When the Indian bowlers were left shell-shocked by an Ian Smith blitzkrieg

Ian Smith… 169 off 128 deliveries. © Getty Images

On February 22, 1990, Ian Smith scored his second and last century for New Zealand in Tests, but the circumstances under which it was scripted was phenomenal. Walking in to bat at 131 for seven, he blasted 169 off 128 deliveries, on the first day of the Test in Auckland, to steer his side to 387 for nine before stumps. Karthik Parimal looks back at this eventful day.

Having been hammered by the hosts in the first Test at Christchurch by a margin of 10 wickets, and then having drawn the penultimate game at Napier, it was imperative for the Indians to win the final Test against New Zealand at Auckland to level the series. A green wicket greeted the teams at this venue and Mohammad Azharuddin had no qualms in opting to field first, in order to give his new ball bowlers an opportunity to make use of the friendly conditions. The Indian firepower comprised Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar and Atul Wassan, and it appeared as though this was India’s best chance of roaring back into contention.

When the first four Kiwi wickets fell for a small matter of 51 runs, it looked as though Azhar’s decision would pay rich dividends. Trevor Franklin, John Wright, Andrew Jones and Mark Greatbatch all fell to paltry scores — the India fast bowling trio scalping a wicket each. This feeling was further strengthened when Martin Crowe, Ken Rutherford and Shane Thomson failed to offer resistance for a sustained length of time, as New Zealand were now reeling at 131 for the loss of seven wickets. Woorkeri Raman and Prabhakar— India’s openers — were probably visualising how best to approach the innings when they would soon come out to bat, as it was only going to be a matter of time before the Kiwis were bundled out. Or so they must have thought.

At one point, Wassan’s bowling figures read a handsome four for 40, but little did he expect what was to follow. At the crease were Richard Hadlee, New Zealand’s finest all-rounder, and Ian Smith, an able wicketkeeper who wasn’t considered much of a threat with the bat. The former began the process of consolidation as he tamed the Indian bowlers, including the buoyant Wassan, with precision. While Hadlee counterattacked, Smith held one end up and played a perfect second-fiddle. The duo raced to an eight-wicket partnership of 103 from 23 overs, a new record for the Kiwis against India.

At 234 for seven, it was now certain that a respectable first innings total was going to be posted. That fact did not change even as Hadlee fell for a well-made 87 off 108 deliveries, for it looked like a final score of just over 250 was going to be a formidable one on this wicket. Smith, who was batting on 38 after the eighth wicket fell, would have hoped to stretch the length of the innings further, but to turn the tide of the game altogether was something even he would not have anticipated.

Despite Wassan’s belligerence, Smith looked to pummel him. Even Kapil and Prabhakar were proving to be ineffective, but Wassan faced the wrath of Smith’s willow. Seventeen runs were scored off one of his overs. However, this eventful over was soon superseded by another one, in which 24 runs were conceded. This equalled the then Test record for most runs off a six-ball over. From a point where it looked like Wassan would register one of his best Test spells, he was ruthlessly treated thereafter to finish with 16.4-1-108-4.

Smith raced his way to a fifty, then a hundred, and never looked like taking his foot off the pedal albeit that. Having already been involved in a record eighth wicket partnership with Hadlee, he now went on to script New Zealand’s ninth-wicket record against all countries alongside No 10 batsman Martin Snedden. In the 136-run partnership, Smith’s contributed 114.

“Most of Smith’s early runs came from hooks, pulls and on-drives but true to character, he later played a full measure of cuts, and strokes into the covers. He went to 50 off 56 balls, 100 off 95 and 150 off 188, and by the day’s end he had hit three sixes and 23 fours,” Wisden aptly summarised his innings.

At the end of the first day, New Zealand had amassed 387 for the loss of nine wickets, with Smith still batting on 169 off 128 deliveries. A total of 309 runs were scored in the last two sessions and the Indians couldn’t comprehend how they let the advantage slip away, at an unfathomable pace. This became New Zealand’s highest score on Day One of a Test, the previous best being 364 against South Africa in a three-day match in the March of 1932. The Kiwis went on to win that game against the Proteas, but this time around, the Indians were backed by a solid 192 from skipper Azharuddin as the match ended in a turgid draw.

Smith was dismissed the next day for 173, trapped leg before wicket off Prabhakar, but this remained his highest score in Tests, and will perhaps be his most momentous knock in a career that spanned for over a decade and 63 matches.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)