The best Test innings by an Australian (other than Bradman): Kim Hughes – 100 not out, vs West Indies, Melbourne, 1981/82
By James Grapsas
In assessing the quality of a Test innings, I place great weight on the degree of difficulty faced by the batsman. The key factors are the quality of the opposition attack, the nature of the game situation when the player was at the crease and any challenges in the conditions. With this in mind, Kim Hughes’ unbeaten 100 against the West Indies at the MCG in the 1981/82 Boxing Day Test is the knock I rate as the best by an Australian player in a Test match. Other than by Bradman, of course.
The West Indian attack that graced the MCG on that Saturday was a fast and fearsome combination: Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft. In what was the first Test of the series, Australia were in strife at 3-8 after 52 minutes. Greg Chappell had been dismissed for a first ball duck, his fourth consecutive duck at international level, when Hughes arrived at the crease. Hughes combined graft with bold strokeplay, but the score was a sickly 5-59 when Dirk Wellham, the last of the recognised batsmen, departed nearly an hour into the afternoon session.
Hughes produced an innings of exceptional quality, highlighted by courageous, counter-attacking shots. His execution of the pull and cut shots was outstanding. He took the fight right up to the mighty West Indian quicks. Helped by partnerships of 56 and 34 with Western Australian teammates Rod Marsh and Bruce Yardley, respectively, Hughes helped Australia inch over the 150 mark early in the evening session. Hughes was on 71 when number 11 batsman Terry Alderman came in with the score on 9-155. Hughes lifted the intensity further and Alderman played his part, sticking around for 56 minutes. Hughes reached his hundred with an exhilarating square cut off Garner for four. Alderman was out a short time later for 10, which ended the Australian innings on 198. Hughes skilfully farmed the strike, with Alderman facing only 26 deliveries. Hughes’ unbeaten 100, scored from 200 balls and including 11 fours, was more than half the Australian total. No other batsman passed 21.
The enormity of Hughes’ contribution is brought into focus by the other scores made in the match. From the other 39 individual innings in that Test, only three half-centuries were scored: Larry Gomes made 55 in the West Indies’ first innings and 64 and 66 were scored by Bruce Laird and Allan Border, respectively, in the Aussies’ second dig.
In addition to the pressure situation in which he batted, Hughes also rose above an ordinary MCG pitch. In the early-1980s, the MCG wicket was notorious for inconsistent pace and bounce – not the best conditions for facing a rapid and menacing West Indies fast bowling battery. In the two previous MCG Tests, the wicket had become a minefield on the fourth and fifth days and Australia had suffered embarrassing defeats. In February 1981, Australia had been rolled by India for 83, chasing a mild total of 143. Less than two weeks before the Boxing Day engagement with the West Indies, Pakistan had rolled the Australians for 125 and consigned the home side to an innings defeat. The MCG pitch was canned and, after Australia’s eventual 58 run win against the West Indies, the Melbourne Cricket Club announced that the centre square would be dug up at the end of the 1981/82 season and re-laid over the next three years.
It should also be remembered that Hughes entered the 1981/82 season under significant pressure. His captaincy had been heavily criticised by the media in the wake of Australia losing the 1981 Ashes series. With Greg Chappell available for national selection as the 1981/82 home season loomed, Hughes had to hand the leadership duties back to Chappell. ‘Botham’s Ashes’ was also an unsuccessful period for Hughes with the bat. Aside from a quality 89 on a tricky wicket in the first innings of the famous Headingley Test, Hughes failed to pass 50 in the series (300 runs at 25.00). On a personal level, Hughes’ father-in-law was critically ill and the Hughes family were told shortly before the Test that he did not have long to live. Hughes’ father-in-law passed away about a week after the innings.
This superb knock was the seventh of Hughes’ nine Test centuries. Only two of Hughes’ Test hundreds were scored overseas: an even 100 against India at Chennai during the six Test series marathon in 1979 and his brilliant 117 in the 1980 Centenary Test at Lord’s. His home Test batting average was 5.50 runs higher than his average away:
* Home Tests – 36 Tests, 2,739 runs at 39.70, HS 213, 7 x 100s, 12 x 50s, 6 x 0s.
* Away Tests – 34 Tests, 1,676 runs at 34.20, HS 117, 2 x 100s, 10 x 50s, 4 x 0s.
After his Boxing Day masterpiece, Hughes performed very well in the home series against England in 1982/83 (469 runs at 67.00) and Pakistan in 1983/84 (375 runs at 62.50). Hughes had a wretched run against the West Indies in 1984, which were the last nine Tests of his career. This tumultuous period, during which Hughes resigned the Test captaincy in November 1984, produced a modest 296 runs from 18 innings with a highest score of only 37. During this hardship, Hughes’ Test batting average fell from 41.19 to its final figure of 37.41. Cricket devotees should not allow Hughes’ troubles in 1984/85 and his eventual leadership of the South African rebel tours to obscure his gutsy and skilful performance in the face of adversity on Boxing Day 1981.