Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Shock Of The New

One innings from the past came repeatedly to mind today as Kevin O'Brien blazed Ireland to victory in Bangalore: Test match number 1594, 16 March 2002, England v New Zealand at Christchurch, Nathan Astle c Foster b Hoggard 222.

Like O'Brien's, Astle's was an innings that began with a team so deep in the mire that only the tops of their heads were visible. Set 550 to win, he came to the wicket with New Zealand at 119-3. Even though he put on 50 with each of the next three batters, the seventh wicket fell at 300, and the ninth at 333, still 217 short. When Astle finally got out, having hit 28 fours and 11 sixes, New Zealand needed just 99 more to win, and there wasn't a person watching or playing who hadn't started to think that he might get them. It was hurricane force batting, an outlier of an innings.

That feeling of creeping dread overcoming well-established complacency was repeated as O'Brien swung for the fences today. Astle recorded the quickest Test match double hundred of all time, O'Brien the fastest World Cup hundred. England survived Astle, but not O'Brien.

Astle actually went from 100 to 200 in 39 balls on that day in Christchurch. A four over spell of carnage cost England 61 runs, despite one of the overs being a wicket maiden. As Wisden noted, 'a cricket ball has rarely been hit so cleanly, so often'.

Subsequently, it probably has been. In Astle's wake came triple hundreds of sustained violence from Chris Gayle and Virender Sehwag. Then came T20, with its redefinition of the possible. O'Brien is a young guy who has been witness to a much broader horizon than many of the great players he blasted past today. In a way, he was able to bat like he did because T20 cricket has made it less remarkable. His 50-ball record may not even survive this tournament.

None of which is meant to diminish his achievement. England were complacent and bowled and fielded badly, but O'Brien won the game rather than England losing it. We may come to look back on it, as we do on Astle's, as a moment when the future arrived.

12 comments:

12th_Man said...

I remember that match. An injured Chris Cairns was at the non-striker end. I think that should feature among the all-time 11th wicket partnerships.

I'll blame the pitch for England's debacle though. Bangalore has been too placid for one's comfort.

I eagerly await India's turn to meet the mighty Irish on sunday on the same ground.

John Halliwell said...

The remarkable often overshadows the very good to the point that the very good is barely remembered. In the Astle match, Thorpe scored 200, but it seems, at only nine years distance, that his innings was played about fifteen years ago, so vague is it in the memory.

I vividly remember Michael Holding's devastating 14 wickets haul in the 1976 Oval test; achieved on a flat track, by bowling very full and fast, with that glorious approach and action. In the same match, Richards scored a remarkable 291, but it's Holding who always comes to mind when I think of August '76; Amiss scored 203 with a new crab-like stance and great courage, but it's Holding who seems to dwarf that fine achievement. Of course, another spectator may well see it differently.

The Old Batsman said...

12th - agree about the wicket although it's produced most of the decent matches so far. I must say I was surprised England chose to bat, given that they've set themselves up as a chasing side. Still...

John, The Oval '76 was my first day of test cricket as a nipper - went on the friday and saw the end of king viv's knock and the start of amiss. Think that Flintoff's 100 in the christchurch game was his debut ton, too.

John Halliwell said...

With a start like that, OB, is it any wonder you developed such a love for the great game.

I can't quite remember the background to the Amiss innings, but I think he'd gone through a dreadful summer, at least at Test level, and had decided to turn his hitherto classic stance almost front-on to counter the ball that caught the edge of the bat. Aesthetically, it was ghastly, but it enabled him to get behind the ball in the fraction of a second it saved when facing Holding.

O'Brien's innings, like Astle's before him, was breathtaking; I was so taken by it, I changed allegiance and became an Irishman for an hour or so yesterday.

Forgive me for going all the way back to Viv, but what carnage would he have visited on England's bowlers with a modern bat?

diogenes said...

a comment to Mr Halliwell....Amiss had been on top of the batting world until England toured Australia in 1974-75 and he ran into Lillee and Thomson, who completely destroyed his confidence and he was dropped after 2 further tests in the 1975 series in England. When the Windies toured in 1976, I think he might have been hit when playing for Warwickshire...anyway, a come-back seemed unlikely given that Holding, Roberts and Daniel were not noticeably less ferocious than Lillee and Thomson. But sheer weight of runs that Summer and Boycott's absence, and a lack of plausible alternatives (I think Edrich had decided after the infamous Old Trafford test that he had had enough, and maybe DB Close realised his time was up) meant that Amiss was recalled. He wore a white crash-helmet and made that very pronounced back-and-across trigger movement...and scored a double-hundred. That was truly gutsy. The next best score was a 50 by Knott.

John Halliwell said...

Thank you, Diogenes, that background helps no-end in understanding the background to Amiss' innings.

The Old Batsman said...

I do have a clear memory of the start of Amiss's innings. There were three or four lads sitting behind us who were sharing a pair of binoculars, and were joking and arguing over who'd have them every time Amiss was facing Holding. They all thought he was going to get knocked over pretty quickly [one way or another]. Bob Woolmer opened with him. I looked at the scorecard - England closed on 34-0, Amiss 22 not out.

diogenes said...

I was abroad and missed most of that Test. Amiss had a plan and coped, albeit on a pudding of a pitch. Knott and Geoff Miller acquitted themselves well. Everyone else just got blasted by pace. And before you leap onto Greig, just recall his larger-than-life performance in the preceding Test at Headingley...it has been fashionable since about 1977 to sneer at Greig, but his batting in that match was heroic. If it is there on Youtube, please direct me to it...it had the Windies on their heels.

Tim Newman said...

I thought England's strategy against the Irish was to snaffle their best batsman and turn him English. Did we pick the wrong bloke?

Different Shades said...

Great stuff. I had made my Test watching debut at The Oval at the end of the previous summer (v Australia). I didn't make the West Indies game but I remember it from TV and radio like it was yesterday. In all kinds of ways (Richards, Holding, Amiss, the colour of the ground) a landmark English Test.

Amiss, of course, only wore a cap. The white helmet came later, after he'd signed for Packer. I'm pretty sure he began experimenting with it in Australia in '77-78 and then wore it in England in '78.

Mike Brearley's 'skull-cap' came in '77, but in '76 there was no head protection apart from good old-fashioned caps.

John Halliwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pay per head bookie said...

likewise 12th_Man who first commented on this thread, I also remember that match so well because during that match I met my girlfriend and future wife, so I cannot forget that at all :)