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While Neil Harvey, Greg Chappell, Steve Waugh, and Ricky Ponting are the usual names that come up while discussing the second-best batsman in the history of post-World War I Australia, a fifth name cricket fans (including this columnist) often throw up is Allan Border’s.
Not only did Border metamorphose a deranged Australian outfit and into world champions, he was also a champion batsman of his era. While Waugh’s name often comes up as Australia’s best batsman under pressure, Border was perhaps the more efficient of the two when all seemed lost.
Let us look at a few facts about “AB”, then.
Charles Addams had created a cartoon featuring a fictitious Addams family. The cartoonist had first decided that the oldest son (of Gomez and Morticia) would be called Pubert, but changed it to Pugsley because it sounded too sexual. In his earlier days Border was nicknamed Pugsley because of the resemblance: after he became captain, however, nobody dared to call himself anything but AB.
2) The one that still stands
Most of Border’s records — most runs, most Tests, most Tests as captain — have been broken. There is one, however, that remains intact: against Pakistan at Lahore in 1979-80 Border defied an attack consisting of Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Iqbal Qasim, and Tauseef Ahmed to score 150 not out and 153.
It remains the only time that a batsman has scored two 150s in the same Test. Andy Flower (142 and 199 not out) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (162 and 143) have both scored two 140s, but Border’s record remains untouched.
3) What home advantage?
Most batsmen thrive at home, but Border had a penchant for overseas performances. While his home numbers read 5,743 runs at 45.94 from 86 Tests, he scored 5,431 runs at 56.57 from 70 Tests overseas. He averaged over 45 in every country (barring South Africa, where he played only his final series).
If that is not impressive, here is the magic statistic: of all batsmen who have scored over 5,000 runs overseas, Border’s 56.57 is the highest average.
4) Since GPS had not been invented…
Border was dismissed for four against England at WACA in 1979-80. He was furious with himself as he returned to the dressing-room. He later wrote in his autobiography: “I opened the door with a bad-tempered, hip-and-shoulders shirtfront, threw my bat onto the floor, ripped off my gloves, kicked them as far as I could and unleashed a scathing verbal attack on Poms in general and their cricketers in particular.”
Border went on and on; in his words, he “exhausted his vocabulary”. It was only then he realised that he had returned to the England dressing-room. One can never tell whether the incident motivated him to do better, but he scored 115 in the second innings as Australia won by 138 runs.
5) Wedding gift
Born in Sydney Border was an out-and-out New South Welshman. He registered his maiden double-hundred — a round 200 — against Queensland at The Gabba in 1979-80. He got married after the season, and on his wedding day he received a contract from Queensland. He moved.
6) Sydney magic
Border was good enough to take 112 international wickets at 32.10, but few expected him to run through a champion side, which was precisely what he did at SCG in 1988-89. West Indies were cruising along at 144 for one when Border struck, and kept striking. He had never taken a First-Class five-for, but here he finished with seven for 46 — still the second-best figures by an Australian captain after Ian Johnson’s seven for 44.
He was not through: he scored a gutsy 75 to help David Boon put up 170 for the third wicket. The partnership turned out to be crucial as Australia managed a 177-run lead. Once again Border ran through the tourists with four for 50 (with 11 for 96 Border remains the only Australian captain to take a ten-wicket haul), and hit the winning runs as Australia cruised home by seven wickets.
7) West Indians again, at Bourda
Border’s other five-wicket haul came against West Indies as well (all his four-wicket hauls came against them). At Bourda in 1990-91 Border had already dismissed Desmond Haynes after Australia had scored 348. Then, after West Indies had reached 529 for five, Border took out Jeff Dujon, Gus Logie, Curtly Ambrose, and Courtney Walsh in the span of nine balls.
Border finished with five for 68. In fact, he picked up 19 wickets against West Indies at 24.31 — an average better than those of Dennis Lillee, Ray Lindwall, or Keith Miller.
8) The economist
With no quality spinner at his service before the advent of Shane Warne, Border often had to bowl long spells. His role was cut-out: he had to cut the runs down while the fast bowlers had a go at the batsmen: Border finished with a Test economy rate of 2.28 in an era when ODIs were in vogue. Of all post-1975 Australian spinners who had bowled in 20 or more innings Border had the best economy rate.
Also a competent ODI bowler, Border finished with 73 wickets at 28.36 — the fifth-best among all Australian spinners who had bowled in 20 or more innings.
9) Sledging Pigeon
When Border walked out to bat against New South Wales (NSW) at The Gabba in 1993-94 he saw a young, very skinny Glenn McGrath with trousers that did not go down below his shins. Border decided to go under the skin of the youngster: “Hey mate, why are your pants so high? Are you expecting a flood or something?”
A furious McGrath unleashed a bouncer. Border calmly responded, mentioning that McGrath resembled Jethro Bodine from The Beverly Hillbillies, and continued to call him “Jethro” throughout the innings, which lasted for four-and-a-half hours. McGrath was so angry that he went red, but could not utter anything more than a grunt and an almost-predictable bouncer.
Then Border came out with “I know you can grunt, but can you speak?” McGrath was so worked up that he could not utter another word till Border was there (he was the last man out). However, McGrath had the last laugh when he dismissed Border in the second innings for 11, and NSW won by eight wickets.
10) Captain grumpy
Border believed in toughness, and he expected others to act accordingly. His verbal tonic to get Dean Jones out to bat in testing conditions at Madras in 1986 is well-known. At Trent Bridge in 1989 poor Robin Smith asked Border whether he could have a glass of water during his innings.
The reply was prompt: “What do you think this is? A f**king tea party? No, you can’t have a f**king glass of water. You can f**king wait like the rest of us.”
The teammates were not spared, either. Craig McDermott (by then Australia’s spearhead) once ignored Border’s instructions on field during Ashes 1993. Border reacted immediately: “‘Hey, hey, hey, hey! I’m f***ing talking to you. Come here, come here, come here, come here — do that again and you’re on the next plane home, son! What was that? You f***ing test me and you’ll see!”
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