By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published May 8, 2017
For most batsmen, the build-up to scoring a century is easy. The issues begin when they get into the nineties, and worse on 99.
In cricket, the dream of every batsman when he walks to the crease is to make a century for his team, irrespective of whether he’s an opening batsman or a tailender. A century of runs in an innings is a remarkable feat and if it is a double, triple or quadruple century, the more distinguished and memorable it is.
As players approach this milestone in their innings, for many, their demeanour change drastically. Runs that flowed from their bats like water down the Niagara Falls, often abate similar to the closing of a floodgate. Several players, commentators and fans often call this spate of attrition for batsmen as the ‘nervous nineties’. An almost heartbreaking act is when a batsman gets out or is left not out in the nineties but none more heartrending than when the batsman is on 99.
There have been 137 occasions in international cricket where a batsman’s innings ended with him out or not out on 99: ninety (90) times in Test, 45 times in One-Day Internationals (ODI) and twice in Twenty20 Internationals (T20I). In the current series between West Indies and Pakistan, Pakistan’s captain Misbah-ul-Haq saw two of his innings end with him on 99, on one occasion 99 out and the other 99 not out. Misbah became the first batsman to suffer this misfortune thrice in Test.
The first batsman to suffer this inglorious feat and define the ‘nervous nineties’ was Australian Clem Hill. Hill was the first batsman to score 1000 Test runs in a calendar year in Test cricket and he did so in 1902. Actually, Hill began the year 1902 very torridly. On January 2, 1902, he walked to the crease in a match against England and made 99. He followed up that innings in the following Test match with 98 and 97 – gutting performances – when added to his 96 in an innings from little over four years earlier. His 96 in 1897 was the first time in Test cricket’s first 20 years that a batsman got out within four runs of a century. He became the first batsman out in Test cricket on 96, 97, 98 and 99. Maybe the nervous nineties should be renamed the ‘nervous Clem Hills’.
Of the 90 Test batsmen to see their innings end one short of a century, 84 of them lost their wicket while six had the contretemps of being left stranded on 99 not out. Steve Waugh, Misbah-ul-Haq, Andrew Hall, Shaun Pollock, Alex Tudor and Geoffrey Boycott are the ‘salt’ six. Tudor and Boycott were luckless to have this occur in the fourth and final innings of a Test and even more, ill-fated Tudor’s 99 not out turned out to be his career-best knock. The only reprieve for Tudor was that his team won the game and he had hit the winning shot. Another player whose career-best turned out to be 99 was Asim Kamal who actually achieved this in his first match and never again did he climb to those heights.
Sachin Tendulkar is the most productive batsman in cricket, playing 664 international matches – Tests, ODIs and T20Is combined – scoring over 34,000 runs including 100 centuries. However, Tendulkar also has the distinction of being out the most times on 99, thrice, all in One-Day cricket and all occurring in 2007.
The World Cup is the highest stage for One Day cricket and a century in the World Cup is normally ranked high among personal achievements. ODI cricket’s most destructive wicketkeeper-batsman, Adam Gilchrist, became the first batsman to experience the affliction of getting out on 99 during a World Cup match, in 2003. It is often said, misery loves company. South Africans JP Duminy and AB de Villiers have joined Gilchrist in that distressing feat.
Apart from a batsman’s personal goal of scoring a century, his primary goal is to contribute significantly to his team winning the match. If he can achieve both, then all objectives have been achieved. West Indian Richie Richardson has the distinction of the first batsman to be left unbeaten on 99 in a successful chase in any form of cricket. He saw this occur in an ODI match in 1985 against Pakistan. To soothe the wound of missing out on the century with his partner Gus Logie at the other end, the adjudicators named Richardson man-of-the-match.
Centuries in T20I cricket are rare. In 610 matches and over 9800 innings, only 25 centuries have been scored and only one match has seen two players score a century. On the other hand, Alex Hales and Luke Wright are the only two batsmen to see their innings end on 99 during a T20I game. Hales sadly lost his wicket with an over to spare in a match against West Indies. Wright, on the contrary, missed out on a century against Afghanistan during the 2012 T20 World Cup. With a ball to go in his team’s innings and him on 97, Wright couldn’t find the boundary against the Afghans and was only able to scamper two runs and remain unbeaten on 99.
Getting a century in cricket is a rewarding feeling, which often is celebrated exuberantly by the batsman and his teammates when achieved. The main problem is when the batsman gets to 99 and starts to think about the century milestone because unfortunately there is no guarantee he’ll be able to find that one run solution.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.
He has 99 problems and his wife thinks he is one.
This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 8, 2017.