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Can Joe Root break the record for Test runs in a calendar year?

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Roar Guru
16th November, 2021
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Given the disappointing lack of Test cricket that the Australian team has played since 2019, it may have passed Roar readers’ notice that other countries have been playing cricket this year.

And in England’s case, they’ve played a lot of cricket. Twelve Tests so far (could have been 13 if not for India forfeiting the last Test in England), with three to come. That would be 15 in the calendar year (the record is 18).

Moreover, due to general ineptness of his teammate s at the moment, Joe Root has had to bat twice in 11 of those matches.

So, it’s been a good year for Root to find the best form of his career. In his 12 Tests to date, he has amassed 1455 runs at 66.14 with six tons (two of them doubles). With three Tests to go, he only needs to maintain that runs per Test rate to take the record for most runs in a calendar year.

Is that a big deal? Well, yes. Since the first 1000-run year in 1902, the record has only been broken five times – that’s less frequently than highest innings record. So, to celebrate a possible rare world record, I thought it would be worthwhile recalling its evolution.

Clem Hill, 1902: 1060 runs at 55.79, HS 142, 12 Tests, 21 innings, 2 100s, 7 50s, 1 duck
In many respects, this is the most remarkable and unexpected of all the record breaking years. First of all, 12 Tests in a year was unprecedented (in fact, five in a year was the previous record). Indeed, Australia had only played 57 Tests in the previous 25 years and in all cricket, only one player played 12 Tests in a year again up to 1964.

But number of Tests alone isn’t enough. Other players played 12 that year, including a certain Victor Trumper, and no one else even reached 700 runs. Hill’s year included his infamous 99, 98 and 97 in consecutive innings as well as another 87 and a 91 not out in the last Test of the year to get him past the 1000 mark.

His top score of 142 is the only one below 200 of all the record holders. So it was a year of astonishing consistency in the era of uncovered pitches, across three continents, in which Australia won eight matches.

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Dennis Compton, 1947: 1159 runs at 82.79, HS 208, 9 Tests, 15 innings, 6 100s, 3 50s
Nearly 75 years later, Dennis Compton’s batting performances in 1947 remain the stuff of legend. It started in Tests with his heroic twin tons against Lindwall and Miller at Adelaide before he really got moving in the miracle English summer of 1947.

The small matter of 753 runs in eight innings against South Africa was itself dwarfed by Compton’s overall first class performances – 3816 runs and 18 tons in one season. It’s a record that will never be beaten and indeed, the calendar year Tests runs record is almost a footnote to his first class performances.

Sir Garfield Sobers, 1958: 1193 runs at 132.56, HS 365*, 7 Tests, 12 innings, 5 100s, 3 50s
Until 1958, Sobers was predominantly picked as a bowler and had played 14 Tests, scoring 672 runs with a highest score of 66. 1958 changed all that.

His 365* was his first Test ton and the world record innings at the time. It also started a run of six tons in six Tests and for the rest of his career, he was generally considered the finest batsman in the sport. His 132.56 average in 1958 is the highest of any 1000-run year. Sobers also scored 106 not out at Eden Gardens in a match that started on 31 December 1958 but he didn’t bat until 1 January.

Generic cricket balls.

(Credit: Swamibu/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Bobby Simpson, 1964: 1381 runs at 60.04, HS 311, 14 Tests, 26 innings, 3 100s, 7 50s, 2 ducks
Like Sobers, Simpson’s record year was also his breakthrough year with the bat. Before then, Simpson had played 29 Tests in six years and scored 1653 runs. He nearly doubled that in 1964, driven by his 311 at Old Trafford.

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1964 was the year that 12-plus Tests a year became common and it was the first year that two players scored 1000 runs in a year (Bill Lawry being the other one). Without wanting to diminish Simpson’s quality, this record is possibly the softest on the list, given he needed almost twice the number of innings to beat Sobers’ record.

Sir Viv Richards, 1976: 1710 runs at 90.00, HS 291, 11 Tests, 19 innings, 7 100s, 5 50s
Yet another breakthrough season and one that established the legend. Richards had underwhelmed in Tests before 1976 – almost half his runs in ten Tests came in a single innings against India.

He had a torrid time against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson in the first four Tests of the ’75-76 series before scoring a 101 and 98 in the last two Tests. That series must have felt like high altitude training for Richards and he certainly found the likes of Madan Lal, Mohinder Amarnath, Mick Selvey and an ageing Jon Snow much more manageable, scoring 1384 runs in 13 innings against India and England over the rest of the year.

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Mohammad Yousuf, 2006: 1788 runs at 99.33, 11 Tests, 19 innings, 9 100s, 3 50s, 1 duck
Given the era, it would be easy to dismiss Yousuf’s record. In the five years from 2004 to 2008, 41 players scored 1000 runs in a year (which is nearly 40 per cent of all instances until 2009). And Yousuf’s record was right in the middle of that stretch.

But that would be to diminish the sheer sustained consistency he displayed in 2006. Nine tons (and a 97) in 19 innings is impressive enough, but four of those tons were between 191 and 202. He played as many innings as Richards did in 1976 and with a higher average. It truly was a year for the ages.

There you have it, a brief history of a rarely broken record. There are no bad players on this list.

If, as I suspect he will, Joe Root can score 334 runs in the first three Tests of the upcoming Ashes series, not only will it go a long way to helping England regain the urn, it will also cement him as one of England’s greatest ever batsmen.

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