Cricket: it’s not really a team game, is it? Here are the solo acts that prove conclusively that cricket is actually the individual’s plaything…
10) Newell’s Blockade
Warwickshire v Notts, Edgbaston, 1988
Sometimes a player gets back in the dressing room, surveys the debris and turns to his mates with a query along the lines of “What in Sobers’ name happened there, then?” Thus it was in 1988 when Mick Newell, Nottinghamshire grafter and now coach, returned to the away changeys at Edgbaston, 10 proud runs unbeaten, with no one else to play with. His heroic bat-carrying had occupied all of 22.2 overs as Notts were tumbled out for 44 (Gladstone Small 7-15). Amazingly, Newell’s 10* is not the lowest score of its type in first-class history; that particular ‘honour’ is reserved for Lancashire’s R.G. Barlow, who fought his way to 5 not out in a two-hour knock against Notts in 1882.
9) Fred’s Fury
England v Sri Lanka, Lord’s, 2006
As England captain Andrew Flintoff had a chequered time of it. A grand Johnny Cash-inspired win at Mumbai was forgotten amidst the late-night debris of the lost Ashes tour of ‘06/’07, and between these contrasting events Flintoff led his country at Lord’s for the first and only time. After three days against Sri Lanka, Fred’s tenure was looking rosy. But after asking Sri Lanka to follow on he would endure two nightmarish days in the field as Mahela Jaywardene and friends occupied 199 overs to see out the match. Flintoff, at his best a hulking strike bowler but too often prepared to shoulder the donkey work, took it upon himself to get through 51 second-innings overs, making it 68 for the match. His left ankle was shattered. He hobbled through two more Tests, before accepting the crutches.
8) Beefy sweats it out
India v England, Mumbai, 1980
Forget all that 1981 stuff, Ian Botham’s uncanniest impression of Atlas came at Mumbai in 1980. The scene was the one-off Golden Jubilee Test. In searing heat, the young hipster sent down 22 overs on the first day and snared six wickets. Then in reply, England’s top-order folded to 57-4, leaving Botham to rescue the innings with a blazing 114, scored from just 144 balls at a rate in excess of double that of his teammates. He hit 17 fours in all, as many as the rest of his team put together. Having powered England to a lead of 54, he again took the new ball, and in 26 overs ransacked a further seven wickets, giving him 13 in the match. The tourists had less than 100 to chase, and Beefy, having done his bit, could sniff out a beer.
7) Viru-lent violence
Sri Lanka v India, Galle, 2008
Virender Sehwag’s unique capacity to play a different game to everyone else makes him a must for this list. Of his 22 Test hundreds only eight fall below 150. He has five doubles and two triples, scored at near to a run-a-ball. He’s a one-off, but even he has yet to eclipse his 201 not out from a total of 329. Such is the way with genius, before the match he had told his teammates that he would get them a double hundred and, as his garlanded mates succumbed to Murali and Mendis, Sehwag just batted as if it was a beer match, hitting 15 fours off the two spinners alone, to go with four merrily clumped sixes.
6) Fiery’s fall
England v India, Headingley, 1967
Ah, Sir Geoffrey. It takes an especial figure to spark an outcry after hitting a Test double century. Boycott was not just out of form going into the 1967 series against India; he was also out of touch with the prevailing mood of selectors, media and watching public. On the first day of the series he crawled to 106 not out, having vowed to be there at the close, come what may. The following day, beneath the gathering clouds of a media storm that perceived a man playing more for himself than the team, Boycott hastened his scoring rate, hitting a further 140 in just under four hours, including a six, before his skipper and Yorkshire teammate Brian Close declared. The innings had taken up 555 balls and 10 hours, and his 246* would be the highest score of the summer in all first-class cricket. Close, who had showily put his arm around Boycott in the moment of declaration, later stated: “In different conditions, such tenacity would be hailed as a masterly exhibition of the bulldog spirit.” But the masses, at least outside Headingley’s terraces, were not happy. The selectors caught the mood, ostentatiously announcing after the Test had been completed (with a six-wicket win for England) that Boycott was to be dropped, not for slow scoring, but for the uglier sin of selfish batting. He would return again that summer, but uptight and confused, later admitting: “The stigma of being dropped by England, apparently for selfishness, was to mark the rest of my career.”
5) Flower’s Power
Zimbabwe v South Africa, Harare, 2001
England’s former chieftain (pictured above) was once Test cricket’s No.1 ranked batsman, reaching the summit whilst propping up lowly Zimbabwe. A regular one-man show during his playing days, he can lay claim to the most dominant individual performance in Test history. Flower began against South Africa at Harare in 2001 by keeping wicket for 139 overs as the Proteas strolled to 600-3. Summoned to the middle in the 16th over of Zimbabwe’s reply, he was last man out for 142. All out for 286, the home side followed on, and Flower was back in soon enough, this time repelling 470 balls to remain undefeated. On the pitch for all but 28 overs of the match, in pads throughout, his second-innings 199 not out gave him 341 runs for once out: 50 per cent of his team’s match total. And still Zimbabwe lost by nine wickets.
4) Gibson & Brown
Hampshire v Durham, Chester-le-Street, 2007
Two for one here: Hampshire and Durham’s tussle in 2007 produced a first-rate lone crusader per side. To kick it off, Ottis Gibson took all 10 wickets for Durham in the first innings – the 79th player to achieve the feat. But Hampshire opener Michael Brown was invincible, carrying his bat throughout the carnage for an unbeaten 56 out of 115. He then went on to salvage an unlikely draw for Hampshire (who ended 262-9) with 126 not out.
3) Gargantuan Gooch
England v West Indies, Headingley, 1991
In a match played out under leaden skies, where 28 single-figure scores were registered, a man in a thick woolly jumper produced one of the greatest innings in Test history. Back then Graham Gooch was trying to get English cricket back on track through the simple approach of excelling as an opening batsman. At Leeds, in swinging conditions, his team came up against the combined fury of Ambrose, Marshall, Walsh and Patterson. In the third innings of the match England’s batsmen understandably folded, all except Gooch, who just kept grinding on, blocking, leaving, ducking, and waiting for the short one to cuff away. In all he faced 331 balls of unremitting pace. His epic, undefeated 154 (England’s next best was 27) set up victory, and an eventual 2-2 drawn series against the best team in the world.
2) Herculean Hadlee
Australia v New Zealand, Brisbane, 1985
Rarely can one man have so completely dominated his national team for so long. Through the 1980s the Kiwis punched above their weight, beating the Windies at home and England and Australia away. Richard Hadlee was the reason. A master of swing and seam and a superb competitor, a man who kept a list of his ‘career goals’ pinned to the inside of his coffin, Hadlee would blaze a trail to 400 Test wickets. His 15-wicket haul against the Aussies at Brisbane in 1985, that set up a series win against their oldest enemy, is still talked about as New Zealand’s greatest individual performance.
1) Lara’s record blitz
1994 county season
When Warwickshire nabbed the signature of Brian Lara in 1994 as a replacement for the injured and not-quite-so-sexy Manoj Prabhakar, it was like an already decent pub team turning up on quiz night with Stephen Fry as a ringer. Lara had just taken 375 record-breaking runs off England, and after a few days’ partying, staggered off a plane in chilly England straight into a Championship fixture against Glamorgan. Some 4,000 Brummies turned up at Edgbaston to see Lara hit 147, a knock under immense pressure that teammate Gladstone Small recalled as his best innings of the summer. It would have some competition. Next up was Leicestershire, captained by Lara’s West Indian pal, Phil Simmons. Lara made a pair of hundreds to ensure a draw. He then stroked 136 against Somerset, bringing him his fifth first-class century in a row. Although he was strangled down the leg-side against Middlesex going for the record-equalling sixth, Lara was undeterred, and took guard against Durham the following week with an eye on something special. Small recalls a chat at lunch on the final day between Lara and Warwickshire’s captain Dermot Reeve, who’d been weighing up a declaration. Lara was on 297 at the time. “Will you let me go for the record?” was the gist of it. Four hours later, to the penultimate ball of the match, Lara clattered his 62nd four through the covers to become the first man to break the 500-run barrier. In all that summer he would make nine tons, 2,066 runs, take the Man of the Match award in the B&H Cup final and inspire Warwickshire to their first Championship pennant since 1972.