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Opinion

The 99 club

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Roar Guru
23rd March, 2020
44

It was the first day of the year 1902.

The people of Melbourne, like everywhere else, had fully enjoyed the late-night celebrations. However, for many people of the city there was no scope for a morning hangover. They had to rush to the MCG where the second Test of the Ashes series was about to start.

The home side, already 1-0 down, made a poor start, getting bowled out for only 112. But they fought back brilliantly, aided by some timely weather interventions and a sticky wicket to register a thumping 229-run victory.

There were some outstanding individual performances. For the home side, Monty Noble and Hugh Trumble took all 20 wickets while Sydney Barnes took 13 wickets for the tourists. This was the debut match for Warwick Arrmstrong. And he and his fellow debutant Reggie Duff entertained the crowd with a 120-run last-wicket stand in the second innings. Armstrong made 45*, but Duff stole the show with 104. I must add that the Aussie batting line-up was changed with Clem Hill, Victor Trumper, Noble, Duff and Armstrong forming the seven to 11 in that order.

Victor Trumper. Image: Wikicommons.

Victor Trumper. (Image: Wikicommons)

And there was another important event. Late on the second day, Clem Hill became one of Barnes’ dismissals. He was out for 99. The 99 club in Test cricket was formed. And with George Faulkner, Charlie McCartney and Herbert Sutcliffe joining the club as the next three members, it became a pretty elite club within a quarter of a century.

Now, of course, the membership has swelled. It includes hall of famers, the Waugh twins, world-class all-rounders like Keith Miller and Richard Hadlee, some lesser lights of the game, and even some bowlers – Shane Warne, Mitchell Starc, and perhaps less well known to the Aussie fans, Alex Tudor from England. Here, I should make it clear that my club is open to those who have remained unbeaten on 99 as well.

Describing all the scores of 99 is obviously impossible, and becomes more difficult because it seems that almost every score of 99 has some story along with it. Just to give some examples, Clem Hill scored 98 and 97 in the next Test at the Adelaide Oval. And according to some reports, the ball from Daniel Vettori that dismissed Warne was a no-ball missed by the umpire. At the MCG in 1953 against South Africa, Arthur Morris ran himself out on 99 apparently to save Neil Harvey, who went on to score 205.

So, I have selected a only few incidents from the long list.

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The most unfortunate one
There are ten players who have scored 99 in Tests but haven’t got a Test ton. Obviously our three bowlers fall in that category, although on paper at least Starc still has the chance to leave this group.

Despite Warne’s no-ball story, I personally consider the Martyn Moxon case to be most disappointing. At Eden Park, in February 1988, Moxon was dismissed for 99. But early on in his innings he had scored three runs from a sweep shot, but the umpire gave the runs as leg byes. This mistake denied him his only Test hundred.

The case of Alex Tudor is a bit baffling as well. After making his Test debut in the Ashes tour of 1998, he was included in the England team as the third seamer for the first Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1999. In the first innings England were bundled out for 126 to concede a lead of 100. But the Kiwis only managed 107 in their second innings setting a target of 208. England started batting late on the second day and immediately lost opener Alec Stewart for a duck. Tudor came as night watchman as the hosts finished at one wicket for three runs.

The first two days of the Test were dominated by the bowlers. But the third day saw England race to their target by mid-afternoon with Tudor leading with 99* from just 119 deliveries. There were 21 well struck fours. He took full advantage of some wayward Kiwi bowling. Given that England won by seven wickets and the match finished in the middle of the third afternoon, it seems very strange that Tudor wasn’t given any chance to complete his hundred.

Tudor was adjudged man of the match for his batting (he also scored 32* in the first innings) but lost his place in the team for his unimpressive bowling. Injuries restricted his Test career to just ten Tests but at least that 99* puts him in the same group as Geoffrey Boycott and Steve Waugh, among the others.

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The lucky ones
Well, if you get out on 99, you can’t consider yourself lucky. But, still, I have considered here the players who have straightaway followed their 99 with a hundred. Obviously this is a pretty elite group with the members being Geoff Boycott, Richie Richardson, Michael Slater, Sourav Ganguly, Inzamam Ul Haq, Sourav Ganguly (again), Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni and Murali Vijay in that order.

Boycott is the first member of this group, and he achieved the feat in the same Test match.

Geoff Boycott.

(Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images)

During his long cricket career, Boycott possibly had more foes than friends. But no one ever questioned his determination. He finished the opening day of the fifth and final Test of the West Indies tour at the Queen’s Park Oval 97*, but then fell after adding only two runs. However, he made amends by scoring 112 in the second innings.

England won the match despite some extremely slow scoring to level the series 1-1. They would have to wait another 16 years before recording their next success against the Windies.

Boycott, of course, is best remembered for his 99* at the WACA, but a less well known fact was that he was the first ODI batsman to be out for 99. This happened at the Oval against Australia in 1980, when he scored 99 from 159 deliveries before Dennis Lillee dismissed him. I must add Boycott does have a ODI hundred against his name against Australia in Sydney in 1979.

As stated earlier, Sourav achieved the feat twice. In fact, his first 99 (Nagpur, 1997) came in between scores of 109 (Mohali) and 173 (Mumbai) against a hapless Sri Lankan attack. Then after scoring 99 against England at Trent Bridge in August 2002, he smashed 128 at Headingley just a couple of weeks later.

The Karachi fiasco
The England cricket team, led by the Welshman Tony Lewis, ended a long tour of India and Pakistan with a drawn Test at Karachi in the final week of March in 1973. For the most part, it was slow, boring cricket – mostly a forgettable affair. But a strange event makes this Test a memorable one.

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There were three joint top scorers in this match: Pakistan’s Majid Khan and Mushtaq Mohammad plus the England opener Dennis Amiss, all with the magical figure of 99. Mushtaq was especially unlucky as he was run out going for the 100th run. He pushed a delivery from left-arm spinner Norman Gifford towards mid-off and called his partner Intikhab Alam for a quick single. Sadly Gifford reacted quicker than expected and despite the effort of Intikhab Alam to sacrifice his own wicket, Mushtaq had to go back to the pavilion.

Boycott’s curse
On the opening day of the 1979 Ashes series, Kim Hughes became the first batsman to be dismissed for 99 at the WACA, as he fell to Derek Underwood. Of course, later in the match, Boycott created history by carrying his bat for 99.

Since then the WACA ground has shown a bit of a 99 hoodoo about it in Test matches for the Aussies. Dean Jones (NZ, 1989), Slater (NZ, 1993), Steve Waugh (1995 Ashes, unbeaten, thanks partly to brother Mark), Warne (NZ, 2001) and Simon Katich (WI, 2009) have become victims of the hoodoo. Perhaps some current Aussie batsmen were happy to see the Perth venue moved elsewhere.

Steve Waugh

Steve Waugh is another member of the 99 club. (Clive Mason /Allsport)

Maybe the WACA can create a special honour board for the 99 club.

The Lord’s board
It is never possible to ignore the Mecca of cricket whenever a discussion happens on the game. The Lord’s imaginary honour board for the 99 club isn’t that long. Charlie McCartney started it in June 1912, then 26 years later, Eddie Paynter returned the favour against Don Bradman’s team. One of Mike Smith’s two scores of 99 came at Lord’s in 1960 against South Africa.

I would like to describe Ross Edwards’ 99 in 1975 in some details. Playing in the time of the Chappells, Doug Walters, Rod Marsh, Lillee and Jeff Thomson, he mostly remained away from the spotlight. Even his 99 here was overshadowed by Lillee’s unbeaten 73.

After suffering a bad defeat in the first Test, the local team fought back well under the new captain Tony Greig. Greig himself led from the front, top-scoring with 96 in the England first innings of 315. In reply, the Aussie top order collapsed. Coming to the wicket with the score reading 4-56, Edwards soon saw it slump to 7-81 with the threat of the follow-on looming large.

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Aided by Thomson and Lillee, Edwards started a superb counter attack mixing caution with aggression. He scored 99 from 132 deliveries before debutant Bob Woolmer trapped him LBW. Ironically the Aussie score at the time was 199. They reached 268 all out thanks to a tenth-wicket stand between Lillee and Ashley Mallett. And they easily saved the match with some strong second-innings batting.

In 1993, Mark Waugh was bowled by Phil Tufnell for 99 on the second day. This did not ultimately deny Waugh a place on the Lord’s honour board – he duly achieved it late in his career – but it denied the feat of all top four Aussie batsmen scoring a ton in the same Ashes innings. That would have been some achievement, even in those days of almost embarrassing dominance of the Ashes.

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Even sadder was the Mike Atherton run out in England’s second innings. Atherton was 97* when he played a delightful flick in the leg side. Atherton was looking for three to complete his ton, but as big Merv Hughes threw the ball from the deep, Mike Gatting rightly sent him back only to see him slip and get run out. There were cries of “Oh tragedy, tragedy” from Tony Lewis in the BBC commentary box as Ian Healy broke the stumps. Atherton became yet another victim of the Lord’s slope.

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An honorable mention
Misbah-ul-Haq followed his 99* at Sabina Park in April 2017 with a 99 in the next Test at Kensington Oval in a week’s time. Earlier, in January 2011, he was out for 99 at the Basin Reserve.

My favourite 99 story
As I stated earlier, almost every score of 99 seems to have some story attached with it. Some of these are based on facts, some I guess are just stories.

In Calcutta, the fourth Test of 1969-70 series started with Australia and India locked at 1-1. Graham McKenzie (6-67) gave the Aussies the early initiative, restricting India to 212 all out. In reply a number of top-order Aussie batsmen got going but then threw it away as the Indian spinners kept their team in the match.

But Ian Chappell, the Aussie vice-captain, batted like a rock. He had scored 138 in the third Test in Delhi, and here he looked set for another ton until Bishan Bedi dismissed him. Chappell was just one run short of a hundred.

There was huge noise at the ground prior to his dismissal, which apparently upset Chappell. According to the musings of a number of Indian writers, the crowd was actually clapping in anticipation of Chappell’s hundred. Calcutta, though always supporting India, was (and still is) never shy to applaud good cricket from the opposition.

Anyway, this incident convinces me that despite his ironman-like image outside, deep inside, Ian Chappell is just like everyone else.