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February 27, 2009
Cricket throws up a lot of pointless statistics that are forgotten as quickly as they are uncovered but a century on Test debut is the type of record that will be remembered forever. In 132 years of Test cricket, only 18 Australians have achieved the feat, which equates to roughly one every seven years. It's a truly special accomplishment.
Marcus North, the latest man to join the list, has spent ten years waiting in first-class cricket for his opportunity at the highest level. With a late cut for three off JP Duminy, he joined an elite group including Greg Chappell, Doug Walters and Bill Ponsford, and proved that his long apprenticeship had not been wasted.
For all the pressure of entering the 90s for the first time in a Test, North said he was less nervous as his century loomed than when he was waiting to get off the mark. He had already seen his fellow debutant Phillip Hughes make a duck and it was the calming influence of the last man to make a century on debut for Australia, Michael Clarke, that eased him through.
"I was a bit nervous [as the century approached]. I was probably more nervous waiting to go out to bat," North said. "I was spending quite a few hours [waiting] before I got my opportunity. But once you get off your mark, that's always a nice feeling to get off your mark on debut.
"Other than that, I think without a doubt the experience that I've had at first-class level held me in good stead. Out there with Clarkey at the start, he was extremely good just having a chat every couple of balls or in between overs to kind of calm me down a little bit. I felt pretty balanced out there."
An hour after stumps on the second day, North had not yet had a chance to speak to his wife Joanne and the rest of his family in Perth, where the time-zones meant he brought up his hundred in prime-time. Being ensconced in the team environment meant the enormity of his achievement hadn't really hit home.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty chuffed, very pleased to get an opportunity to play for Australia, let alone get a hundred on debut," North said. "I'm sure that will sink in over the next couple of days."
As North ticked through the 90s he was given strong support by his partner Mitchell Johnson. The pair put on 117 for the eighth wicket, which was a record for Australia against South Africa, and Johnson went agonisingly close to becoming the fifth Australian to score a Test hundred from No. 9 or below.
In the end he was stranded on 96 when Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus edged to the slips off consecutive Morne Morkel deliveries. It's not quite as bad as being left on 99 not out and Johnson said he was not too worried about the missed opportunity.
"Hilfy keeps apologising," Johnson said. "I'm not disappointed at all. I really enjoyed myself out there. I got the message that came out just before tea to start going after a few so that's what I did. I just backed myself and got a few over the fence."
Johnson struck five sixes, including three in one Paul Harris over, all of which were slog-swept over long-on or midwicket. Having already hit two fours in the same over, he set a new Australian record for the most runs in a Test over. His 26 eclipsed the memorable 24 that Adam Gilchrist whacked off Monty Panesar in Perth in 2006-07 and Johnson was unaware of the record.
"I didn't know the stats," he said. "But it's funny because I was actually thinking about Gilly while I was out there. Just seeing how he used to play - that Test in Perth against the English. I want to be my own person and everything like that but like I say, I really enjoyed today."
Johnson wasn't the only one.