Garry Sobers is the youngest to score a triple hundred in Tests 21 years 216 days © Getty Images
Garry Sobers is the youngest to score a triple hundred in Tests 21 years 216 days © Getty Images

March 1, 1958. Garry Sobers, a 21-year-old left-handed all-rounder, scored his first Test century and made it a huge one. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the innings that stood as the highest ever score in Test cricket for 36 years.

It had been a frustrating four years for the fans of Garry Sobers.

The young man, who had made his debut as a talented 17-year-old left-handed all-rounder, continued to carry a heady concoction of potential in every movement. From time to time, brief flurry of strokeplay spoke of a rare pedigree, a genius that was seldom witnessed in any sport. Yet, he hovered on the fringes of greatness, occasionally stepping into the exclusive realm of the very special, but never did his willow script the epics that the initial flourish promised.

In 14 Tests till the beginning of the 1957-58 winter, he had managed 672 runs at 32.54.

Only four of the 22 dismissals had seen him walk back for less than ten. There had been umpteen thrilling starts, but only three had been converted into half-centuries, with a highest of 66.

When Pakistan visited the islands, it was apparent that things were about to change. In the first Test at Bridgetown, Sobers scored a fluent 52, and then spent an eternity in the field, bowling 57 overs as Hanif Mohammad batted 970 minutes for 337.

In the second, he notched up 52 and 80 and took a few wickets as the West Indies went one up in the series.

The first century

Sobers went into the third Test at Sabina Park still looking for his maiden hundred. But, he had to wait. Abdul Hafeez Kardar, playing with a broken finger against doctor’s orders, won the toss. Wicketkeeper-batsman Imtiaz Ahmed provided a sound start with a patient century, while Saeed Ahmed and Wallis Mathias providing excellent support. On the first evening of the six-day Test, the visitors were in a strong position at 274 for 4.

However, an early morning splash of shower freshened the wicket and Eric Atkinson and Tom Dewdney removed the rest of the batting for just 54 runs on the second day.

Pakistan’s misfortunes started early in the West Indian innings. After the fifth ball, opening bowler Mahmood Hussain limped off the ground with a torn hamstring. Conrad Hunte began with his a spate of boundaries. Such was his brilliance, that even a batsman of the calibre of Rohan Kanhai at the other end looked sedate by comparison.

The first wicket fell at 87, when Kanhai edged Fazal Mahmood to Imtiaz for 25. That was to be the last success Pakistan would taste for a very, very long time. Sobers walked in at No. 3 and moved to 20 when stumps were drawn for the day. Hunte had already notched up his hundred. The score read 147 for 1.

By the morning of the third day, Sobers had seized the initiative, outscoring Hunte with his steady stream of sparkling strokes. Pakistan’s problems continued, with Nasim-ul-Ghani going off with a fractured thumb. Kardar was already bowling with a broken finger and Hussain was off the field. Fazal Mahmood and Khan Mohammad were the only two fully fit bowlers, and started sharing enormous amount of the bowling. And with Hunte rock-solid at the other end, Sobers drove, cut and pulled with panache, it looked likely that at he would get to three figures.

By lunch, he was 76, Hunte on 139 and West Indies 243 for 1. As the day wore on, the two Pakistani bowlers were drained of the last drop of energy. Numerous non-regular trundlers were asked to turn their arms over.

Sobers reached is hundred after 197 minutes at the crease and tore into the attack. Rollicking from hundred to 150 in just 58 minutes, he had raced to 170 at tea. Hunte had taken his score along to 196. The West Indian total stood at an ominous 400 for 1.

The world record

By the third session, the Pakistan bowlers were going through their motions. Unfortunately, none of the slower bowlers were available to keep bowling long spells. Of the two men who were fit, Fazal was a bowler of formidable pace and Khan Mohammad a medium-pacer. The two batsmen continued to make merry as the quick men bowled their hearts out with only sweat and racing pulses to show for their return. On the other hand, neither batsmen showed any decipherable signs of fatigue as runs continued to come easily.

Hunte crossed his double-hundred, followed soon after by Sobers. By the end of the day, West Indies were 504 for 1, the stand worth 417. In 1934, at The Oval, Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford had added 451 for the second wicket, and it stood as the partnership record for any wicket. The two young batsmen were just 34 runs away. Hunte was on 242, Sobers 228.

The following morning, the rest day being scheduled after the fourth, Hunte started stroking the ball with élan and it seemed another long day ahead of the Pakistan bowlers. And then he fell, in the only way that had looked possible for two days, unable to beat a throw from the infield. His 260-run effort had come in 503 minutes, with 28 fours and a six. The partnerships stopped at 446. It was 533 for 2. The Oval feat of Bradman and Ponsford had survived, but another milestone set at the same ground was slowly coming under threat.

There was no respite for the Pakistanis. The man who walked out next was Everton Weekes, possessing the highest batting average in the world at that moment. Sobers, on his part, was busy ensuring that his first hundred would turn out to be a gigantic one.There was no extravagant stroke. In fact, after reaching his double hundred, he proceeded cautiously, playing the ball according to merit, manoeuvring the good ones and punishing the bad.

Fazal Mahmood, untiring and relentless, ran in again and again, and just after lunch, at 602, got rid of Weekes. There is a legend that the fast bowler vomited blood during the innings — and there is hardly any reason to doubt it.The man bowled 85.2 overs during the two and a half days on the field and very few of the 512 deliveries lacked in intent.

As Weekes left the ground, his place was taken by the great Clyde Walcott, the hardest hitter in the world. Playing one of his last memorable knocks, this third of the W triumvirate guided the young man at the other end to his milestones. And when he came at the striking end, he pulverised the Pakistan bowlers further by walloping the ball to all parts of the ground with his trademark powerful hits.

In the second hour after lunch, Sobers reached his triple-hundred — the youngest to the landmark at 21 years 216 days, a record that still stands. He was also the first West Indian batsman to ever achieve the feat. It had taken him four minutes short of ten hours.

This was the first and only time two batsmen had scored triple centuries in the same series.

And now he relaxed, flinging his bat at the offerings of the exhausted bowlers. Sobers and Walcott walked in to have tea with the total a tottering 730 for 3, the former on 336. Wazir Mohammad and Imtiaz Ahmed were the only two Pakistani players not to have had a bowl.

Sobers started the final session 28 runs short of Len Hutton’s world-record score of 364, scored at The Oval against Don Bradman’s Australians in 1938. England had piled up 903 for 7, the declaration coming only after captain Wally Hammond had looked at the medical report to make sure that Bradman had hurt his shin enough to not feature in the batting card.

West Indies, however, was not gunning for the highest ever Test total, although it was well within their reach. Walcott struck three majestic sixes as Sobers progressed towards the 20-year old mark. And after 614 minutes of batting, he pushed yet another Fazal Mahmood delivery to go past Hutton. The master from Yorkshire had taken three more hours over his runs. The monumental knock of the West Indian hero contained one five, 38 fours, 6 threes, 30 twos and 130 singles.

As he raised his bat, the 20,000-strong Jamaican crowd rushed into the ground. There was more reason for elation than the striking moment of history. Four years earlier, Hutton had led England to the island on a tour that had ended in a 2-2 stalemate and not much love lost between the tourists and the West Indians. The captain had laid down strict rules of not fraternising with opponents, and as a result had not been the most popular man in the Caribbean. Now that Sobers had dislodged him from the throne of individual batting scores, the occasion was doubly sweet.

What followed?

Gerry Alexander declared immediately, with the score on 790 for 3. However, with half of Jamaica running on the wicket, the pitch was damaged, and play was called off for the day.

After the day of rest, the Pakistani batsmen started on the uphill task of batting out two days. Hanif Mohammad could not repeat his first Test heroics and was bowled by Roy Gilchrist early in the innings. Elder brother Wazir scored a battling hundred and took the match into the fifth day with only 5 wickets down. But, with Nasim-ul-Ghani and Mohammad Hussain unable to bat, the West Indian bowlers quickly knocked over the remaining wickets to win by a huge margin of innings and 174 runs.

The record set by Sobers stood for 36 long years before Brian Lara, another phenomenally talented West Indian, went past it in 1994.

Brief Scores:

Pakistan 328 (Imtiaz Ahmed 122, Saeed Ahmed 52, Wallis Mathias 77; Eric Atkinson 5 for 42) and 288 (Wazir Mohammad 106, Saeed Ahmed 44, Abdul Kardar 57) lost to West Indies 790 for 3 decl. (Conrad Hunte 260, Garry Sobers 365*, Clyde Walcott 88*) by an innings and 174 runs.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)