Australia v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Cairns, 5th day

A 109-year old tradition

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

July 13, 2004

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Johnny Briggs: He lost the record, twice, but reclaimed it on both occassions © The Cricketer
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Shane Warne came tantalisingly close to breaking Muttiah Muralitharan's record of 527 Test wickets in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Cairns. But now that the series is over, Warne may never get another chance to take the outright title, even for a short while. In all probability, Murali will break away as the sole leader during Sri Lanka's two-Test home series against South Africa in August.

For the statistically minded, this is only the fourth time in the history of Test cricket - if we take a minimum of 100 wickets - that two current players have shared the record. Way back in 1895, Johnny Briggs, the slow left-arm spinner from Lancashire, became the first man to scale the 100-wicket peak in the fourth Ashes Test at Sydney. However, Charlie Turner, the Australian medium-pacer, ensured that it was a climactic race to the summit.

In the second innings of the same Test, Turner became the second bowler to reach the 100-wicket mark and it was he who ended the match, the fourth Test at Sydney, with the slightest of edges on 101 wickets. At that point Briggs was stranded on an exact 100 and hence Turner had his clichéd "15 minutes of fame". Unfortunately for Turner, it proved to be his final Test, and Briggs reclaimed the record in the very next match at Melbourne.



Shane Warne: Enjoying every moment of it © Getty Images
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However, that was not the last time that Briggs would have to regain the record. George Lohmann, the English medium-pacer, held the title for almost 18 months after taking it in March 1895, when Briggs had 103 to his name. Lohmann extended the mark to 112 by the Lord's Test of June 1896, but he was dogged by tuberculosis for the latter part of his career and that match turned out to be his last. Briggs went on to reclaim the throne ... again, and finished his career with 118.

Fast-forward to March 1963 at Christchurch, where Fred Trueman equalled and then beat Brian Statham's record of 242 wickets. Statham, in turn, had claimed the record from Alec Bedser, the English master of swing and cut, a mere six weeks earlier. His record, though, stayed intact for just four Tests before falling to Fiery Fred.

Murali, in all probability, will stand alone with the world record in a few weeks time. On August 4, he will be back in action, ripping his offbreaks viciously and teasing the South African batsmen at Galle. Not only can he do a Briggs, by overtaking his very own Turner (Warne), but he could also run away far ahead. He knows there's no sign of a Lohmann for many years to come.

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