Friday, November 30, 2012

hammond's organ

My earlier cricket-related post was both right and wrong in roughly equal measure, as following his 176 in the Ahmedabad Test and 122 in Mumbai Alastair Cook now has 22 Test centuries to his name, and therefore stands on the brink of breaking a record that has stood (despite being twice equalled since, in 1969 and 1981) for 73 years. More unexpectedly, following his rapid reinstatement in the side, Kevin Pietersen's remarkable 186 in Mumbai means that he also has 22 Test centuries, so the race is on to be the man to break the record. Since neither Cook nor Pietersen shows any signs of retiring imminently this is a record that could change hands a few times over the next few years, a marked contrast to how often it has changed hands in the past. My quick research suggests the record changed hands four times between 1901 and 1937, and has not done so since. Here's the progression of the record since 1901:
  • Arthur Shrewsbury took sole possession of the record on making his third Test century in 1893, and held the record with three until 1901;
  • Archie MacLaren took over the record on making his fourth Test century in 1901, and had raised it to five by the time he played his last Test in 1905; he was joined on five that same year by Stanley Jackson and they jointly held the record until 1920;
  • Jack Hobbs scored his sixth Test century in 1920, and by the time of his last Test in 1930 had raised the record to a lofty fifteen;
  • Herbert Sutcliffe, Hobbs' long-time opening partner for England, raised the record to sixteen by making what turned out to be his last Test century in 1932;
  • Walter Hammond took over the record in 1937 on making his seventeenth Test century and had raised it to twenty-two by the time of his last Test century in 1939, where it stayed when he retired after a fairly dismal post-war comeback in 1947.
Cook seems a pretty level-headed sort of bloke, but Pietersen's difficulties with authority have some interesting parallels with the people he currently shares the record with. Boycott was a legendarily spiky and controversial character, and even the more even-tempered Cowdrey was somewhat enigmatic. And Walter Hammond, the man who set the current record at The Oval in 1939, was a legendarily aloof and forbidding character. One suspects that no-one ever called him Walter "the Hamster" Hammond, for instance, at least not to his face.

In Hammond's case it's very interesting to speculate how much of this was as a result of the year he spent out of cricket in 1926 following his contracting a "serious illness" during a tour to the West Indies the previous winter. Since this sort of thing wasn't discussed openly back then it's difficult to make any definitive judgment, but David Foot's biography of Hammond argues that it was probably an STD of some sort (Hammond apparently being a fairly notorious swordsman), possibly just a really nasty dose of the clap, or possibly something more serious like syphilis, in which case the regular treatment in those pre-antibiotics days would have been doses of either mercury or arsenic, neither of which are particularly effective at curing syphilis, but very effective at giving you, respectively, mercury and arsenic poisoning, with, in the case of mercury in particular, potentially long-lasting neurological effects.

Anyway, enough of this prurient speculation. Elsewhere in the cricketing world Michael Clarke set a new record during the Adelaide Test for the number of double-centuries (four) scored in a calendar year. Since two of these scores were in excess of 250 Clarke becomes the latest addition to my list of people who have made more than one such score. Here's the current list:
  • Brian Lara (1994)
  • Mahela Jayawardene (2009)
  • Sanath Jayasuriya (2004)
  • Walter Hammond (1933)
  • Don Bradman (1930)
  • Chris Gayle (2010)
  • Michael Clarke (2012)
  • Virender Sehwag (2006)
  • Younis Khan (2009)
  • Hashim Amla (2012)
  • Ramnaresh Sarwan (2009)
  • Kumar Sangakkara (2006)
  • Javed Miandad (1987)
  • Graeme Smith (2003)
  • Stephen Fleming (2006)
The date denotes the year they joined the list. As you can see, as recently as 2002 there would only have been four men on it (Hammond, Bradman, Javed and Lara). Note that Clarke joins Bradman and Smith in making two such scores in the same calendar year; Bradman and Smith went one better by making theirs in consecutive Tests.

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