March 3, 2016

Magnificent Martin and jaunty Jack

We remember the great New Zealand batsman. And look at Test records that have stood for 94 years and two months

Martin Crowe: bossed the big, bad fast bowlers of the '80s, and looked good while doing it © Getty Images

While finishing the piece below, the news broke of the death of Martin Crowe. There will rightly be plentiful tributes to him on this site, which was enlivened and enriched by his heartfelt and often searing opinions, his wisdom, and his insights into cricket and life - this article is a personal favourite - just as the sport has been enlivened and enriched by his style, his excellence and his innovations.

I met him a couple of times while on ESPNcricinfo duty. He was a delightful, fascinating man, generous with his time and conversation, modest yet illuminating about his career, and strikingly open and honest about his life, his flaws and his illness. I treasure my memories of those meetings.

He was a phenomenally good cricketer. Statistics are a fraction of a cricketer, and Crowe's cricket was just a part of the exceptional person he became, but he has a numerically convincing claim to have been the finest Test batsman during a period dominated by great bowling.

Over ten years, from the start of the 1984-85 season, when Crowe established himself after a difficult beginning in Tests, until the end of the 1994 English summer, the final major flowering of his sumptuous batting craft, he averaged 53.94 in 57 Tests. He made significant or definitive contributions to most of New Zealand's Test victories, and scored hundreds and averaged at least 45 against all of the seven nations he played against.

Of those who played 12 or more Tests in that time, only Brian Lara (62.61, in 16 Tests at the start of his career) averaged more, and only Sachin Tendulkar (50.57, playing in the latter half of Crowe's prime decade) also topped the 50 mark.

The list of bowlers New Zealand encountered during Crowe's peak years highlights the scale of his achievements with the bat, all carried out with a style that seemed to merge timeless classical elegance and precision with modern power and experimentation.

Cricket has been enhanced and dignified by Martin Crowe; by his accomplishment on the field, by what he has done for the sport in New Zealand and beyond, by what he has said and written about the game, and by the way he lived in the face of death. He is an exceptional man, a cricketing great.

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With the World T20 imminent, and cricket spending record amounts of time contemplating its future, there could be no finer time for a Confectionery Stall special: Eight Test Match Records That Have Stood for at Least 94 Years and two Months.

Jack Gregory: AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle rolled into one © Getty Images

Fastest Test century, in minutes: November 1921
Jack Gregory, 70 minutes, Australia v South Africa, Johannesburg.

Had there been an IPL auction in 1922, Gregory would have melted the cash registers. He made his Test debut in December 1920. Twelve months later he had played 13 Tests (ten against England, and three in South Africa), in which he had taken 57 wickets at 24.4 with his almost futuristic high-pace dynamism, scored 773 runs at 48.3, with two hundreds and six half-centuries, and pouched an astonishing 30 catches.

His best Test days were already behind him. He would pass 50 only once more in his remaining 11 Tests, and after taking 18 wickets in the first three Tests of the 1924-25 Ashes, his prodigious athleticism and power broken by the pitilessly unresponsive surfaces, his final eight Tests brought just nine wickets at an average of 70, and only one catch.

Nevertheless, in his one year of indelible greatness, he set two records that still stand today. He is rumoured to have been on Royal Challengers' Bangalore's long-list of possible for this year's IPL, despite being a good 94 years past his peak.

In the first Test in South Africa in 1921-22, Gregory became the second, and to date final, player to achieve the treble of a half-century, a five-wicket haul and five catches in the match (the first was England's Billy Barnes at the MCG in 1884-85, four of his catches being caught and bowled).

On the first day of the second Test, in Durban, batting at four, Gregory clobbered a 70-minute century. Wisden's less-than-poetic description of the innings states that he "hit hard, but gave three chances". It is fair to say, I think, that the Almanack did not capture the full fast-acting splendour of his assault on the South African bowlers.

Only Richie Benaud (78 minutes) had come within ten minutes of Gregory's record until Misbah-ul-Haq's eye-popping 74-minute wallop against Australia in November 2014. Brendon McCullum's recent farewell masterthrash clocked in at 78. Gregory reached his hundred off 67 balls, a record that itself stood until Viv Richards rubbled England in Antigua in 1986.

In the T20 age, the 70-minute mark is vulnerable, despite modern over rates. Gregory's other record may well be tougher to beat…

Most catches by a fielder in a series: 1920-21
Jack Gregory, 15 catches, Australia v England

Gregory's debut series, the first Test cricket of the inter-war years, was the 1920-21 Ashes, utterly dominated by Australia. He scored 442 runs at 73 (and a 21st-century strike rate of 66), took 23 wickets at 24, and snaffled 15 catches, eight of them off Arthur Mailey's legspin. Only one man has since achieved the treble of at least 400 runs, 20 wickets and ten catches in a series, and that man was more of a sporting deity than an actual human - Garfield Sobers, who did so twice in the 1960s. (Ian Botham missed out by one run in the 1981 Ashes.) (And Sobers missed out by two catches in the 1963 series in England.)

Tip Foster still holds the record for the highest score by a Test debutant © PA Photos

Greg Chappell is the only fielder with 14 catches in a series, in the six-Test 1974-75 Ashes; the players who have taken 13 are Bobby Simpson (twice), Brian Lara (twice) and Rahul Dravid.

Ajinkya Rahane recently took eight catches in a Test, however, so perhaps India's five-Test series against England later this year could be a prime opportunity for the 21st century to dethrone a man who would have suited it down to the ground. Gregory had everything you could want from a modern superstar fast-bowling allrounder - pace, power, panache, and career-ruining injuries.

Most wickets in a series: 1913-1914
Sydney Barnes, 49 wickets v South Africa

This famous record will likely stand for most if not all of eternity, unless the recent five-Ashes-series-in-six-years deluge inspires the ECB and Cricket Australia to merge future series into an unending 25-match marathon beginning and ending on successive Boxing Days at the MCG. Six-Test series are a thing of the past, and since Jim Laker took 46 in the 1956 Ashes, only Shane Warne (40 in the 2005 Ashes) has got within ten wickets of Barnes' record in a five-match rubber. The untouchable would have become unfathomable if Barnes had deigned to play in the final Test. After taking ten, 17, eight and 14 in the first four matches, he stropped out of the fifth game due to a contractual squabble.

Most stumpings in a Test series: 1903-04
Dick Lilley, nine stumpings for England in the 1903-04 Ashes; equalled by Percy Sherwell, for South Africa in Australia, 1910-11

Lilley whipped the bails off with an Australian batsman out of his ground on nine occasions in England's victorious 1903-04 Ashes campaign, five of them off googly pioneer Bernard Bosanquet. His mark was equalled by South African gloveman Percy Sherwell seven years later, benefiting from his team's battalion of legspinners. Other than Lilley, only Bert Oldfield, for Australia in South Africa in 1935-36, and India's Naren Tamhane, in Pakistan in 1954-55, have taken a stumping in every Test of a five-match series.

Despite something of a recent stumping resurgence, spearheaded of late by Sarfraz Ahmed, who has stumped 17 in his 21-Test career, Lilley's and Sherwell's record looks safe for at least another thousand or two years, especially given the surprising tendency of some modern wicketkeepers to react to missed stumpings as if the batsman missing the ball was an event less anticipatable than a pterodactyl flying behind the bowler's arm at the moment of release. Since Tamhane, a keeper has taken six stumpings in a series only twice, most recently Kiran More of India against West Indies in late 1987.

Sydney Barnes: imagine what his wickets tally would be in today's bulging international calendar © PA Photos

Highest score on Test debut: December 1903
Tip Foster, 287, England v Australia, Sydney

When you walk in to bat for the first time as a Test cricketer, at 73 for 3, still 212 runs behind your opponents' first-innings score, I imagine you would happily rub the absolute lamp off any passing genie who offered you a scenario in which you walked back off again, having been last man out with the score at 577. Wisden does not record whether Foster encountered such a genie, but his 287 remains one of the greatest Test innings, and is still the highest by a debutant, by a margin of 65 runs, ahead of Jacques Rudolph's rather less eternally memorable 222 not out against Bangladesh in 2003.

Highest score by a No. 10: 13 August 1884
Walter Read, 117, England v Australia, The Oval

Now this is a real, bona-fide, platinum-quality record, set in a record-splattering match that included the first Test double-hundred, the first instance of more than one century being scored in a Test innings (Australia scored three on the first day), the first time all 11 players had bowled in a Test innings (it has happened three more times since), and the first team score over 500. Most durably, Walter Read, coming in at 181 for 8, spanked Joey Palmer and Fred Spofforth all over The Oval in a 120-minute innings laced with 20 fours that remains the highest innings by a No. 10 in Tests.

Read was not a regular ten - he was a high-class batsman, in a team packed with multiple allrounders, as teams were in those days. He remains one of only four players to have batted ten and been the seventh bowler used in the first innings of a Test. A list that might be a good place to start a future article about Players in Whom Captains Evidently Had Limited Faith.

Bangladesh's Abul Hasan came the closest of the three subsequent No. 10 centurions, making 113 on debut against West Indies in November 2012, before evidently deciding that the few remaining 19th-century occupants of cricket's record books should be preserved at all costs, and getting out.

Meanwhile, back in August 1884…

Most wickets taken by a wicketkeeper: 12 August 1884
Alfred Lyttelton, 4 for 19, England v Australia, The Oval

As Walter Read strode to the wicket to set his as-yet-indelible mark on the Highest Scores by Test No. 10s chart, the departing batsman he passed was England wicketkeeper Lyttelton, who had set his own eternity-challenging record the previous day. The aristocratic gauntleteer winkled out four Australians with his incompetent underarm lobs, as the Baggy Greensters hit out at the end of their record-breaking first ever 500-plus innings.

The declaration had yet to be invented, so whether Lyttelton hoodwinked the Australians with his wily schemes, or the Australians just wanted to thwack out and get on with bowling is not entirely clear. Given that Lyttelton never took a first-class wicket before or after his Oval spell, it was more likely the latter. His record looks even more impregnable than Bradman's Voges-threatened career average - keepers have taken only nine wickets since, in 2186 more Tests (at a perhaps surprisingly not entirely tragic average of 51).

Charles Bannerman (sitting, first from right): sloucher and crease hogger © Getty Images

Highest percentage of runs scored by one player in a completed Test innings: March 1877
Charles Bannerman, 67.3%, Australia v England, MCG

You will not find a Test record older than this. Do not even try looking for one. You will be wasting valuable time and resources. This legendary achievement dates back to Batsman #1 in an innings that began with Ball #1 of innings #1 in Test #1.

Bannerman and Nat Thompson were bound to set records when they became the first batsmen to walk to the crease in Test history. Thomson marched back to the hutch shortly afterwards as the proud holder of the Highest Ever Score by a No. 2. His reign lasted one day - his mighty innings of 1 being surpassed by an epic knock of 7 by his English counterpart John Selby.

By the end of the first day of Test cricket, however, Bannerman had scored 126 out of Australia's 166 for 6, and the 19th-century stats fans were busy wishing there was an internet available for them to tweet about what an unearthly proportion of Australia's runs he had scored.

He retired hurt the next day for 165, Australia were bowled out for 245, and no one in the 5614 subsequent Test innings in which a team has been bowled out has topped Bannerman's 67.3% domination of his side's total. Michael Slater came closest, making 123 out of 184 all out (66.8%) in the SCG New Year's Ashes Test in 1999.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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