Sunday, 16 March 2014

1980s: Test match 99s

For my 99th blog this week, I thought I would analyse the number 99 in the 1980s. No, this is not a blog on Nena's Red Balloons, or my constant quest for ice cream as a child, but a look back on the eight men who made Test match 99s during this decade. For some, the mere act of scoring one more run for the treasured Test landmark gave us an insight into the psychological barrier that exists between 99 and 100. For one unlucky man, it was as good as it got.

Graham Gooch: Australia v England, 1980

It is interesting to assess Graham Gooch's Test career to understand how much of a struggle things were early on for the man who would go on to score a record 8900 runs for his country. A pair on his Test debut was traumatic enough, but five years later Gooch's Test statistics painted a sorry picture: 18 matches and an average of 28.74. He wasn't the first or last to find the jump up to international level gigantic, yet how long could England afford to give Gooch before they decided that enough was enough?

Any advocates of Gooch's looked to have finally been rewarded when the Essex opener appeared to be progressing towards his maiden Test century in the third and final Test of the Australia-England series in 1979-80. The Ashes may not have been at stake - the post-Packer Australia facing both England and the West Indies during their winter - and England were already 2-0 down, yet Gooch, batting on a lovely strip at Melbourne after Mike Brearley had won the toss, at last began to translate the talent he had shown at county level into a Test match innings.

It's strange what the mind can do though. Just one over before tea, Gooch lost leave of his senses, evidently not wishing to eat on a nervous stomach. Only one run away from getting a monkey off his back, Gooch set off for a risky single, seemingly weighed down by the very thing he was trying to free himself from. Hitting the ball to Kim Hughes at mid-off, Gooch set off for his one-hundredth run casually at first, before realising his mistake. "I miscalculated. Halfway up the wicket, I knew I was struggling," he would later admit, as Hughes swooped in and ran Gooch out six inches short of a hundred.

Gooch "ran himself out in the wild pursuit of an impossible run," Peter Laker wrote in the Daily Mirror, as Gooch's personal error precipitated a collapse from 175/2 to 192/6. Despite another Gooch half-century in the second innings, England's poor tour was completed when Australia wrapped up a 3-0 series win. Gooch would only have to wait four months to right his wrong against the West Indies, and a post-Alderman (1989) Test average of 51.55 indicated just how he matured with age. But that must have felt a long way off, when back in Melbourne in 1980 he came up just short in his desire for a first Test match hundred.

Javed Miandad: India v Pakistan, 1983

The first Test of the 1983/84 India-Pakistan series may have been heading towards an inevitable draw, but that did not stop Javed Miandad lighting up the drab proceedings. In total, 443 minutes had been lost to bad light and rain, meaning that there had not even been two completed innings when Miandad finally made it to the crease on day four. In making 99, Miandad became the 32nd batsman to make it past the 4000 run mark in Tests. He should have been celebrating his 11th Test ton too.

In reply to India's 275, Pakistan were 37/2 when Miandad got to work. Hitting Kapil Dev, Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and Dilip Doshi all over the ground, Miandad took the match to the Indians in his typical aggressive manner, taking Pakistan safely up towards India's total. "The highlight of yesterday's play was Miandad's swashbuckling innings of 99," stated the report in The Times, although he must have felt some annoyance at not being able to celebrate a century.

An attempted drive at a Lal delivery saw Miandad caught by sub Kris Srikkanth, just one run short of a richly deserved century. The series would end as a weather-affected 0-0 draw, but at least the 2000 crowd present at Bangalore were privileged enough to have witnessed Miandad's splendid 99, an innings of such quality that the fair-minded Indian fans gave Javed a standing ovation as he made his way back to the dressing room.

Richard Hadlee: New Zealand v England, 1984

If you're an England fan and you don't want to know the score, I suggest you look away now. The disastrous Christchurch Test is right up there on a list of horror shows for English cricket in the 1980s, as New Zealand hammered another nail into the English cricketing coffin. The fact that Richard Hadlee's first innings knock of 99 was more than either of England's innings totals should stress just how embarrassing a performance this was.

With New Zealand at 137/5 on the first day, England looked like they had an opportunity to seize back the initiative after wasting good bowling conditions earlier in the day. And then came Hadlee's innings. Restrained at first, the New Zealand all-rounder gradually spread the field, as England skipper Bob Willis struggled to turn to anyone who could offer him any control; in one Ian Botham over, Hadlee smashed four fours, and Tony Pigott - playing his only Test due to an injury crisis and very much a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time - was hit for 45 runs in five overs.

Along with Ian Smith, Hadlee added 78 runs in just 38 minutes of carnage, England's only respite being when he neared his century. Eventually Hadlee chanced his arm once too often, caught behind off the bowling of Willis. On leaving the crease, Hadlee swished his bat in obvious frustration, yet his 81-ball innings had completely changed the course of the match. England's pathetic responses of 82 and 93 - including match figures of 8/44 for Hadlee - gave New Zealand a 1-0 lead in the series, one which they would not relinquish.

No prizes for guessing who was named man of the match.

Saleem Malik: England v Pakistan, 1987

After winning the Ashes in 1986/87, England were confident that a corner had been turned, hopeful that the forthcoming home series against Pakistan would provide confirmation of an upturn in fortunes. In a tight series, the third Test at Headingley would prove decisive. After winning the toss, England slumped to 31/5, before a half-century by debutant David Capel managed to get the total up to a woefully inadequate 136. Neil Foster tried his best to limit the damage, taking the first six Pakistani wickets to fall, yet by the time Phil Edmonds put an end to hopes of a 1980s Jim Laker, England were staring down the barrel.

The main obstacle to England had been Saleem Malik. Batting sensibly for 331 minutes - "building an innings in true Geoff Boycott style," according to the Daily Mirror's Paul Weaver - Malik had reached the brink of his sixth Test hundred, until the final over of the second day led to his downfall. Perhaps not fancying sleeping overnight on 99 not out, Malik drove an Edmonds full toss straight to David Gower at short extra cover. It was an unfitting end to a fine innings.

Wisden described Malik's knock as "a lesson in application and technique", with John Woodcock also noting "although he has plenty of fluent strokes he now kept most of them for another day". A pointer for England and their attempts to save the match. Oh dear. Dismissed for just 199, England lost by an innings and 18 runs, and in a series that was nip and tuck, it proved a crucial defeat.

John Wright: Australia v New Zealand, 1987

A dramatic match that saw Craig McDermott and Mike Whitney survive the last 4.5 overs for a draw, one of those Tests that New Zealand must have felt like they had lost even though they had drawn. For opener and vice-captain John Wright, the disappointment was twofold.

New Zealand had batted solidly to reach 314, Wright's 99 spanning 310 minutes. But anxious to reach his century, Wright flashed at a delivery outside his off-stump, and was caught by Greg Dyer. At least Wright was rightfully out, not that this would have been much consolation to him. Earlier on in the innings Andrew Jones was sent on his way, Dyer claiming a catch that television replays showed he had dropped and then scooped off the ground. Unsurprisingly, it caused a lot of ill feeling.

Wright is one of three men on this list to have made two 99s in Tests (Malik and Richardson are the others). Both of these matches would have unhappy endings for the New Zealand opener; along with this draw against Australia, Wright made 99 as New Zealand dramatically lost to a Phil Tufnell inspired England in 1992. Wright's dismissal in the latter match, stumped whilst trying to reach his hundred, was the start of a dramatic collapse that gifted England a win. It never rains but it pours.

Martyn Moxon: New Zealand v England, 1988

His innings may have contained elements of good fortune, but Martyn Moxon is probably the unluckiest man on this list. The only player of the eight to never make a Test century, Moxon's England career had been a stop-start affair. Originally selected for England in 1984, Moxon was forced to withdraw from the firing line against the West Indies due to a rib injury, and had to come home for a section of the 84/85 Indian tour due to the death of his father. When he finally got his first cap, Moxon looked assured, making 74 against New Zealand at Lord's, but by the 1988 tour to New Zealand he was still looking to cement his place in the side.

The turgid series of New Zealand - an Auckland tabloid ran a headline "Tedious Test Series Is So Boring", and that was being kind - gave Moxon the opportunity he had been hoping for, the wicket at Eden Park for the second Test lacking life, so much so that the Daily Mirror's Colin Bateman opined that it "might have been better utilised growing lettuce". Moxon's 99 was not without fortune, The Times' Alan Lee writing that "It was flawed by innumerable edges, most of which dropped short of the slip field," but after being dropped at second slip in 98, it appeared as if Moxon would take advantage.

It was not to be, however. After spending twenty minutes on 99, Moxon edged Ewen Chatfield to Jeff Crowe at first slip, and would never again get so close to becoming a Test centurion. Yet in a match that was littered with umpiring controversies - Fire-'em-out Fred Goodall frustrating both sides, and Rodger McHarg reportedly reducing Martin Crowe to tears after a terrible lbw decision - there would be further agony for Moxon.

A sweep shot by Moxon whilst in his forties was given as three leg-byes, a decision that would prove crucial. Of course, no one is to know whether Moxon would have gone on to make a century if the leg byes had been given as runs, his nerves may have still got the better of him, but on such narrow margins are sporting careers determined.

Richie Richardson: West Indies v India, 1989

The West Indies clinched yet another Test series in the 1980s during their 217 runs win at Port-of-Spain, in a match where no one would reach three figures. The closest was Richie Richardson, the normally flamboyant batsman unusually subdued during his innings that was just eight minutes short of six hours. With a first innings lead of 164, the West Indies were in danger of letting a great position slip to a good one, as they slumped to 26/4 second time round. Enter Richardson.

The situation dictated that Richardson needed to be watchful, and that's exactly what he was. With just four fours in his 99, Richardson played sensibly, batting with a calm authority until he was just a single away from his tenth Test century. Why Richardson then chose to heave at a Kapil Dev delivery is puzzling, although the thought of a century often scrambles the clearest of brains.

Wisden questioned if Richardson fully trusted his ninth-wicket partner Ian Bishop, but the fact that Bishop ended the innings on 30 not out, seems to suggest that this may not have been the real reason. Surely another example of the thought of one extra digit against a batsman's name leading to a temporary rush of blood to the head that proved costly.

Dean Jones: Australia v New Zealand, 1989

What was it about captains inserting Australia in 1989? First David Gower at Headingley at the start of the summer of hurt, and then John Wright in the one-off Test in Perth later in the year. Wright must have wondered what he had done when Australia closed day one on 296/2. Unfortunately for Wright, there was plenty more time for him to consider his actions, as Australia heaped on the anguish on day two.

David Boon's 200 was the undoubted highlight of the innings, and along with half centuries from Allan Border, Tom Moody and Dean Jones, Australia posted 521/9, the ninth successive time that they had passed 400 in their first innings. The declaration came after Jones, who had played a chanceless innings, was dismissed on 99, trapped lbw from the first delivery after a drinks break. Two years previously, Jones had been dropped on 99 at the same ground against Sri Lanka, but on this occasion luck was not on his side.

The match would be remembered though for a quite brilliant rearguard from Mark Greatbatch in the second innings. Following-on 290 runs behind, at 11/2 on the fourth morning, New Zealand looked dead and buried, until Greatbatch's 655 minute vigil, including the slowest ever first-class century in Australia (462 minutes), rescued the match. Jones' 99 would be forgotten amongst what was to follow, but spare a thought for Boon, who scored a double-hundred, and was denied both the man of the match award and victory by Greatbatch.

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