In the first ever Twenty20 international, played at Auckland on February 17th 2005, then Australia captain Ricky Ponting smashed 98*. T20 was born, we were going to see runs, runs and more runs. Five years on, during the third ICC World Twenty20, Brendon McCullum became the first man to pass the 1,000 international Twenty20 run milestone. The nearest man to him his England’s Kevin Pietersen on 769 runs. Despite this milestone, however, the real headlines, the real buzz, has been created by the century makers.
In the first World Twenty20 Chris Gayle smashed the hosts South Africa, for 117 runs at Johannesburg. The fact it was for a losing cause mattered not for the cricket world had witnessed something that had seemed so elusive on the international stage. The best attempts up to this point had come from two Aussies. Ponting’s 98* in the first ever Twenty20 international secured an unbreakable hat-trick for Australian cricket; they had won the first ever Test match, the first ever One Day International and now the first ever Twenty20 international.
11 months later and Damien Martyn had flirted with the three-figure barrier with a plucky 96 against South Africa at Brisbane. Just when would the first international Twenty20 ton come? Enter Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain on September 11th 2007 – hardly an appropriate day for such explosive scenes.
And so it was back to the waiting. We’d seen a Twenty20 century at the highest level, when would we see another? Would we ever see another? Tillakaratne Dilshan scored 96* at the following World Twenty20 in England at The Oval. 2008 and 2009, however, passed without seeing another century. Nobody was up to the task of matching Gayle, not even Gayle himself, despite the fact that he managed to stun anyone with even a passing interest in the game with an innings of such sheer brutality, again at The Oval, against Australia in 2009.
Graeme Smith and Loots Bosman also threatened to break into the exclusive three-figure group at Centurion last November against England. It wasn’t to be, with Bosman topping out on 94. Then along came 2010…
More specifically, February 28th 2010. At Christchurch, against Australia, Twenty20’s best-friend Brendon McCullum re-surfaced to face 56 balls. He scored 116* runs. The strike-rate barrier of 200 had now been brought down. The big-hitting good times were back! Not even the anticipated bowler-friendly wickets of the Caribbean have been able to stop the party. Already we have seen two centuries at the tournament from Suresh Raina against South Africa (101) and from Mahela Jayawardene against Zimbabwe (100). Jayawardene came painfully close to an unthinkable second World Twnety20 century with 98* against the hosts in the Super Eights. Are the floodgates now open?
A Twenty20 century really is something to savour. As is a bowler claiming a five-fer in this format. Whilst there have been four Twenty20 centuries, there have only been three Twenty20 five-fers, the pick of which was Umar Gul’s scarcely believable return of five wickets for six runs against New Zealand at The Oval last year. It is widely accepted that this is a batsman’s game, so perhaps we should reserve our greatest reverence for the stunning bowling displays that destroy the opposition. Gul gave New Zealand nothing on June 13th 2009. He won Pakistan the game.
Whatever the most striking element of the game, it would appear that the standard of Twenty20 is improving. Such is the short nature of the game, however, that individual performances will always stand out head and shoulders above the rest. We reserve our greatest reverence for those who stun us into it. Gayle, McCullum, Raina and Jayawardene have all done that.
By Miles Reucroft