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Test cricket

February 26, 2014

The joy of the sixth-wicket stand

Bill Ricquier

Adam Gilchrist walks out in his last Test, Australia v India, 4th Test, Adelaide, 4th day, January 27, 2008
Who would you rather have batting for you at No. 7? © Getty Images

There were all sorts of good things about the drawn second Test between New Zealand and India at Wellington's Basin Reserve. Many cricket lovers around the world will have been delighted that India lost the series to one of the supposed minnows whom the money-men of Mumbai are determined to drive from cricket's top table.

The game itself was memorable, a classic Test match of changing fortunes. There were a number of outstanding personal highlights, most notably Kiwi skipper Brendon McCullum's second-innings triple-century. This was the first Test triple by a New Zealander and unlike almost every other Test 300 it was compiled in conditions of genuine adversity. New Zealand were facing a deficit of 246 and were 94 for 5 when McCullum was joined by wicketkeeper BJ Watling.

The pair put an 352 for the sixth wicket just pipping the record for that stand held by Sri Lanka's unrelated Jayawardenes, captain Mahela and wicketkeeper Prasanna, against India at Ahmedabad in 2009-2010.

Historically the big sixth wicket partnership is a relative rarity. That is not so surprising. When a bowling side has extracted the first five wickets it is entitled to assume, one might think, that the remaining five should be relatively easy to dispose of. This was generally how it was. But generally speaking, for a variety of reasons, the late middle order has become much more productive over the years.

There have been 50 sixth-wicket stands of 200 or more in Test history. Two took place before the second World War, two in the 1950s, four in the 1960s and six in the 1970s. There have been twenty-two in the current century, with six coming in the period since 2010.

There is another interesting thing about these partnerships. Of this fifty, twenty-six have involved wicketkeepers. One of those wicketkeepers was McCullum who batting at No. 7, put on 339 with Martin Guptill against Bangladesh in Hamilton in 2009-10 (oddly enough Watling opened the batting in this match). All the usual suspects are there: Adam Gilchrist (five times), Brad Haddin (three), MS Dhoni, Kamran Akmal, Dinesh Ramdin and Prasanna Jayawardene (twice each). Keepers who appear on the list once include Jim Parks - perhaps the first "manufactured" wicketkeeper - Alan Knott, Deryck Murray and Jeffrey Dujon.

Of course there have always been great batsmen who kept (or keep) wicket: Clyde Walcott, Kumar Sangakkara and AB de Villiers come to mind. Again, in the old days wicketkeepers were not expected to make runs. If they did, it was a bonus. In the 1930s England were lucky enough to have Les Ames, a genuine allrounder and the only wicketkeeper to score a hundred centuries. But he was an exception.

It was of course Gilchrist who broke the mould, though Sri Lanka's Romesh Kaluwitharana showed the way around the time of the 1996 World Cup. Gilchrist was a genuine game changer, coming in at number seven and batting like a number four. It was his heavy and fast scoring, among other things, which enabled Steve Waugh's Australians to change the nature of Test cricket before Twenty20 and the IPL were invented. Now every Test side wants a Gilchrist.

When the Jayawardenes made their 351 against India they broke a record that had stood for three quarters of a century. England's tour of Australia in 1936-37 was the first since the notorious and controversial Bodyline tour of 1932-33, when Harold Larwood and Bill Voce, under the uncompromising captaincy of Douglas Jardine, bowled England to victory and reduced Bradman's average to a mere 56.57. The next tour, under the more mellifluous leadership of "Gubby" Allen, was dubbed the "Friendship Tour", ie, England were expected to lose (as usual). But Allen and his senior players misread the script. After the first two Tests, England were two-up. This owed much the efforts of Voce (no Bodyline, please: Larwood was not there - he had played his last game for England at Sydney in 1933).

The third Test was at Melbourne. Bradman won the toss and batted but Australia struggled on a lifeless pitch. Conditions changed dramatically after rain on the second day and, seeing how difficult batting had become, Bradman declared at 200 for nine. England were bowled out for 76 and the pitch was still very awkward when Australia's second innings began. Bradman countered the conditions with ruthless logic, sending his tail-enders in first. Spinners Bill O'Reilly and "Chuck" Fleetwood-Smith went in first and both made ducks. The score was 97 for 5 when Bradman joined regular opener Jack Fingleton. They put on 346, then the highest partnership made in Australia. Despite a fighting unbeaten ton from Maurice Leyland, England lost heavily.

Bradman followed his 270 in the third Test with 212 in the fourth and 167 in the fifth. Australia won the series 3-2.

Every side wanted a Bradman too. But as the philosopher Jagger tells us, you can't always get what you want.

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