Joyful Tino produces day to remember
Don't laugh, but I saw John Snow and Ken Higgs put on 128 for the last wicket against the West Indies at The Oval in 1966. The world was in black and white then. Snow was my hero and Higgs a figure of enormous importance in backyard Test matches where his curved run-up fitted the small space perfectly. I would not have picked him otherwise, I would have had Jeff Jones' left-arm quicks but the garden wasn't shaped like that.
Snow made roughing up the Aussies look absurdly easy, which endeared him to most English schoolboys, while his demeanor and styling made him the first rock star cricketer. He titled his autobiography Cricket Rebel - good stuff on the back of Lennon and McCartney; Jagger and Richards.
But even Snow did not do it for me like Tino did yesterday. Tino "mind the windows" Best, the butt of every England cricketer's humour since Andrew Flintoff's goading at Lord's eight full years ago. Best is out of Barbados, the island where fast bowlers were once found in every rum shop. He is a jobbing cricketer, which is not meant unkindly for he has enviable enthusiasm and a yard of pace. But that is sort of it really. Time was when you didn't mess with a Bajan fast bowler but Flintoff's "mind the windows moment" that encouraged Best to flail wildly and be stumped by the distance of humiliation had long promised to be the one thing for which he will be remembered.
No more. Today Best came within five runs of immortality and did so with a brilliance that put him up there with anybody in the great litany of Test cricket's unlikely performances. If that sounds an exaggeration, so be it. The fact is, we will never forget the outrage he caused and just how much we enjoyed it. These Englishmen are the best team in the world for goodness sake and Tino manhandled them for 95 of the very best. Holding the pose of his front foot followthroughs and replaying every cut and pull, whether hit or missed, to the delight of myriad cameramen galvanised by his every flourish, Tino made the morning his own. What began in the music hall and was worth a giggle ended in the Wisden Almanack as comfortably the highest score ever made by a No. 11 batsman in Tests.
Meanwhile, Denesh Ramdin eased the ball around like the old pro he should be and went to a hundred with barely a feather ruffled. Exactly where the karma went at that point, only Denesh knows but Viv Richards took a pasting from a handwritten note he pulled from his pocket and held aloft for all to read. If I were Ramdin, I would avoid Viv for a while.
For the record the pair put on 143, just eight short of the highest tenth-wicket partnership of them all. But more appealing than the figures was the sheer joy of the batting, the sense that an all too serious game was put in perspective. The two days lost to rain had been painful, the first official day of play turgid but this, well this was Disneyland.
I certainly do not remember Snow and Higgs having such a ball, I guess that is black and white for you. Theirs was a remarkable effort however, against Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, Garry Sobers and Lance Gibbs. It was the first Test that Brian Close captained and England won it from nowhere; 166 for 7 then Tom Graveney and John Murray put on 217 before the two fast bowlers cashed in. Snow was a lovely natural batsman, Higgs rather more rustic - a decent defence and then cow corner. The last three England wickets added 361 that day and then Snow knocked over Easton McMorris and Conrad Hunte in the blink of an eye. Close had an idea to combat Sobers - Closey had an idea for everyone - and told Snow to whack into the great man's ribcage first ball. Eureka! Sir Garry popped it up to guess who? Close himself of course at short leg.
The other ridiculous tenth-wicket partnership I watched was in Brisbane between Jason Gillespie and, wait for it, Glenn McGrath. They put on a 114, making 54 not out and 61 respectively. McGrath began like the incomparable duck-maker he was but, snick after snick, he edged himself towards bravado and suddenly began thumping the New Zealand attack all over the paddock. This was no crisis though - they came together with 471 on the board - and the crushing of Kiwi spirit was the partnership's sole purpose. It did a hell of a job. A couple of hours later New Zealand had been bowled out for 76 and the Test won. McGrath took 3 for 19, Gillespie two for the same. Shane Warne did the rest.
West Indies do not have quite that ammunition and this match is a certain draw. But Darren Sammy's game fellows have it in them to fight the good fight. Tino brought us all to life today and, at the same time, gave England a sharp kick where it hurts that not every day is necessarily your day.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK