Gary Sobers was the first to score a maiden Test century which was a triple. Only two other batsmen (KK Nair being the latest addition) have done this. Although the circumstances here were not so dramatic, Bob Simpson’s Test career was more conventional but there was a twist in the end.
Robert Baddeley Simpson (generally known as Bob Simpson) was, unlike Sobers, a specialist batsman from the start. A right-hand batsman and occasional leg-spinner, he made his debut against South Africa in 1957-58 with 60 and 23* at No 6 and no bowling in a draw:
He did well enough to keep getting selected and tended towards opening the batting. He also had occasional useful spells as a change bowler. In due course he captained Australia, starting with the 2nd Test against South Africa in 1963-64. Everything went well except for the lack of centuries.
After Australia regained the Ashes in 1958-59, the next few series were defensive stalemates with 1-1 victories in 1961, 1962-63 and so on until Snow’s bowling finally got back the Ashes in 1970-71.
Our story begins in earnest at the 4th Ashes Test at Manchester in 1964. Simpson was now opening and had a good opening partner in Bill Lawry. Australia led the series 1-0 and only had to avoid defeat here to be sure of retaining the Ashes. Until the previous Test, these were Simpson’s figures:
No less than 14 fifties with a top score of 92 (twice). He had not done particularly well in the first three Tests of the series, and had not even claimed the occasional wicket.
Thus dawned Simpson’s 30th Test at Old Trafford, Manchester on 23 Jul 1964. This was not considered to be a batsman’s wicket and perhaps the wounds of Laker’s 19-90 in 1956 were still raw. On this occasion England’s bowling lineup was not particularly good, including the soon-to-be forgotten Fred Rumsey opening with an equally undistinguished John Price (who played long enough to trouble Gavaskar in 1971). The only bowler who stood the test of time was Fred Titmus, while part-timers like Dexter and Boycott also bowled in this match.
Simpson and Lawry opened and both got centuries (Lawry 106) in an opening stand of 201. At close on the first day (23 Jul) Australia had made 253/2 with Simpson on his maiden century with 109* and O’Neill on 10*.
Unlike in Sobers’s record-breaking innings which we saw earlier, nothing obviously went wrong with England’s bowling. It simply wasn’t good enough. At the end of the second day (24 Jul) Australia was 570/4 with Simpson crossing the second hurdle with 265* and Booth on 82 not out.
On the 3rd day Simpson’s marathon innings ended on 311, dismissed by the hard-working Price who ended with 3-183. Australia finally declared at 656/8 and England made a strong reply with 162/2 with captain Dexter (71*) and Barrington (20*) at the crease at the end of 25 Jul.
After the rest day, the rest of the match was somewhat of an anticlimax with England grinding out 611 (Dexter 174, Barrington 256) after finishing the 4th day with 411/3 (Barrington 153*, Parfitt 12*). McKenzie did take 7 wickets but did not seem to have much support. Veivers with 3 wickets was the only other successful bowler.
The innings dragged on for so long that Australia only batted two overs for 4/0 in the closing stages. But they led 1-0 with one to go, and the Ashes remained Down Under. Here is the scorecard:
Simpson then broke out of his century drought, though unlike Sobers he did not cross 50 in the next Test. His final tally was 4869 runs with 10 centuries including the triple and two doubles. There were also 71 wickets with two fivers as well as 110 catches. He was set to retire after India’s visit in 1967-68 which predictably ended in a 4-0 sweep. But that was not the end of his career. He got a surprise Test recall almost 10 years later during the Packer crisis. Let Wikipedia take up the story here:
“When Test cricket was decimated by the breakaway World Series Cricket in 1977, Simpson made a comeback after a decade in retirement to captain New South Wales and Australia at the age of 41. All of Australia’s first-choice players had defected apart from Jeff Thomson. Simpson had been playing for Western Suburbs in Sydney Grade Cricket but had not been playing at first-class level for a decade.
His first assignment was a five Test series against India, and Simpson began where he left off a decade earlier. He top-scored with 89 in the second innings of the First Test in Brisbane, before scoring 176 and 39 as Australia won in Perth. Simpson failed to pass double figures in the Third Test in Melbourne, and made 30s in both innings in Sydney, as the Indians won two consecutive Tests to level the series. Simpson responded with 100 and 51 in the deciding Fifth Test in Adelaide as Australia scraped to a 3–2 series victory. Simpson totaled 539 runs at 53.90 and took four wickets.
He then led Australia on a tour of the West Indies, then the strongest team in the world. He made only one half century, 67 in the Third Test in Georgetown, Guyana. It was the only Test that Australia won in a 3–1 series loss. He had a disappointing series scoring 199 runs at 22.11 and taking seven wickets at 52.28. Simpson wanted to continue playing Tests as Australia hosted Mike Brearley’s Englishmen in 1978–79. His players wanted him to continue, but the Australian Cricket Board voted him out and installed Graham Yallop as the skipper. During his comeback, he had accumulated his 60th first-class century against Barbados during the Caribbean tour and become the oldest Australian to score a Test century on home soil.”
It would be fair to say that he played a major role in India’s 3-2 loss though he was out of his depth against the West Indies, even though the last 3 Tests were played against a weak de-Packerized squad.
Thus end the stories of Gary Sobers and Bob Simpson, the first two Test players whose maiden centuries were triples. The third member of this exclusive club was KK Nair in 2016.
A weird coincidence: Although they were quite different types of players who peaked at different times, they were both born in 1936: Sobers on Jul 28 and Simpson on Feb 3.