Michael Clarke scores a hundred in his 75th Test. He remains the only batsman to score hundreds in his debut, 25th, 50th and 75th Tests © Getty Images
Michael Clarke scores a hundred in his 75th Test. He remains the only batsman to score hundreds in his debut, 25th, 50th and 75th Tests © Getty Images

When James Lillywhite Jr had left England in November 1876 at the head of a band of 12 cricketers to undertake a cricket tour of Australia and New Zealand, little would he have known of the far-reaching importance of the enterprise that he was about to undertake. This was the 5th English team to visit the Antipodes, but the first that had gone out without any prior invitation to visit, and the first with the intention of attempting to generate their own business and funds. Earlier English teams had all played against odds in Australia, frequently against 18 or even 22 players in the opposing team. This team had gone out with plans of playing the opposition at other than odds, on equal terms, whenever possible. They played a 2-day game against 11 of New South Wales before embarking on their scheduled onward journey to New Zealand for a short tour of about six weeks in mid-January 1877. Victoria promptly proposed a similar contest.

Barely 24 hours after the touring team arrived back in Australia, following an arduous sea voyage, the tourists, under the title Lillywhite’s XI, were scheduled to play against Combined XI comprising players from Victoria and New South Wales. Lillywhite’s team were now one man short; Ted Pooley, the designated wicketkeeper, having been left behind in New Zealand after being involved in a betting and gambling scandal, and being incarcerated in a Christchurch prison. The team was, therefore, down to the bare minimum quorum of 11.

Let us try to cast our minds back to that fateful day at Melbourne Cricket Ground, on the Ides of March 1877, with considerable interest having already been generated about the match, the first between two representative teams on equal terms, although it had not been publicly billed as an international fixture.

The English players, under Lillywhite, took the field shortly after 1 PM with Charles Bannerman and Nat Thomson, the opening batsmen of the Combined XI team, close behind and they set in motion one of the greatest cricketing rivalries in history.

Fred Spofforth, who was to later play such anpivotal role in The Oval match of 1882, had opted out of this encounter because he preferred the wicketkeeping abilities of his New South Wales colleague Billy Murdoch, who was not selected for the match, Jack Blackham of Victoria being picked instead.

Let us dwell on that magical innings by Charles Bannerman, retired hurt for 165 when he was hit on the right hand by a delivery of George Ulyett that split open his second finger. His innings had lasted about 295 minutes and was scored off approximately 330 deliveries faced (details courtesy Charles Davis). It may be added in parenthesis here that N Newing fielded for the injured Charles Bannerman in this match, thus becoming the first ever Test substitute.

The Combined XI, led by Dave Gregory, won the match by 45 runs. This momentous encounter was later accorded the status of Test #1 with retrospective effect and gave rise to the subsequent flood of statistics that form such an intimate and integral part of the charm of cricket. Bannerman’s undefeated 165 out of the side’s total of 245, amounting to 67.35% of the team total is a record for completed innings that stands to this day.

This then, was the very first century on Test debut, a milestone to beat all milestones. This match was followed by another, also at MCG, starting March 31, and later designated as Test #2, which England won by 4 wickets, thus squaring the series, as it were.

An interesting sidelight to this tour was that Lillywhite Jr later became the first Test cricketer to umpire in a Test match (Australia vs England, MCG, 1981-82, which was drawn by arrangement.)

Despite being played between international representative teams, there were some murmurings about the strength of the English teams for these matches, given that many of their most famous players had not come out to Australia.

The Australian tourists arrived in England in 1880 and a grand match was arranged at The Oval, starting September 8, a one-off encounter, which was designated later as Test #4 and the first Test to be played on English soil.

Public enthusiasm was at fever pitch as English players prepared to teach their Colonial cousins a thing or two about the nuances of the quintessentially English game of cricket. England were led by Lord Harris, a legend in his lifetime as a player and later as a cricket administrator. The tourists were under the stewardship of Murdoch. What made the contest even more interesting was the prospect of the leading English cricketers of the day, the Grand Old Man, WG Grace himself, taking the field for the home team.

There is a story, apocryphal perhaps, of a pre-match interaction between WG and his fast friend Murdoch, during which WG was said to have laid a wager that he would outscore his friend in the match, the wager being for one guinea.

England batted first and EM and WG, two of the three Grace brothers, all making their debuts, opened batting. Though EM was dismissed for 36, The Champion went on to score 152 in the 1st innings (replete with 12 fours, 10 threes, 14 twos and 46 singles) — the first Test century by an England player, the first Test century ever scored in England, and the first England player to score a century on Test debut.

It was a milestone achievement worthy of The Champion, and he felt secretly elated at the thought of being one up on his friend as far as the wager was concerned. Murdoch, much to his dismay, was dismissed for a duck in the Australia first innings, after which Australia had to face the ignominy of following-on.

In the second knock, however, Murdoch did justice to his stature as a batsman by scoring 153 (1 five, 18 fours, 3 threes, 13 twos and 41 singles) and just about outscoring his more illustrious friend. The denouement of the wager was a tribute to the respect and love shared between friends. It is stated that when WG had paid his guinea, Murdoch had taken it to a jeweller and had it drilled; he is said to have then worn it on his watch chain for the rest of his life.

And what of the third Grace, Fred, who debuted in this Test? The unfortunate Fred created a melancholy slice of Test history by becoming the first man to be dismissed for a “pair” (ducks in each innings) on Test debut, though the high catch he took to dismiss George Bonnor remains a part of cricket folklore. The match ended with a 5-wicket victory for England.

And so it came to pass that the first two instances of centuries on Test debut were accomplished in Tests #1 (the first ever Test in Australia) and #4 (the first ever Test in England), two path-breaking events in cricket history. A lot of water has flown down The Yarra and The Thames since those halcyon days of Test cricket infancy.

Till date, 100 batsmen have scored centuries on their debut Tests, the 100th man to reach this landmark being Stephen Cook of South Africa with 115 against England at Centurion in January 2016 — a unique honor. Two of them were probably so exhilarated by their first innings century that they did it again in the second innings, as follows:

Lawrence Rowe, 214 and 100*, West Indies vs New Zealand, Sabina Park, 1971-72

Yasir Hameed, 170 and 105, Pakistan vs Bangladesh, Karachi, 2003

The ball having been set rolling for Tests in general and Ashes Tests in particular, it was thought that a suitable celebration was in order for the Centenary of the first Test. The international calendar of cricket was scrutinized and a decision was taken to stage a Centenary Test Match (Test #800) at the original Test venue, viz., MCG.

It was played as a one-off encounter between Australia, led by Greg Chappell and England, led by Tony Greig, at MCG, starting March 12, 1977. Test #1 had been started on March 15, 1877. For the Centenary Test, however, March 15 was declared the rest day.

The surprising historical coincidence was that Australia won this Test also by 45 runs, exactly as they had won the first Test. The first innings of both teams were rather muted affairs, 138 for Australia in 43.6 (8-ball) overs and 95 for England in 34.3 overs.

Rod Marsh, the Australian wicketkeeper, hit his 3rd (and last) Test century, 110 not out, in the Australian 2nd innings of 419 for 9 wickets in 96.6 overs.

For England, Derek Randall played a wonderfully free-flowing innings to score his maiden Test century, 174, in the England 2nd innings of 417 in 112.4 overs. The celebratory Test had, therefore, produced two sterling centuries.

A second celebratory Centenary Test started on August 28, 1980 to commemorate the first Test played on English soil in 1880 at The Oval. This Test (#885), was played, however, at Lord’s, and also produced centuries of class from opener Graeme Wood (112) and Golden Boy Kim Hughes (117) in the Australian first innings. England could not come up with a century in their first effort, but did so in their second through a typical Geoff Boycott effort (128 not out). This special occasion had, then, produced one century more than the original match being celebrated. This match, however, was drawn.

Of the 25 batsmen who have scored 100 or more centuries in First-Class cricket till date, 2 of them, as different as chalk and cheese, share a common experience, that of scoring their 100th First-Class centuries in Test matches.

Boycott, the very name reminds one of the archetypal dour Yorkshireman. It is said that in Yorkshire, one does not play cricket for fun, this aphorism has been proved over and over again by the controversial and often-maligned Boycott, of the broad bat and impeccable defence, never the most popular or gregarious member in his own dressing room.

Boycott had thought it fit to undergo a period of self-imposed exile from Test cricket in mid-career, thus depriving himself the opportunity of playing about 30 Tests for England in the belief that his claim to the captaincy of England had been deliberately passed over with the appointment of Mike Denness to the post after Ray Illingworth.

In effect, he had probably missed out on the opportunity of becoming the first Englishman to go past 10,000 Test runs. He did, however, make a triumphant return to Test cricket at his home ground of Headingley, Leeds, in the 4th Test of Ashes 1977 and regaled his adoring home crowd with his 100th First-Class century, a magnificent 191, in the England 1st innings. One can imagine a tear of joy in the eye of his venerable “Moom”.

All style, silken grace and supple wrists — the description does not do full justice to the genius of Syed Zaheer Abbas Kirmani, popularly known as Zaheer Abbas. One of the most accomplished batsmen produced by Pakistan, Zaheer was one of the pillars of his country’s batting strength for a long time.

He is the only Asian batsman to score 100 First-Class centuries and tales of his prodigious scoring are the stuff of legends. He had centuries in each innings of a First-Class match on 8 different occasions, a record in First-Class history, including 4 instances of a double hundred and a hundred in the same match.

It was therefore quite fitting that this soft-spoken Titan’s 100th First-Class century should have come at a suitable setting, in a Test, against the old rivals India, at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore in the 1st Test of the 1982-83 home series. His 215 in the Pakistan 1st innings was a truly regal effort, having all the trimmings of a great master engaged in the task he revelled in, and sent his numerous fans into transports of pure delight.

Till date, there have been 64 batsmen who have played 100 or more Tests.

The first person to scale the heady height of 100 Tests was the stylish English middle-order stroke player, Colin Cowdrey, doing so in the 3rd Test of Ashes 1968 at Edgbaston. Cowdrey celebrated the occasion by scoring a century (104) in the England 1st innings.

Others followed suit at a later date, scoring centuries in their respective 100th Tests. Javed Miandad, not always the prettiest to watch, nevertheless, one of the premier batsmen produced by Pakistan, did it at Lahore against India, in 1989-90, by scoring 145 in the Pakistan 1st innings.

Gordon Greenidge, sometimes referred to as the “Batting Bombshell”, played his 100th Test at Antigua in 1989-90, and marked the milestone with 149 in the West Indies 1st innings.

The next man to play a special innings on a special occasion was the yeoman cricketer, Alec Stewart. His effort came in the Old Trafford Test of 2000 against West Indies. Stewart scored 105 in the England 1st innings.

The second Pakistan batsman to score a century in his 100th Test was the placid Inzamam-ul-Haq. He did it at Bangalore in 2004-05 with a majestic 184 in the Pakistan 1st innings.

There followed a man any discerning cricketing aficionado would have backed to emulate the feat of a century in the 100th Test, the “Punter”, no less. Ricky Ponting did not disappoint his followers against South Africa at SCG in 2005-06. He put up a virtuoso performance that will be very difficult to equal, let alone beat. He scored centuries in each innings of his 100th Test, 120 & 143 not out, an unparalleled feat till date.

The most recent episode of this particular milestone century was by Graeme Smith, who scored 131 in the South Africa 1st innings against England at The Oval in 2012. Doubtless, there will be others to follow, given the greater number of Tests being played now.

Even in the exclusive club of 7 players with centuries in their 100th Tests, special mention must be made of one of them because of an added dimension to his achievement, namely, Miandad who has the added citation in his curriculum vitae of having scored centuries in both his debut and his 50th Tests as well, thus marking three of his personal milestone Tests with centuries.

Miandad’s Test debut (against New Zealand at Lahore in 1976-77) was both impressive and eventful. He scored 163 in the 1st innings before becoming the first victim of a hat-trick by Peter Petherick, himself making his Test debut. Miandad was one of 22 batsmen to make a score of 150 or more in an innings on Test debut.

He celebrated his 50th Test (against India at Hyderabad, Sind in 1982-83) with a dominating 280 not out. Pakistan won the match by an innings and 119 runs.

Another member of the group that has centuries in the 100th Tests also deserves mention. Greenidge has another feather in his cap, that of a century on Test debut. He made his Test against India at Bangalore in 1974-75, and made a resounding start to his Test career by scoring 93 and 107. Another notable Test debutant from West Indies in this match for West Indies was the incomparable Viv Richards, but that is another story.

For the sake of completeness, it should be mentioned (with special thanks to Arnold D’Souza for his generosity in sharing this data), that the following batsmen also have centuries in 3 of their milestone Tests:

Ken Barrington
25th Test, 113* vs India at Delhi, 1961-62
50th Test, 256 vs Australia at Old Trafford, 1964, surprisingly his first century in England
75th Test, 143 vs West Indies at Queen’s Park Oval, 1967-68

Kevin Pietersen
25th Test, 226 vs West Indies at Headingley, 2007
50th Test, 102 vs West Indies at Queen’s Park Oval, 2008-09
75th Test, 202* vs India at Lord’s, 2011

Virender Sehwag
Debut, 105 vs South Africa at Bloemfontein, 2001-02
25th Test, 155 vs Australia at Chennai, 2004-05
75th Test, 109 vs South Africa at Nagpur, 2009-10

But the laurel wreath for the highest number of centuries in personal milestone Tests, however, must go to Michael Clarke, the recently retired Australian captain.
Debut, 151 vs Australia at Bangalore, 2003-04, one of 22 batsmen to cross 150 on Test debut
25th Test, 135* vs England at WACA, 2006-07
50th Test, 103* vs England at Edgbaston, 2009
75th Test, 139 vs New Zealand, The Gabba, 2011-12

And so it goes on and as personal milestones keep piling up with more and more Tests being played nowadays, the cricket world waits with baited breath for some brave-heart to score a century in his 125thTest, or maybe, his 150th. That day may not be very far off, hopefully.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)