In theory, Test matches should provide cricket at its best - with great batsmen matched against great bowlers. Inevitably, though, fear of losing, defensive tactics and time-wasting have at times blunted the spirit of adventure. Since Test cricket began a hundred years ago there have been over 900 matches, producing nearly 1,500 centuries. In only twelve of these has a batsman reached his hundred at the rate of a run-a-minute. It is these memorable innings that are recalled here.
Time as a basis for calculation is not completely satisfactory, but as the truer basis of balls received is a recent development, it is the only way of reckoning innings of earlier days. When watching cricket today, the spectator witnesses at least 25 per cent fewer balls in a day compared with first-class cricket of some decades ago, owing to the much slower over rate. The player is thereby robbed of action, and the spectator of entertainment. Here, in chronological order, are the Test hundreds in which runs were made at the sort of rate Ian Botham scored them against Australia in 1981 or Kapil Dev, against England last summer, while making 89 in 55 balls at Lord's and 97 in 93 balls at The Oval.
G. J. Bonnor, 128 for Australia against England at Sydney, 1884-85. After England had scored 269, Australia, on a difficult wicket, were 119 for six when Bonnor, 6ft 6in tall, came in. Soon, at 134, the seventh wicket fell. Bonnor, now joined by Jones, had started shakily and at the tea interval he had scored 15 runs in 30 minutes. But afterwards the giant slogger chanced his arm. He reached 50 in 65 minutes and, thanks to a slip chance when 99, 100 in 100 minutes. When, finally, he was caught he had made 128 out of 169 in 115 minutes, the last 113 of them coming in only 85 minutes. He hit four 5s (the old Australian equivalent of a 6), and fourteen 4s. Australia gained a lead of 40, and won the match by eight wickets.
J. T. Brown, 140 for England against Australia at Melbourne, 1894-95. With the series level at two matches apiece, much interest had been aroused. In a high-scoring fifth and final Test, England were left 297 runs to win. On the last morning, with the weather threatening to spoil the finish, they were 28 for two when Brown came in to join Ward. Encouraged by the strains of Rule, Britannia, played on a tin whistle, Brown immediately attacked. He reached 35 in sixteen minutes and 50 in 28 minutes, which still remains the fastest fifty in Test cricket. He arrived at 102 out of 144 in 91 minutes and continued to hit out until, with England in sight of victory, he was caught for 140 scored in 145 minutes. His innings was chanceless, and many of his runs came from powerful cuts.
J. Darling, 160 for Australia against England at Sydney, 1897-98. In the last match of the series England had scored 335 and 178 to Australia's 239. The home team, therefore, needed 275 to win. In Australia's first innings Richardson's fast bowling had gained him eight wickets. This prompted the left-handed Darling (already with two centuries in the series to his credit) to decide that the best hope of victory was to make an all-out attack on Richardson. Going in first, he reached 50 out of 57 in 40 minutes and 100 in 91 minutes. By then he had hit twenty 4s, driving with immense power. After surviving two skimming chances he was eventually caught off Richardson for 160 out of 252 made in 165 minutes. Victory soon followed. In all Darling hit as many as 30 4s and no great fast bowler can ever have been more deliberately or courageously attacked as Richardson was. In 21.4 overs he took two for 110.
G. L. Jessop, 104 for England against Australia at The Oval, 1902. England, 2-0 down in the series, needed 263 runs to win the fifth Test, and Jessop came in at the fall of the fifth wicket at 48. To quote H. S. Altham: He found the ball at one. Jessop reached 50 out of 70 in 43 minutes. He increased his attack, his hundred coming up in 75 minutes. After one more boundary he was caught at square leg, having made 104 out of 139 in 77 minutes and having hit a 5 and seventeen 4s, some of which would today have counted as 6. With unusual foresight one newspaper kept a ball-by-ball record, so we know that this fifty came in 23 scoring strokes off 38 balls, and his hundred off 40 strokes from 76 balls. Jessop said that he was much satisfied at having shown restraint in not hitting across the line. Some restraint! After Jessop was seventh out England still wanted 76 to win, but they gained a famous one-wicket victory.
J. H. Sinclair, 104 for South Africa against Australia at Cape Town, 1902-03. South Africa, in their first innings, had collapsed for 85 in reply to Australia's 252, but in their second innings, Sinclair, coming in at 81 for two, attacked at once. With huge hits he reached 100 in 80 minutes, only to be stumped for 104 off almost the last ball of the day. His last 64 runs came in 33 minutes, including a spell that produced 34 runs off eight consecutive balls: 446 off Howell and 24464 off Hopkins. Standing 6ft 4in tall, he hit six 6s (all out of the ground), as well as eight 4s, and it is thought that at least four of these 4s would today have counted as 6s.
V. T. Trumper, 185 not out for Australia against England at Sydney, 1903-04. In a historic match Australia began their second innings 292 behind an England score of 577 (R. E. Foster 287), and at 191 for three they were in a doubtful position. Trumper, who had opened in the first innings, came in fifth and at tea had scored 7 in twenty minutes. After tea, in spite of disturbance over a controversial run-out, Trumper played superbly. He reached 50 in 60 minutes, and 100 in 94 minutes, and at the close he was 119 not out, his last 60 runs having come in 40 minutes. The score was 367 for five and Australia were back in the game. Next day 20,000 spectators turned up to see Trumper take his score to 185 before he ran out of partners. He had made his runs out of 294 and given no chance in an innings lasting 230 minutes. The wicket had now deteriorated, and when England, needing 194 to win, lost their fourth wicket at 82, it seemed that Trumper's innings had brought victory in sight. But this was not to be.
P. W. Sherwell, 115 for South Africa against England at Lord's, 1907. After England had scored 428 off 127 overs from an over-rate of almost 23 overs an hour, South Africa were all out for 140. In the follow-on, Sherwell, South Africa's wicket-keeper and captain, went in first and scored 115 out of 153 in 105 minutes, reaching his hundred in 95 minutes. He gave no chance, and thanks to him, with the last day being rained off, South Africa saved the match.
J. M. Gregory, 119 for Australia against South Africa at Johannesburg, 1921-22. The Australians, who had toured England so successfully in 1921, paid a short visit to South Africa on their way home. On the opening day of the second of the three Test matches, Gregory, going in fourth, put on 209 for the third wicket with Collins (203) in only 97 minutes. This is still the fastest double-century stand in Test cricket. Of these 209 runs, Gregory, a tall left-hander with a free style, made 119 before being stumped. He reached 100 in 70 minutes, which remains the fastest Test century, both in time and on the basis of balls received. It has recently been calculated that Gregory received only 67 balls. He hit two 6s and seventeen 4s, but was lucky to survive three chances after passing 68. He also took seven wickets with his aggressive bowling.
D. G. Bradman, 334 for Australia against England at Leeds, 1930. On the opening day Australia scored 458 for three, Bradman's share being 309. He reached 50 in even time, 102 out of 127 in 95 minutes, and at lunch he was 105 out of 134. He added 115 between lunch and tea, and another 89 after tea. This was the fastest double-century and triple-century in Anglo-Australian Tests and for sustained fast scoring has few equals.
S. J. McCabe, 189 not out for Australia against South Africa at Johannesburg, 1935-36. In a remarkable match Australia needed 399 runs to win after South Africa had fought back with a score of 491 (Nourse 231). They reached 85 for one before bad light ended the third day's play. Of these McCabe had scored 59, reaching 50 in 40 minutes with ten 4s. Next morning, on a turning, dusty pitch, he continued to hit while Fingleton kept his end up. When Fingleton was out for 40, the two had put on 177 runs of which McCabe had made 148. He reached 100 in 91 minutes, 150 in 145 minutes, and at lunch he was 159. By mid-afternoon, with Australia 274 for two and victory in sight, lightning and thunder clouds encircled the ground. It was so dark that the South African captain appealed against the light on the grounds that the fielders could no longer see the ball leave McCabe's bat. This unique appeal was upheld, and within minutes the field was under water. McCabe's innings (29 4s) seemed to Fingleton like a crazy dream.
R. Benaud, 121 for Australia against West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, 1954-55. After West Indies had scored 357, Australia replied with 758 for eight declared. Five batsmen made centuries, the most dramatic of them being Benaud's. Coming in eighth, with the score 597 for six, he reached 50 in 38 minutes and 100 in 78 minutes, and when finally caught he had made 121 out of 161 in 96 minutes. He hit two 6s and eighteen 4s, five of them off consecutive balls from Dewdney. His hitting, for all its power, was admirably controlled.
B. R. Taylor, 124 for New Zealand against West Indies at Auckland, 1968-69. In what was the first century made by a New Zealander against West Indies, Taylor, primarily an opening bowler but also a powerful left-handed hitter, went in No. 8 at 152 for six. He reached 50 in 30 minutes and 100 in 86 minutes. When out he had made 124 in 110 minutes, including five 6s and fourteen 4s. A notable match ensued. This was Taylor's second century in first-class cricket, both of them in Test matches.
Another, remarkable Test innings, worthy of mention, was R. C. Fredericks's 169 for West Indies against Australia at Perth in 1975-76. In reply to Australia's 329 on a fast pitch, opener Fredericks hooked his second ball from Lillee for 6, almost on to the sightscreen. Within 45 minutes, he reached 50 off 33 balls. His opening partner, Julien, was out for 25 in the tenth over with the score at 91. At lunch, when only fourteen overs had been bowled in the 90-minute session, the score was 130 for one. Fredericks's hundred came up in 116 minutes off only 71 balls, and he continued to savage the bowling until he was third out at 258 for a score of 169. West Indies went on to score 585, made at a rate of six runs an over off Lillee, Thomson, Gilmour, Walker and Mallett. This is the second-fastest Test hundred based on balls received. The comparatively slow time shows how much a leisurely over-rate can distort the balance between balls received and time taken.
Two other memorable spell of fast scoring were by McCabe, in his 232 against England at Trent Bridge in 1938, when he scored his last 72 runs out of 77 in 28 minutes, and by Botham in his 118 against Australia at Old Trafford in 1981 when he scored his last 90 runs off 49 balls in 53 minutes.