The Hundred Club: How Cricketers Feel When They Hit Their First Test Century | locust

Ohat puts a smile on your face and makes you feel a little warm, fuzzy and romantic while watching cricket? It could be the sight of your favorite player in full swing, or the acquisition of a particular skill – a ragged leggie or a quick delivery of a perfect yorker. For me, it’s simple: watching someone hit their first hundred test.

You observe a player living his dream and entering an exclusive club. Once they hit one, there’s no guarantee more will come, but they will. always be a test centurion. There is cold, hard evidence that they belonged at the highest level, even if only for a short time. When the helmet comes off and they raise their bat, the television cameras scanning their beaming teammates, a proud parent or partner, it reminds them that this moment has been in the making for far more than a few hours. It doesn’t matter who it’s for, who it’s against, when or where it happened – it’s a moving feat.

“This changed my whole life,” says former Pakistani all-rounder Azhar Mahmood, looking back on his surreal Test debut in October 1997.. In the opening innings of the match, against a South African attack that included Donald and Pollock, 22-year-old Mahmood notched an unbeaten 128. The fairy tale did not end there. He knocked at eightit was his first hundred of first-class cricket, in his 44th meet, and made in Rawalpindi, his hometown.

“It was my first cent, but I wasn’t surprised by the performance,” said Mahmood. He had developed his batting while on a Pakistani tour of England earlier that year, scoring a first class best of 92. His ability, combined with the freedom to freewheel along the tail, put him on the right track. “My approach has always been to be positive. There were seven of us, eight of us at the time and I said, “OK, if the ball is in my zone, I’ll go for it.” And just play with freedom. When people don’t expect anything, you have a free mind. There was freedom and no pressure – that’s where those sleeves came from. Entering the fray at 206-6, Mahmood took Pakistan to 456, sharing a record 10th wicket stand of 151 with Mushtaq Ahmed.

The dreamlike quality of the whole event was magnified by the presence of Allan Donald in opposition. A few years earlier, Mahmood had traveled to New Zealand with the Pakistan Under-19s and watched Donald closely during a test match. “I remember Allan Donald lining up on the square leg boundary, where we were sitting. I looked at him and said, ‘Oh my God. This guy is super fit – look at his broad shoulders, strong legs. When he rushes, he really come.’ That’s when I started working hard on my fitness. And then years later, you face him.

Of course, not everyone achieves that coveted ton so quickly. Claire Taylor, who made her debut against India in 1999 with little success, waited two years for England to play another Test series, one in which she made the first of four hundred Tests. Only Jan Brittin has hit more in the women’s game.

Without a first-class national structure to prepare her for the challenge of Test cricket, Taylor was unsure of what lay ahead. “I didn’t perform particularly well [she made scores of 11 and 0 on her debut] and was caught between the desire to score runs and that overwhelming pressure not to get out – The cricket test was about do not exit. And that’s the first thing I thought of as a batsman, having played no long-term cricket in the domestic game.

Taylor finally made his first Test century after observing an opponent’s best work. In the second Ashes Test of 2001, the endemic Australians – who had beaten England in the ODIs and won by one leg in the first Test – continued their merry way at Headingley, beating the hosts for 144 before the unbeaten 209 of Karen Rolton. a total of 383-4 declared. Taylor, who was guarding the wicket during Rolton’s masterclass, realized what she needed to do to help England at least save face, if not the game.

“One of my overriding memories was being able to watch, from the best seat in the house, Karen Rolton, one of the best all-rounders in the world game, just bat and bat, and bat, and bat, and be absolutely clinical about what she was doing. In some ways, my sleeves were a reaction to these huge frustrations of not being competitive and being beaten the whole tour and wanting to make a real statement, ‘We can do this. I can do it. I just saw you beat for 100 and no matter how many overs, I’m going to be more disciplined now. It was a different game, but you could still score points.

Australia still won, but Taylor achieved his goal to beat them again, finishing with 137 from 232 balls. Ashes glory would eventually come to him in an illustrious and groundbreaking career.

David Gower, a big left-handed aesthete of English cricket, also had to learn a few lessons before hitting triple figures in his fourth Test, against New Zealand at The Oval in 1978. [Gower’s first in Test cricket and in that same summer] against Pakistan, I was in my fifties but nothing more than that,” he recalls. “There was an awful sweeping move I played at Lord’s against Iqbal Qasim which was misjudged, misplayed, misexecuted and I was kicked off for like 50 shots. I was given a conference call from [England captain] Mike Brearley, who said something like, “Can I report something? Test matches actually last for five days – you’re allowed to bat for over two hours. It’s actually a pretty good thing to build big scores – then we win games. It was politely but firmly communicated. With the New Zealand series, it was the perfect opportunity to get that first cent and start making bigger scores.

The 95 in his first innings of the series, Gower went big on the court, but the ball fell just short of a six: “A little more punch, a little more muscle and that would have been a way a bit more dramatic to go to a hundred. Needing a single for the milestone, he opted for the sweep, and with the ball halfway up the pitch, the thought came to his mind: “If I miss this, it could be close!” The bat came in time, however, and Gower raised his bat for his second England cent of the summer; it had already scored an ODI century, but it had a lot more gravity. “Test match one hundred, I’m afraid, means a lot more. Even now, people like me worship hundreds of Test-matchers, regardless of the brilliance involved in, say, a hundred Jos Buttler T20s. Jos, I’m sure, would trade that for a hundred tests. I will always revere Hundreds of Test Match above anything else.

For Gower, his innings of 111 were simply the next step for a 21-year-old riding the wave; it would end with 18 centuries of testing. “The first was a stepping stone,” he says. For most players, however, there’s less to celebrate, and so the former sticks in the mind a bit more.

Nick Compton goes into detail recalling the standout rounds of his 16 Test career in England: a 310-ball 117 against New Zealand in Round 3 at Dunedin in 2013. Before that hit on day four, little had gone well for the opener in the game. He had started life as an England cricketer with a famous series victory in India a few months earlier but, after just half a century in his first four Tests, he needed to do more to secure his place. “I remember [England coach] Andy Flower tells me before the first test [of the three-match series against New Zealand]: ‘I can’t guarantee how many matches you’re going to get.’ I knew it might be one or two Test matches – probably two, but it might just be one.

A first-inning duck added to the pressure and, to make matters worse, he suffered a toothache as New Zealand put 460 on the board in their first inning. “I had to have emergency root canal surgery on day three,” Compton says. “I was in surgery eight to 10 at night before I had to beat the next day, so I had plenty of time to sit down and think about how I was going to potentially make the final runs of my career. of testing. If I had had a pair, it is unlikely that I would have played the next test match. I was upset, I was not in a good mood. I was a bit thinking: “It’s the end of my career”.

“I woke up the next morning and went to the nets and I remember England team psychologist Mark Bawden saying to me, ‘If you were a person in the crowd and we gave you a lottery ticket, and the lottery ticket won you a chance to open batting for England, how would you like that experience to go? And I thought, ‘Hmm, I’d probably like to go out and play some great shots – I’d like to hit a classic cover-drive or one of my favorite shots and hear the crowd go wild.’ I thought it would be a nice feeling in an England shirt. I just walked out thinking, ‘Damn, if he’s here to hit, I’m going to play a nice positive shot.’ I wasn’t at all nervous and shy and ‘oh shit, I don’t want to have a pair’. I strutted around a bit and the races started coming.

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When the century rolled around, with a mid-box clip from Tim Southee, the bravado turned into something more tender: the stump mic picked up a “YEAH!” as he leapt into the air, while his father watched him in the crowd. “He rushed towards me [after play] and gave me a hug and he was quite in tears. He had lived and breathed my career and for him to be there was very, very special. Compton couldn’t sleep that night as he reflected on his achievement and the journey that had taken him. “I was on cloud nine. Suddenly your brain goes back to being 11, 12, 13 at Kingsmead in Durban where I grew up looking at my idols and wondering if I would ever be good enough.

Compton would score another Hundred Test in their very next innings, suggesting England had found an opener with some grip, but it turned out to be their last century. Almost a decade later, however, that first ton of testing still means a whopping sum. “I had achieved something that no one could ever take away from me.”

This article was first published in Wisden Cricket Monthly. Guardian readers can get three digital issues of the magazine for just £2.49 or three printing problems for just £5.99.