being beaten and Bradman later being carried from the field having sprained his ankle put me over the edge.
Yes that’s right, Bradman’s record. Because when you see the footage of the match, you will notice that Hutton and Bradman shake hands as Hutton beat Bradman’s score, not when Hutton passes 336. It was only later that I realised Bradman didn’t in fact hold the official world record at that time. Indeed, the players themselves (Hammond aside, presumably) considered Bradman to have held the record.
The match itself was an absolute massacre. It was a timeless Test that England needed to win to draw the series. Luckily they won the toss and batted for three days against an opening attack of Stan McCabe and Merv Waite. When it came for Australia’s turn to bat, Bradman and Jack Fingleton were absent injured. It was the last Test Australia played for over eight years.
Other than the first ever Test, The Oval 1938 may well be the only other Test where the world record innings didn’t overshadow the overall match.
Garfield Sobers, 365 not out — West Indies versus Pakistan, Sabina Park, February 1958 — West Indies won by an innings and 174 runs
After the record had been broken four times in the eight years and 73 Tests, it would be another 20 years until it was broken again. While we now consider Sobers to be one of the first picked in any All Time XI, this was his first century in his 17th Test. He certainly got a taste for it because it was the start of a run of six tons in six Tests for Sobers.
The match was the third in a series that the West Indies dominated. The first match was saved for Pakistan by Hanif Mohammad’s own monumental shot at the record – nearly 1000 minutes in scoring 337.
In this third match, the West Indies’ job was made easier when opening bowler Mahmood Hussein couldn’t finish his first over. Their total of 3/790 was the third highest team score ever and is still the fourth highest.
Sobers’ partnership with Conrad Hunte of 446 fell just five runs short of the world record of 451. Another world record was set in that match – Khan Mohammed’s 0/259 are officially the worst ever Test bowling figures. If Warner had been allowed to go for 401, maybe Yasir Shah would have beaten that record as well.
Yet another example of a match remembered only for the record innings.
Brian Lara, 375 — West Indies versus England, St John’s, April 1994 — match drawn
If not for a sloppy run out at the SCG, Lara may well have taken the record 15 months earlier at the SCG. But that match certainly proved a good range-finder as the West Indies and Lara batted for two and half days to set the record. The gap between Sobers and Lara was the longest in terms of time (over 36 years) and Tests played (809) so it was quite an event for the cricket world.
The match itself was the final one of a series that the West Indies had already won, so it was clear that the record was the key factor in the match. The West Indies declared when Lara was out (possibly going for 400), even though a young Shiv Chanderpaul was not out on 75 and close to his own first ever ton. Seventy-five was a bit of a theme in the match with Robin Smith top scoring for England with 175 and Chris Lewis scoring 75 off 175 balls.
Ultimately, the match petered out into a draw and the 593 that both sides scored remains a record for the highest identical first innings totals in a match.
Matthew Hayden, 380 — Australia versus Zimbabwe, WACA, October 2003 — Australian won by an innings and 175 runs
If ever a match was only known for the record score, it was this one. How many people know that Australia’s total of 5/735 is the highest team score ever in Australia? Or that when Hayden was heading for the record, Adam Gilchrist was quietly scoring an 84-ball ton? Or that that session is the only time in Test history that two players have scored 100 runs in a session?
Probably very few. But many of us will remember congregating around the TV at work as Hayden moved towards and then past 375 just before tea on Day 2, then walking away knowing that we had seen history. When Hayden got out shortly after tea, it was a bit of a let down because 400 was certainly well within his sights.
OK, so the attack wasn’t the 1980s West Indies. But it wasn’t worse than what Hammond and Sobers faced. And Heath Streak would have been the first fast bowler picked for the 1938 Australian team. In any case, a world record is a world record.
Brian Lara, 400 not out — West Indies versus England, St John’s, April 2004 — match drawn
Lara really is a remarkable batsman. It’s rare that someone who can be so utterly thrilling and impossible to bowl to would also have his incredible powers of concentration.
You got the sense that Lara saw Hayden’s innings as a bit of an affront, and certainly a challenge. The record had, after all, been held by a West Indies player for nearly 50 years. All he needed was the opportunity. And at St John’s, Antigua, almost exactly ten years to the day after he first set the record, he did so again against the same opponent.
The circumstances were a little reversed. Unlike 1994, England were now dominant and the West Indies were facing a whitewash. So not losing was the first target, and that was pretty much achieved by lunch on Day 2. The record and then 400 became the new target and that was achieved halfway through Day 3. The final score of 5/751 is the West Indies’ second highest total ever and at the time the sixth highest in all Tests. However, it did cost the West Indies a chance for the win with England holding on in the second innings against a tiring attack that had enforced the follow on.
At the time there was some discussion over Lara’s selfishness in going for the record over a potential win. Fifteen years later, all anyone remembers is the 400 and how that is still the target that everyone is aiming for.
And there you have it. A short history of the progression of the most important record in cricket.
The reason that people start to get excited and talk about whether someone who has a big score will get close to the record is because it is such a big deal, and in the long run, far bigger than the result of the actual match. For the last 90 years it has been a record for the elite. Reputations and legacies are set by it and you could nearly make an All Time World XI top seven from the men who have held the record over the years.
And while everyone knows about Lara, Hayden, Sobers and Bradman, how many know that Mahela Jayawardene once scored 374? And how would we think today about Michael Clarke’s legacy as a batsman if instead of declaring on himself on 329 not out in a four-day Test match, he had gone on to 401?
Interestingly, declaring on a player in sight of the record seems to be a uniquely Australian phenomenon. The highest not-out scores that haven’t set the record are Warner’s, Taylor’s and Clarke’s.
So, I’m calling for time on the Australian way. Warner should have been allowed to go for the record. Australia couldn’t have lost the series and almost certainly still would have won the match had they batted for another session. And while many people simply don’t like Warner, it wouldn’t have just been his record, it would have been Australia’s record set on prime-time, high-definition television on a Saturday night.
If he gets the record then the NZ series goes up a notch because people are now going to see the world record holder, and the NZ bowlers suddenly get an additional incentive.
And in a crowded sporting and entertainment market competing for the hearts and minds for the younger generations, that sort of publicity would have been priceless.
What a missed opportunity.