Cricket’s master blasters have produced some of the international game’s greatest double-centuries in recent years: Rohit Sharma’s record ODI innings of 264 from 173 deliveries for India against Sri Lanka, and Brendon McCullum’s emotional double-ton in the Black Caps’ Test win against Pakistan, scoring 202 off 188 balls after earlier breaking the record for quickest century by a New Zealander; Steve Smith’s brilliant 215 at Lord’s in 2015; and Ben Stokes’ unbelievable 258 off 198 balls in South Africa last January.
Too Good Tuesday is taking a look back at the standard-bearer for mind-blowing double-centuries – Kiwi all-rounder Nathan Astle’s unforgettable 222 in a Test against England in 2002.
England set New Zealand a virtually impossible fourth innings target of 550 in Christchurch after Graeme Thorpe’s 200 not out in the tourists’ second dig. Astle came in at No.5 with the score at 3/119, and despite chalking up a rapid century in just 114 balls, the Black Caps’ innings appeared certain to come to a quick conclusion when they were 9/333 six overs later.
But with big-hitting Chris Cairns – last man in after suffering an injury earlier in the match – holding down the other end, Astle went berserk in one of the most spectacular exhibitions of batting in Test history.
In just four overs, the pair added an extraordinary 71 runs, before Astle brought up his 200 off 153 balls – destroying the all-time Test record for the fastest double-century by 59 balls, set less than a month earlier by Adam Gilchrist against South Africa. Astle’s record still stands, with only Virender Sehwag (three times), McCullum and Stokes chalking up Test double-tons at better than a run a ball since.
He was finally out for 222 after a 118-run stand with the hobbled Cairns (the ninth-highest 10th-wicket partnership in Test history at the time) as the Black Caps finished 99 runs short of the unlikely match-winning target. New Zealand’s 451 ranks as the second-highest fourth innings total of all time, and the highest fourth innings total by a losing team. England’s win in the third and final Test levelled the series at 1-all.
But Astle was the undisputed star of the show, his unprecedented innings coming from just 168 balls. Phenomenally, he progressed from 100 to 200 in just 39 deliveries. His innings comprised of 28 boundaries and 11 sixes – the latter figure just one behind Wasim Akram’s Test record, while Astle’s haul has been equalled only by Matthew Hayden, McCullum (twice) and Stokes since.
He also finished just one run short of the highest individual score in the the fourth innings of a Test, a record set by West Indies’ George Headley against England in 1929-30.
Genuine highlights have been few and far between in New Zealand’s often tortured Test cricket narrative, and it is ironic that arguably the nation’s greatest individual innings came in a losing effort. Nevertheless, Astle’s bombastic knock ranks with the best ever by a player from any country, and holds a cherished place in the game’s folklore.
NATHAN ASTLE CAREER OVERVIEW
81 Tests (1996-2006) – Innings: 137; Runs: 4,702; Ave: 37.02; 100s: 11; 50s: 24.
Wickets: 51; Ave: 42.01; Best Bowling (innings): 3-27; Best Bowling (match): 6-62; Catches: 24.
223 ODIs (1995-2007) – Innings: 217; Runs: 7,090; Ave: 34.92; 100s: 16; 50s: 41.
Wickets: 99; Ave: 38.47; Best Bowling: 4-43; Catches: 83.