February 7, 2008

Hitting it out of the park

A look at 11 cricketers who enjoyed taking the aerial route

Six-hitting is back in vogue. Last month, Adam Gilchrist - the first man to hit 100 sixes in Test cricket - announced his retirement, while in Auckland on Tuesday, Dimitri Mascarenhas took the long handle to New Zealand's Jeetan Patel, swiping him for four maximums in a row. Here, Cricinfo looks at 11 other cricketers who enjoyed taking the aerial route.


Garry Sobers climbs into Malcolm Nash ... and the record books © BBC
 
Garry Sobers
For all Sobers' many achievements, one that stands out, mainly because it was recorded by the BBC's cameras, came in 1968 when he became the first man to hit six sixes off a first-class over. Captaining Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan at Swansea, Sobers hit out in a bid for quick runs. The hapless bowler, Malcolm Nash, was a left-arm seamer who was experimenting with spin - "Sobers came along and quickly ended my slow-bowling career," he said. "It was a pretty short experiment." The fifth of the six was caught on the boundary edge but the fielder toppled over the rope. The sixth disappeared out of the ground and was returned a day later by a schoolboy who found it lying in the street.

Jim Smith
Described as the personification of the village blacksmith, Smith, a fast bowler who was more than 6'4" tall, realised early on that there was nothing to be gained by trying to bat sensibly given his ponderous footwork, so he opted for a simple strategy of playing one shot - an immense circular sweep in a line from third man to mid-on. Bowlers who believed he was easy to bowl at found out to their cost he was anything but. On his day Smith was an awesome hitter, and three of the six fastest first-class fifties on record are his, including the quickest, which took 11 minutes. Bars emptied when Smith, who planted his feet either side of the crease and never moved them, came out to bat, and it is not hard to see why. In 1937 he thumped what many believed was the biggest hit ever seen at Lord's, clearing the old grandstand, and was one of only three men to clear the old lime tree at Canterbury. It was widely predicted if he got to a hundred it would be in record time, but his only century, against Kent in 1939, took a ponderous 81 minutes.

Arthur Wellard
Wellard scored almost a quarter of his 12,485 first-class runs in sixes, and in four summers in the 1930s he hammered more than 50 - no person had ever passed 50 before - including 72 in 1935, a record which stood until it was passed by another Somerset player, Ian Botham. His prowess matured as he metamorphosed from a slogger into a scientific driver and he savaged anything pitched up to him. He twice hit five successive sixes, and also landed balls on the top tier of the pavilions at Lord's and The Oval. His biggest blow was reckoned to have been made in India when he launched Amar Singh over the North Stand and out of the ground at the Brabourne Stadium; the boundary was measured at 97 yards and the stand, another 20 yards further on, stood some 60 feet tall. Like Smith, Wellard hit one hundred, taking 90 minutes to get there.

Ian Botham
Even by Botham's standards, 1985 was remarkable. By July he had became only the second man to strike 50 sixes in a season, finishing the summer with 80, eight more than Wellard had managed in 1935. If one-day matches are taken into account, his total was 105. Two of his five hundreds came off 76 balls, but against Warwickshire he thumped the season's fastest, off 50 balls; all but 14 of his 138 in that innings came in boundaries, 12 of them sixes. The Guardian's Frank Keating wrote of that year: "The expectant cry was sent about the land ... Botham's in!", while Wisden noted: "Dozens of sixes climbed for the heavens like disturbed starlings and he waltzed past Wellard's record with five weeks in hand." But given it was Botham, it was not all plain sailing. Somerset finished bottom of the Championship and he resigned the captaincy.


Nathan Astle salutes his double-century against England at Christchurch © Getty Images
 

Nathan Astle
Astle cracked 16 one-day centuries in a 12-year career to cement his status as arguably New Zealand's finest limited-overs batsman. But it was a single astonishing Test innings at Christchurch in March 2002 that propelled him into the history books. New Zealand had been set an outlandish 550 for victory against England, and at 333 for 9, the game was as good as up. Wrong. With an immobile but sturdy Chris Cairns at the other end, and with England's nerves tightening with each lusty blow, Astle opened his shoulders and indulged in a new form of crazy golf. Six upon six rained down on the stands, 11 in all, including five in six balls from a zoned-out Andrew Caddick. Cairns chipped in with some baseball biffs of his own, as Astle brought up the fastest double-century in Test history, from just 153 balls. The second had needed just 39 deliveries, but before he could rewrite history any further, Matthew Hoggard dismissed him with a slower ball.

Ravi Shastri
Unlike most other big hitters, Shastri started his career as a lower-order hitter, but he could also be - and increasingly was - a top-order stonewaller who was often criticised for his slow scoring. The Jekyll and Hyde style was never more apparent than in January 1985. On January 4 he had been pelted with fruit by an angry crowd for his seven-hour hundred in the Test against England, and riot police had to be summoned to Eden Gardens. Exactly a week later he became the second man to hit six sixes in an over when he mauled the unfortunate slow left-armer Tilak Raj while playing for Bombay against Baroda in a Ranji Trophy match. His Test century took 354 balls; against Baroda he made a double hundred in 112 minutes off 123 deliveries.

Kapil Dev
India's greatest allrounder finished his career as the leading wicket-taker in Test history, but as was the case with his rival Ian Botham, Kapil's batting feats are what live longest in the mind's eye. He hit 61 sixes in 131 Tests, including four in a row at Lord's in 1990 in an incredible and audacious assault on the spinner Eddie Hemmings. Graham Gooch's Test-best 333 had put England firmly in control of the Test, and when the ineffectual No. 11, Narendra Hirwani, strolled to the crease, India were still 24 runs from saving the follow-on. So Kapil did what he knew best. He planted his front foot down the track and planted each of the last four balls of Hemmings' 20th over into the building site at the Nursery End. Then, as if to prove that Kapil's urgency had been wise not reckless, Hirwani fell lbw to the very next delivery of the match.

Javed Miandad
Never mind his record of six successive World Cup appearances and his status as Pakistan's leading Test run-scorer. Javed Miandad's immortality among his fellow countrymen might as well have been secured with one blow. It was the final of the AustralAsia Cup at Sharjah in 1986, and the arch-enemies, India, were the opponents. Chasing a stiff 246 for victory, Pakistan had slipped to 242 for 9 and Chetan Sharma was running in for the final delivery. Miandad, unbeaten on 110, knew what had to be done. The ball came out as a waist-high full-toss, a full swing of the blade launched it into the stands, and bedlam ensued. "We all felt a sort of blackout. It was like a funeral in the dressing room afterwards," said India's wicketkeeper, Chandrakant Pandit.


Yuvraj Singh completes his sixth six of the over at Kingsmead © Getty Images
 

Yuvraj Singh
At The Oval on September 5, 2007, Yuvraj Singh was smacked for five consecutive sixes by England's Dimitri Mascarenhas. Exactly a fortnight later, under the floodlights in Durban, Yuvraj exacted his revenge on England in the ICC World Twenty20. The young seamer Stuart Broad was the focus of his onslaught, which came in the midst of a brutal innings of 58 from 16 balls. Yuvraj's first shot soared over cow corner, the second was flicked contemptuously off his legs. The third sailed over extra cover, the fourth - a full-toss - was swatted over backward point. By now Broad's eyes were beginning to glaze over as a partisan crowd sensed history in the making. The fifth was the best of the lot, down on one knee and launched so high it couldn't fail to clear the midwicket rope, and after that the sixth seemed pre-ordained. Sure enough, it was, as was India's progression to the semis and ultimately to the title.

Herschelle Gibbs
For better and worse, Herschelle Gibbs's career has been a model of recklessness, and so it was an exquisite irony when - at the 2007 World Cup - he was anointed as a "responsible drinking ambassador" by the tournament sponsors, Johnnie Walker. The company had promised US$1 million to charity for the first batsman in the tournament to hit six sixes in an over, and Gibbs duly delivered by beasting the Dutch legspinner Daan van Bunge, at Basseterre in St Kitts, the smallest international ground in the Caribbean. "There were some good balls, and some shit balls," shrugged the Dutch captain, Luuk van Troost, afterwards. That it was Gibbs who rose to the challenge, however, was unsurprising. Few cricketers in history have timed the ball more sweetly when on song, as he proved at Johannesburg in March 2006, when he battered 175 from 111 balls, to set up a record total of 438 for 9 against Australia.

Andrew Flintoff
In June 1998, a month before his England debut, Flintoff served notice of his monstrous abilities by belting his Under-19 colleague Alex Tudor for five sixes and two fours, in an over that went for a record 38 runs. Flintoff has battered 77 sixes in 67 Tests - a ratio that's bettered among the biggest hitters by only Chris Cairns and Shahid Afridi - including one, against West Indies at Edgbaston in 2004, that was dropped in the crowd by his own father. It was one year later on the same ground, however, that Flintoff reached his six-hitting zenith. In England's crucial two-run victory over Australia, he made twin innings of 68 and 73, and cleared the ropes 11 times in all, an Ashes record. Mark Nicholas's remark as Flintoff smoked Brett Lee onto the pavilion roof - "Hellooo massive!" - was the commentary moment of a remarkable season.

Martin Williamson is executive editor and Andrew Miller is the UK editor of Cricinfo