The most satisfying moment in a Test batsman’s career would be when he scores his maiden century-particularly when it is on debut, even if he never scores another century. This aspect was covered recently in this blog.
Then there are those whose maiden effort was a double century. This is somewhat more common than one may think. More about this shortly.
And there are two who went even further and made their first Test century a triple, and went on to score many more. More recently KK Nair became the third member of this exclusive club.
The first was Sir Garfield St Aubrun Sobers, generally known as Gary Sobers. He made his Test debut against England at Kingston on March 30, 1954 a few months before he turned 18. This was a relatively strong England team which had Len Hutton scoring 205 and defeating WI by 9 wickets. Young Gary batted at No 9 in both innings, scoring 14* and 26 besides taking 4-75 an 0-6 in the brief second innings. His first wicket was Trevor Bailey and the other three were tailenders (but famous names, Wardle, Lock and Laker). The scorecard is here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62772.html
In his next few Tests he batted at various positions including opening and more often at No 6, besides chipping in with a few wickets. Essentially he came to be regarded as a bowling all-rounder who wasn’t a particularly good batsman. By the middle of February 1958 he had played 16 Tests, with these career figures:
He had scored 856 runs at 34.24 with 6 50s, though he had scored 52 and 80 in the last Test against Pakistan which then had an useful opening pair in Mahmood Hussein and Fazal Mahmood supported by spinner Nasim-ul-Ghani. The West Indies won by 120 runs, with the 22-year old Sobers batting at No 3 and 6. He had also scored a fifty in the first Test of that series, which is remembered for Hanif Mohammed’s epic 337 which drew the Test. There was some thought that the then world record of 364 by Len Hutton in 1938 would be overtaken. Hanif did not manage this, but the peak was scaled in a most unexpected manner in the third Test at Kingston, starting on Feb 26, 1958.
By the second day Pakistan had scored an apparently respectable 328 and the West Indies had replied with 147/1 for Kanhai’s dismissal. Hunte was batting on 100 and Sobers on 20.
While Pakistan could not be called a bad bowling side, in this innings Mahmood Hussein was injured while bowling his first over and Nasim could not bowl after his 15th over. The brunt of the bowling then fell on Fazal Mahmood, Khan Mohammed and Kardar (who was hardly a strike bowler and was also injured) and various part-timers.
By the end of the third day (Feb 28), Sobers had got past his century hoodoo and was batting on 228 and Hunte was on 242, with the score on 504/1. On the 4th day (Mar 1), Hunte was soon dismissed for 260 but Weekes and Walcott kept things going. Sobers got past Headley’s 270 to claim the West Indies record, then 300, and ultimately Hutton’s record which had stood since 1938. Once he made 365 not out, there was a crowd invasion which resulted in the West Indies declaring at 790/3, with Walcott on 88 at the other end.
Then came the rest day. After that a dispirited Pakistan batted with two men short and collapsed to a large innings defeat early on the 6th day: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62837.html
Sobers then made up for his earlier drought of centuries by scoring 125 and 109* in the very next Test. The West Indies won that series 3-1 and then dominated the 1960s. Sobers played an important role in this dominance. By the time he played his last Test in 1974, he had scored 26 centuries (including one more double) and a then record 8032 runs besides taking 235 wickets and 109 catches in 93 Tests.
He also had a long if not very successful stint as captain. He was arguably the best all-rounder in Tests. But who would have imagined this before this Test at Kingston?
There were two other batsmen who made their first Test century a triple, though perhaps the circumstances there were less dramatic. More about them later.
Tail Piece: Sobers’s Test record of 365 lasted for 36 years before it was overtaken by Lara, then briefly by Hayden and again by Lara. But there were other unwanted records made by bowlers in this Test. Pakistan’s Khan Mohammad still holds the record of conceding the most runs in an innings without taking a wicket, while Fazal Mahmood is also high on the list of runs conceded in an innings: