On March 16, 2002, Nathan Astle smashed the fastest double century in Test cricket in an encounter against England at Christchurch. Chasing a mammoth 550 in the fourth innings, Astle’s unbelievable attacking streak made England sweat and gave them a few scares. In the face of the daunting task, he looked a man possessed and flayed with the England attack — sending the ball to all parts of the ground.
It was the first Test of the series and New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming won the toss and put England in to bat. The Kiwi pace bowling attack limited the tourists to 228 despite Nasser Hussain’s knock of 106. In reply, New Zealand were bundled out for 147 courtesy a brilliant seven for by Matthew Hoggard. With a good lead, England stuttered a touch until Graham Thorpe and Andrew Flintoff took centrestage. Thorpe smashed his way to a magnificent double hundred — 200 off only 231 balls. Andrew Flintoff too scored a rapid 137 to take England to 468.
With a little over two days to go, New Zealand had time on their side, but chasing 550 was too farfetched. Their openers, Mark Richardson and Matt Horne saw through day three. Early the next day, they lost Horne and Lou Vincent. Richardson battled but was ultimately dismissed with the score on 119. Enter Astle.
Astle warmed up by cracking two widish deliveries from Hoggard through the off-side. They were typical one-day shots, with minimal footwork and maximum power. It wasn’t an easy ride for the other Kiwi batsmen, but this man looked good from the outset. Even Andrew Caddick wasn’t spared as Astle cracked at everything outside the off-stump. There were shots full of timing and a few were hit with brute force.
It looked as if he was only dealing in boundaries as he brought up his first fifty off only 54 balls, stroking nine fours. The stroke-filled display continued and Astle smashed his first six with a pull over square leg. Even the spinner Ashley Giles was smashed for a six over his head. Wickets fell at the other end, but that did not deter Astle. In fact, he shifted gears as he approached his hundred.
On 97, he tentatively pulled a short delivery from Flintoff and the fielder at square-leg let it go through. Astle’s arms went up in the air as he celebrated a fantastic hundred. New Zealand were six down and miles away from the total, but the knock was pure quality. However, the real fun was to start. The first hundred had come off only 114 balls. He not only shifted gears, but perhaps changed the gearbox!
The line or length of the delivery did not matter as Astle was intent on charging at everything. If it was short and on his body, he would fearlessly pull it. Anything outside off was punished with a hard slash of the bat. The fast bowlers would now bear the brunt of his real fury. Hoggard was mercilessly carved over long on for a massive six. By then, New Zealand were 333 for nine and the last man in was Chris Cairns — whose injury forced him to the bottom.
The 150 came up off only 136 balls with a punch through the covers for four. The next ball he charged at Caddick and smashed him over long on for six. Another six and a four followed to make it twenty off the over. Caddick was earmarked for special as he smashed him for three consecutive sixes in his next over. He nonchalantly charged at him and lofted the ball through the off-side. That tactic paid off as he treated the pacemen like spinners and showed utter disdain.
The big moment arrived when Astle swept Giles quietly for a single and notched the fastest double in the history of Test cricket. It had taken him only 153 balls to get there. What makes it amazing is that his it took him only 39 balls to move from 100 to 200. Many would equate that pace with the modern T20 standards.
The double may have been achieved, but Astle continued to enjoy himself. Hussain started getting nervous as Astle dispatched everything in sight and Cairns also did his bit at the other end. Could they do the unthinkable? That wasn’t to be as Astle edged Hoggard to the wicket-keeper James Foster on 222. New Zealand were bowled out for a remarkable 451, but were beaten by 98 runs. England breathed a huge sigh of relief.
While England may have won the game, the focus was undoubtedly on Astle. His 222 had come off 168 balls and contained 28 fours and 11 sixes. To this day, it remains the fastest double hundred in terms of balls faced and the second fastest by minutes. Adam Gilchrist had smashed a double off only 212 balls a few weeks before the Astle carnage, only to see his record stolen. It was also the second highest score in the fourth innings of a Test — just one run behind George Headley’s 223 against England in 1930.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)
First Published: March 16, 2013, 3:09 pm