When Charles Coventry equaled Saeed Anwar’s record 194, only for it to be broken soon after

Charles Coventry © AFP

On August 16, 2009, Charles Coventry equaled the highest individual score in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) to find a place amongst the legends of the game. Abhijit Banare recalls the classic innings.

For more than a decade, 194 remained a magical figure in cricket trump cards — an extremely popular card-game among kids. A hushed giggle would appear on one of the faces seeing a card with Saeed Anwar flashing past point. This would invariably mean an opportunity to challenge the peers over the highest individual ODI score. And for their competitors there wasn’t a scope for any other reaction but to concede handful of points. Such was the mammoth record of Anwar that his achievement appeared unconquerable for more than a decade.

However, in a span of two years, the record was smashed twice and equaled once. Without much doubt one would only imagine an experienced and accomplished batsman to play such a marathon innings. The record books will perhaps be amused at the presence of a certain Charles Coventry alongside Anwar, Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag among the highest individual scores in One-Day Internationals. It was an unrehearsed knock from Coventry at Bulawayo reaching the pinnacle on the back of two dropped catches. But as fate has it, he missed a chance of surpassing the score despite having an over at his disposal needing just four off it.

In the absence of strong teams willing to tour Zimbabwe in recent times, the African nation is left to repeatedly play against Bangladesh and Kenya with a feeling of déjà vu, like an India-Sri Lanka match. The Bangladesh team toured Zimbabwe in August for the second of three ODI series the two teams played in 2009, which presents the frequency of the encounters. Nevertheless, it did keep them busy on the international map.

Going into the fourth ODI of the series, the side led by Shakib-Al-Hasan was aiming to pocket the series having been denied the opportunity to complete it in straight games as they conceded a 69-run defeat in the third one.

On a flat deck at Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s best chance at having a go was always to pile on runs batting first; and they did receive the opportunity with the young skipper Prosper Utseya winning the toss in the must-win encounter. With nothing much in the wicket, it was always going to be more of a misadventure from batsmen that would lead to wickets falling early on. Mark Vermeulen flicked a wayward leg-stump delivery straight to an alert short mid-wicket fielder to leave his team at five for one.

In walked a frail bespectacled Coventry. With just a half-century behind him in the series and two overall, his team would have expected the odd partnership to click through him, hang around and stitch towards a challenging total. It would be more than bizarre to even think of a world record. Coventry, along with opener Hamilton Masakadza, had a task to see out the first power play.

Dropped catch

In the eighth over, Coventry’s well-timed shot landed into the stands to a loosener from Mahbubul Alam. The wristy flicks and well-timed strokes were the highlight of the innings to follow. However, the next ball could have easily halted Coventry’s stay. Angling towards the leg-side, Coventry resting on his right knee flicked it uppishly over square-leg. Syed Rasel, lurking in the shadows on the boundary line misjudged the skier completely thanks to the shade disturbing his concentration and Coventry had his first reprieve of the match. Overall, Bangladesh were sloppy in their fielding — diving and misjudging almost everything that came their way.

The partnership slowly steadied and the authority over Coventry’s shots had indicated that he had his eyes in and the gentle pace of the opening bowlers was not even close to challenging the batsmen.

It’s often said that when you have settled with a good touch, it’s necessary to be on the strike more often. Runs gradually started flowing through Coventry’s bat who enjoyed most of the strike and reached his half-century in 43 balls. While Coventry had hit only one six until then, most of his other strokes were in the obtuse angle flying over the fielders.

By the 20th over, Coventry, with an arm-band sans the arm-guard, had switched to a cap, looking confident to accumulate more runs. Meanwhile on the other end, Shakib, with his angling deliveries, was troubling Brendan Taylor time and again only to meet the stubborn resistance of umpire Amiesh Saheba before the latter nodded.

While the other batsmen departed, Coventry had booked in with tenacity. Moving at a steady pace along with Stuart Matsikenyeri, Coventry brought his maiden ODI century off 110 deliveries with a push down long-on to loud cheers from the crowd seated in pockets across the stands. Zimbabwe raced along to 179 for four. The partnership between Coventry and Matsikenyeri put on 117 runs to help the team build a solid platform for the slog overs.

The Bangladesh slow bowlers appeared comparable to net bowlers as the batsmen carted around with consummate ease and Coventry further flayed the attack with aerial strokes being timed more often. The next 50 runs for Coventry came in just 27 deliveries hopping and dancing down the wicket. Since Bangladesh had comforted themselves to grease-palms, it was very likely that the easiest of skiers could also be converted into a mess. This time around Mahmudullah reassured Coventry that the record was there for him to chase unless he chose to be bowled or ran himself out; even the latter would be difficult. The fielder dropped a simple catch offered by Coventry’s slog-sweep at square-leg.

In the 46th over especially, he pocketed 16 runs with a couple of sixes and a boundary. The dressing room, now eager with eyes wide open, were watching their No 3 batsman smack bowlers all around the park. With another five overs to go, all that could bring a halt to his innings was a mistimed skier which appeared unlikely as he appeared extremely fluent in his slog-sweeps after the two errors.

With 18 more balls to go and still 14 away from rewriting history, Coventry was confident and brought down the equation to just four needed off the last over. This description now appeared more like a chase for Coventry and Zimbabwe rather than look around broadly to think of it as a must-win match. On the last ball of 49th over, Zimbabwe had lost a wicket which meant the batsman on 191 was in charge of his history right through the next over.

A fullish delivery outside off and Coventry drove it to covers only for a quick single. Eyes still on the record. All it could take was one slog over mid-wicket or long-on as he usually did. To narrow down the equation, Tawanda Mupariwa was adjudged leg-before. Still four more balls remaining. The next batsman skipper Prosper Utseya lofted one over long-on. The fielder running in did what was a ritual in that match: over-ran and missed the ball completely and conceded a boundary. Perhaps at that moment things looked tough for Coventry with just three balls remaining. Yet, Utseya managed to handover the strike only on the last ball as he took a couple on the fourth and a single on the fifth.

The moment of history

The dressing room stood up in anticipation. At 192, anything would be possible. A single would have left him exhausted, a couple with a memoir to take back or a boundary would seal the history books. The commentators though expected the least possible options — a wicket and a dot ball. Syed Rasel, who slipped a simple catch, had one more opportunity to avoid being at the wrong end a world record. He pitched it short of good length and Coventry rocked on the backfoot and punched it with élan straight beneath the umpire’s feet. One would have given that straight punch a chance to cross the fence if they were Dhoni’s arms but the fielder comfortably reached for the ball, sloppily gathered it a sent a return. In the meanwhile the excitement had eased itself as Coventry was in for an easy couple. There it was, the mystery of 194 had a new partner by the name of Charles Kevin Coventry.

As he walked back to the pavilion his teammates gave him a guard of honour. His effort had placed him above Anwar since the former remained unbeaten. The 156-ball innings consisted of 16 boundaries and seven sixes.

Zimbabwe though lost the match thanks to a power-packed 154 from Tamim Iqbal. Thus Zimbabwe updated another statistic — highest individual score in a losing cause. Coventry’s achievement didn’t attract the awe which others commanded, probably because of the attack he played against and the team he played for. It was hardly reported as a landmark event which it did deserve considering the duration of the old record. Nevertheless, as egalitarian as statistics can be, Coventry’s achievement will forever be remembered when it comes down to numbers presented on TV screens during various matches.

What once looked like an insurmountable task was conquered yet again within six months. This time around it became a widely discussed event. A double century in ODIs coming from the bat of one of the legends of the game — Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar seems to have aptly identified the curse of magical three digits — 194. During the historic 2004 tour to Pakistan, Indian skipper Rahul Dravid had declared the Indian innings leaving the maestro stranded at the same score. In February 2010 though, the 200-run mark in ODI was achieved against South Africa.

It was a feat which took almost four decades to achieve since the format was first played. This time around it again seemed that a double century at least couldn’t be surpassed again. But guess what, Sehwag didn’t just achieve it but thrashed Tendulkar’s record by 19 runs and had plenty of time to achieve unlike the Master Blaster who did it in the last over. At least Sehwag’s record 219 has settled down since December 2011 as the highest individual score. Coventry though can claim to be different on one little stat: he didn’t open the innings unlike others.

Brief scores:

Zimbabwe 312 for 8 in 50 overs (Charles Coventry 194*, Stuart Mastikenyeri 37; Enamul Haque Jr 2 for 51, Mahbubul Alam 2 for 63) lost to Bangladesh 313 for 6 in 47.5 overs (Tamim Iqbal 154, Junaid Siddique 38; Ray Price 3 for 60, Hamilton Masakadza 2 for 52) by 4 wickets.

(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)