Nathan Astle retires January 26, 2007

An exciting and brutally effective batsman



"There was plenty to admire about Astle the cricketer" © Getty Images

The retirement of Nathan Astle will create mixed emotions among New Zealand cricket fans. New Zealand are undeniably a weaker team without his experience, but at the same time it is also undeniable that Astle was a batsman on the wane.

Less than two months out from the World Cup the timing is hardly ideal, but you have to admire a man who goes with the courage of his convictions. And there was plenty to admire about Astle the cricketer, too.

Statistically he retires as New Zealand's greatest one-day batsman. His 7090 runs are second only to Stephen Fleming, but his 16 centuries are ten better than Fleming and 12 better than the likes of Chris Cairns and Martin Crowe. Added to his 11 Test centuries (third on the list behind Martin Crowe and John Wright), Astle has 27 international hundreds, six better than Crowe.

But statistics are cold, they tell nothing of the excitement Astle brought to the crease when he was in his pomp. He could take good length balls with a minimum of width and dispatch them through the covers for four in the blink of an eye. There was nothing flamboyant or affected about his manner at the crease but he was, particularly in one-day cricket, a brutally effective run gatherer.

He was a sound bowling option too, as his 99 wickets and economy rate of 4.71 demonstrate. His Test career was never quite as impressive but he will be fondly remembered for two of the more remarkable innings.

In 1997, in a test against England at Eden Park, New Zealand began their second innings 131 runs behind England, effectively having to bat out the final day on a deteriorating pitch to save the match. At 105 for 8 and then 142 for 9 New Zealand's chances were gone, but rabbit Danny Morrison joined Astle in a remarkable unbroken 106-run stand. Astle hit the last ball before stumps were drawn for four to bring up a richly deserved century.

Five years later, against the same opposition but this time on his home ground at Jade Stadium, Astle was presented with another lost cause. Chasing 550 to win, New Zealand were 119 for 3 when Astle strode to the crease. When he was last man out with the total at 451, Astle had smashed a scarcely believable 222 off 168 balls - the fastest double-century in Test history - with 28 fours and 11 sixes.



"He was a pretty simple sort of bloke who could have happily gone through life without ever giving an interview" © Getty Images

Those who were lucky enough to be at the ground that day testify to the incredibly 'clean' sound the ball made every time it found its way into the middle of Astle's bat. Despite his one-day prowess that innings, in a losing cause, will stand as Astle's legacy.

Off the field Astle could often appear a dry personality. The truth was he was a pretty simple sort of bloke who could have happily gone through life without ever giving an interview. He liked playing cricket but not necessarily the peripheral stuff that came with it. As it is, anecdotes involving Astle are hardly thick on the ground.

Instead he left it to his bat to do the talking. At his best Astle was an uncomplicated combination of power and timing. Unfortunately, as Astle's reflexes dulled with age he didn't have the bedrock of a sound technique to fall back on. He still had enough experience and savvy to knock out decent innings, but they were fewer and further between.

Bowlers and captains had his number, stacking the cover-point region and refusing to give him the width he had made a living off. The sight of the ball angling in and thudding into Astle's pads became more common.

But that's not what we will remember Astle for. Instead we will remember his blazing bat that often kick-started New Zealand's success. We will remember some spectacular outfield catches, most notably the one-handed grab which robbed Dwayne Smith of a six at Jade Stadium last year.

And most of all we will remember that double-century.

Dylan Cleaver is senior sports writer of Herald on Sunday