Records are there to be broken, but not chased
Graeme Smith is infinitely better acquainted with the history of test cricket than many people may imagine, and his knowledge of South Africa’s records – both team and individual – is impressive.
Most of his players protect themselves against claims of vanity by pretending to be unaware of impending records, or even of records that that they have just broken. It’s a funny game that we play: “So, Fred,” we say in the press conference afterwards, “are you aware that you are the fastest player to reach 100 test wickets?”
“Oh, really? No, I wasn’t, but I am now. Thanks for telling me – it’s a real honour.”
Anyway, Smith will be all too well aware of where his team stands in the history books after 15 tests without defeat and six consecutive victories. And the answer is – a long way from the top of the list!
The most consecutive test matches played without defeat is 27 and it was achieved by the team many regard as the greatest ever – the West Indians of the early 1980s. The sequence began and ended in Australia with victory in the New Year test at the SCG in 1982 and defeat – by an innings and 55 runs – at the same venue almost exactly three years later.
England are in second place with 26 consecutive games devoid of defeat between 1968 and 1971 and Australia claim third and fourth place on the list with 25 between 1946 and 1951 and 22 between 2005 and 2008.
Smith’s current run of six consecutive victories isn’t even a South African record. The world record stands at no fewer than 16, and it was achieved twice – by Australia – from 1999 to 2001 and again between 2005 and 2008. The same great West Indian team which was unbeaten for three years won 11 consecutive tests in 1984.
Smith actually featured in the team which set the South African record of nine straight wins although the gravitas of the achievement was a little diluted by the fact that it included four tests against Bangladesh. Nonetheless, it really should have been 11, and would have been if it didn’t rain so much in England.
The sequence began with the record run-chase against Australia in Durban in March 2002 when a Herschelle Gibbs century guided the hosts to a target of 340, the highest total of the match.
Bangladesh arrived at the start of the following summer and were rapidly chopped up into little pieces in East London and Potchefstroom. Smith made his first 200, Gary Kirsten added 150 and there were five-wicket hauls for Makhaya Ntini and David Terbrugge. There was also a world record for Jacques Kallis – one which you may have forgotten about, but which still stands today. The quickest wicket-to-wicket five-for in test history - 4.3-1-21-5!
Sri Lanka and Pakistan were the major visitors in the summer of ’02/03 although they, too, played only two tests each. Sri Lanka were beaten by an innings at the Wanderers where Andrew Hall returned the extraordinary analysis of 2-1-1-3 but the test at Centurion was much closer – on paper, anyway – with the Proteas winning by just three wickets chasing a mere 124.
Pakistan were trounced by 10 wickets at Kingsmead with Nantie Hayward claiming 5-56 shortly before he accepted a Kolpak contract in England. At Newlands it was completely one-sided with Smith (151) and Gibbs (228) combining for an opening stand of 368 to set up victory by an innings and 142 runs.
Bangladesh were then trounced again in Dhaka and Chittagong before the team headed to England on the back of nine straight wins.
The first test, at Edgbaston in Birmingham, saw Smith make his then national record 277 and victory would have been all but guaranteed had a day not been lost to the weather. The second test, at Lord’s, was won by an innings and 92 runs.
There are many ways to measure a team’s greatness, but these are certainly milestones to be aware of.