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Consistently prolific

Len Hutton nudges the ball behind square Getty Images

Len Hutton played his last Test match more than 55 years ago, but even today he remains in the top bracket of batsmen who have ever played the game. His career was interrupted by the War and by an injury to his left-arm during commando training in 1941, but Hutton overcame all those roadblocks to finish with glittering numbers: in 79 Tests he scored 6971 runs which, at the time of his retirement, was the third-highest tally in Test cricket. In terms of averages, his mark of 56.67 has stood the test of time: among those who've played at least 50 Tests, only six batsmen have done better. With Wally Hammond, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Denis Compton, Hutton was one of the five great England batsmen in the pre-1960 era, all of whom scored more than 4500 at an average in excess of 50.

One of the most outstanding aspects of Hutton's international career was his sheer consistency. In the 13 years that he played Tests, only three times did his annual average slip below 50 (and two of those were his first and last years in international cricket). Through eight years from 1947 to 1954, he finished every year with an average of more than 50, which is a telling commentary of his consistency. (Click here for his career summary.)

Here are some of the other major statistical milestones from his outstanding career:

  • Hutton's 364 against Australia at The Oval in 1938 spanned 847 balls, which is the longest in terms of balls faced in Test cricket; in terms of time, the 797-minute knock is the fourth-longest.

  • That knock also held the record for the highest Test score for almost 20 years, before Garry Sobers' unbeaten 365 against Pakistan took over.

  • Twice within the period of six months, Hutton carried his bat in a Test innings, first scoring 202 out of England's 344 (the second-highest score was 44) against West Indies in 1950, and then making 156 out of England's 272 (second-highest score 29) against Australia in Adelaide. England, though, ended up losing both those matches.

  • With 129 first-class centuries, Hutton is ninth in the all-time list. He scored 100 first-class centuries in only 619 innings, the lowest ratio by an Englishman.

  • Seventeen times in his career he topped 1000 runs for the season - 12 times at home and five on tours.

  • He also owns a record he wouldn't have been so proud of, being the only batsman to be dismissed obstructing the field against South Africa in 1951. (Click here for a list of unusual dismissals in Tests.)

Of the 138 innings that Hutton batted in Tests, 120 were at the top of the order, as were all of his 19 hundreds, and 31 out of 33 fifties. His average of 56.47 as opener has stood the test of time as well, with only Herbert Sutcliffe having a higher average, among openers who scored at least 4000 runs.

The start to Hutton's career was pretty disappointing - he scored 0 and 1 in his first Test - but he scored his first hundred in his next match, which put his international career on track. His highest score of 364 came in only his ninth Test innings, and that stage of his career, his three scores of more than 15 had all yielded hundreds. (Click here for his innings-wise scores.) He never got such a high score again, but his consistency improved as his career went along: overall, he scored 20 or more in 90 out his 138 innings, which is pretty high considering the fact that he opened the batting. And when he scored a hundred, he usually went on and made his count: ten of his 19 centuries yielded 150 or more runs.

With Cyril Washbrook, Hutton formed one of the most successful combinations in Test history. In 51 innings, the pair put together eight century partnerships, and averaged 60 per dismissal, which remains among the highest even today - only four pairs have a higher average.

Of those eight century stands, three came in successive innings in Australia in 1947, when they added 138 in Melbourne and followed that with 137 and 100 in Adelaide. In Johannesburg the next year, they added a mammoth 359 for the opening wicket, with both batsmen scoring hundreds. It remains the seventh-highest opening stand in Test history, and one of only 12 instances of the first wicket adding 300 or more.

Apart from his batting skills, Hutton also showed himself to be an astute captain of the national team, despite never having captained his county: he led England to 11 wins in the 23 Tests that he was in charge. He had a relatively easy initiation as captain, leading for the first time at home against India in 1952, but thereafter he had two creditable series wins against Australia, the second one in Australia as England came back from a first-Test setback to win three in a row. Hutton's own batting performance didn't suffer much either from the strains of captaincy, as he averaged more than 52 in those 23 Tests. One of the aspects of his captaincy that came in for much praise was his handling of Frank Tyson: Hutton encouraged the bowler to shorten his run-up, which led to outstanding success in the series against Australia in 1954-55. In eight Tests that Tyson played under Hutton, he took 44 wickets an average of 16.59.

Hutton's win-loss record of 11-4 remains among the best by an England captain, with only two having a better ratio. That's only one of several reasons for which Hutton will be remembered forever by cricket aficionados.