December 23, 2013

The No. 1 centurions

The first players to score centuries for their countries

Test cricket - and Australia - didn't have to wait very long for the first century. Charles Bannerman (who was actually born in England) faced the first ball of the inaugural Test, in Melbourne in 1876-77, scored the first runs... and before the end of the first day had reached three figures. He finished with 165 before retiring hurt with a split hand. Australia made only 245 in all, and Bannerman's percentage of the overall total (67.3%) remains a Test record.

After Bannerman's effort, England's captain James Lillywhite paid tribute by saying that only WG Grace could have played a finer innings. And it was Grace himself who made England's first century - in their fourth Test overall, but first at home. At The Oval in 1880, Grace made a superb 152 to set up a winning total of 420. Two of his brothers also played in the match but fared less well, making three ducks between them.

South Africa
South Africa were very weak in their early days, and it wasn't until their seventh match that anyone managed even a half-century. The compiler of that, Jimmy Sinclair, went one better in the next Test - against England in Cape Town in 1898-99 - by making 106. It couldn't stop South Africa sinking to their eighth defeat out of eight, though. Sinclair actually made South Africa's first three Test hundreds before anyone else got in on the act.

West Indies
An attacking opener from Trinidad, Clifford Roach made the first Test century for West Indies - 122 against England in Bridgetown in January 1930. In the third Test, Roach made their first double-century too, just pipping the great George Headley to both milestones. In between, though, Roach bagged a pair at home in Port-of-Spain, and suggested to the selectors that he should be dropped. Luckily for West Indies, they didn't listen.

New Zealand
At the same time as one England team was taking on West Indies, another one was engaged in New Zealand's maiden Test series. In the second match in Wellington, Stewie Dempster made New Zealand's first Test century, and finished with 136 after an opening stand of 276 with Jackie Mills, who reached his own hundred not long after his partner's. Dempster added another century in New Zealand's first overseas Test, at Lord's in 1931, and later played with distinction for Leicestershire.

India's second Test - their first at home - produced their maiden century. Lala Amarnath, a fine allrounder who later captained them, hit a valiant 118 against England at the Bombay Gymkhana in December 1933. India, already cricket-mad, paid fulsome tribute: "When I reached the hotel, a large crowd was waiting," said Amarnath. "It took me almost 15 minutes to find my way into the lobby. Messages had flooded my room ... On the bed lay a dozen-odd gold Rolex watches and other gifts."

After their inaugural Test, against India in Delhi in October 1952, finished in a heavy defeat, Pakistan needed something special to restore pride in the second, in Lucknow. It was provided by Fazal Mahmood, who took a dozen wickets - and by their opener Nazar Mohammad, who batted throughout Pakistan's 515-minute innings for 124 not out. It worked: Pakistan turned the tables, levelling the series with an innings victory of their own.

Sri Lanka
It was almost 30 years before another country joined the Test club. But when Sri Lanka finally gained admission Sidath Wettimuny soon made up for lost time, batting throughout the first day of what was only their third official Test, against Pakistan in Faisalabad in March 1982. He ended up with 157. In 1984, Wettimuny played an even more famous innings, anchoring Sri Lanka's lofty total in their first Test at Lord's with a technically superb 190.

In Zimbabwe's inaugural Test, against India in Harare in October 1992, their 35-year-old captain Dave Houghton became the first man since Charles Bannerman 115 years previously to score a century in his country's first match. Houghton's 121 helped ensure that Zimbabwe became the first team not to lose their first Test match since Australia in Bannerman's match.

Bangladesh started their Test career with a flourish, running up 400 against India in Dhaka in November 2000. The main contributor was Aminul Islam, who batted for 535 minutes for a splendid 145. "Before the end of the game, he was a taka millionaire on donations alone," reported Wisden, "although an exchange rate of 80 takas to the pound meant this was not quite the fortune it appeared." Sadly, after this fine start, Bangladesh collapsed for 91 in their second innings, and ended up losing - a scenario that has become depressingly familiar ever since.

Two countries
Only ten Test-playing nations, so No. 11 is a bit of a problem. No one scored a hundred for the World XI in their only Test, against Australia in Sydney in October 2005. Eddie Barlow did make 119 for the Rest of the World against England at Lord's in 1970, but those matches are officially unofficial. While we wait for Ireland's first centurion in a few years' time, the 11th spot goes to a man with a unique record. Fourteen men have played official Tests for two different countries - but only one scored centuries for both of them. Kepler Wessels made 162 against England on his debut for Australia in Brisbane in 1982-83, and ten years later made 118 in South Africa's second match back in the fold, against India in Durban. Wessels, a crabby left-hander, made six Test hundreds in all.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013