Sixes galore

Brendon McCullum targets the midwicket boundary Getty Images


Crikey O'Reilly !!

Crikey O'Reilly ?

Is Crikey O'Reilly the latest Irish cricketer to make his debut for England in an otherwise forgettable one - day international?

Er, no. It was the expression uttered by Mark Nicholas in the commentary box at Edgbaston in 2005 as Kevin Pietersen muscled a ball from Brett Lee over midwicket for the eighth six of the first day.

I thought about this the other day while watching bits of the third Test between Pakistan and New Zealand at Sharjah. It was an extraordinary match in a number of ways. It began on the day before the tragic death of Phillip Hughes.

In purely cricketing terms, once the game had resumed after having been suspended for a day as a mark of respect, it marked a remarkable resurgence by New Zealand and an equally remarkable decline by Pakistan, enabling New Zealand to square the series.

But the most memorable cricketing thing about the game was the number of sixes. In their only innings New Zealand hit 22, a world record for a Test innings. Eleven of them were scored by New Zealand's captain and opening batsman Brendon McCullum who made an extraordinary double century. McCullum finished one behind the record holder Wasim Akram , who hit 12 against Zimbabwe in 1998. Akram had broken a record that had stood for 65 years, the great English batsman Wally Hammond having hit ten sixes in his 336 against New Zealand in 1933.

Hammond's Auckland innings is a curious anachronism as far as Test cricket is concerned. Of Test cricket' s top 50 six hitters - McCullum has leapt up to tenth with only Chris Gayle among current cricketers ahead of him - only one, Clive Lloyd has a Test career which stretched back into the 1960s. McCullum has hit 81 sixes in 90 matches. Hammond, notwithstanding his Auckland innings, hit 27 sixes in eighty five matches. The greatest batsman of all, Don Bradman, hit six sixes in fifty two matches. But Bradman was the ultimate at everything batting-related, including "playing the percentages": he liked to keep the ball on the ground.

It is always fun to see a tail-ender hit a six. In that regard the current champion is undoubtedly another New Zealander, The opening bowler Tim Southee, who, with 52 sixes in 37 Tests is 28th in the all-time list and fifth among current players behind Gayle, McCullum, MS Dhoni and Younis Khan. Southee got off to a flying start, top scoring with 77 not out in New Zealand's second innings of his maiden Test against England at Napier in 2008, including nine sixes. So after one match Southee had hit more sixes than The Don in his entire career.

Of course Bradman was different but Test cricket itself was different. It is not just the heavier bats and the smaller boundaries. It is as much a matter of attitude and the impact of one-day cricket and a more positive attitude generally , particularly exemplified by Steve Waugh's Australians. It was that sort of approach which enabled England to score at five an over on the first day at Edgbaston in 2005, and gave birth to Crikey O' Reilly.

The Laws of Cricket make it quite clear that both sixes and fours are boundaries. Sometimes it doesn't make much difference. In July 1935 the touring South Africans played Yorkshire at Sheffield and the wicketkeeper Jock Cameron hit the slow left-armed Hedley Verity for 30 in an over (4,4,4,6,6,6). "You've got him in two minds Hedley," called out the laconic wicketkeeper Arthur Wood. "He doesn't know whether to hit you for four or for six."

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