Johnson earns his place in history

World Cup Diary: Stephen Brenkley

BY SCORING 132 not out against Australia last week Neil Johnson became the first batsman to make a century for Zimbabwe at Lord's. Others will follow, against the more usual opponents at the ground, England, and in Test matches, too, when they are at last permitted to play one.

But the form of the game matters not for the moment. Johnson's record - and what a splendid innings it was in a valiant attempt to give his side victory - can never be surpassed. One-day cricket was not around when others were reaching the landmark of three figures at Lord's, so he joins an exclusive little throng. It is also, bar a couple of luminous exceptions, surprisingly unsung. Here then is the list of those batsmen who became the first to score a century for their country at the most famous arena of all.

Australia: Harry Graham made 103 in 1893, becoming the first foreigner to achieve a century there in an international match. He came in with Australia on 75 for 5 and immediately started hitting out, as was his forte. Graham scored one more Test hundred, at Sydney the following year, and died at 40.

South Africa: Percy Sherwell scored 115 in his side's first Test in England in 1907. They were in all sorts of trouble following on 288 behind but Sherwell, the captain and wicketkeeper, who promoted himself to opener, ensured that they saved the game. It was his only Test hundred.

New Zealand: Milford "Curly" Page made 104 in his country's first Test in England in 1931. It was his only Test hundred and it allowed New Zealand to draw.

West Indies: George Headley had long since been dubbed The Black Bradman or Atlas (because he carried the rest of the batting) when he scored 106 and 107 in the First Test in 1939. The great Jamaican, born in Panama, was the first West Indies player to make two hundreds in a Test. Denis Compton made 139 in the same match.

India: Vinoo Mankad turned in a remarkable performance in 1952, capped by his second innings 184. He had already scored 72 in the first innings and in the match took 5 for 231 in 97 overs.

Pakistan: Javed Burki, captain of the 1962 tourists, scored a backs-to- the-wall 101, with his side 270 behind and having lost four quick second innings wickets. Nasim-ul Ghani followed him to the landmark, also with 101, as they added 197.

Sri Lanka: Sidath Wettimuny made 190 in 1984 in his side's first Test in England. It was the highest score by any batsman on his first appearance in this country and lasted 10 hours, 42 minutes. Duleep Mendis also scored 111 in the first innings in 112 balls, hooking three sixes off Ian Botham (those were the days) and followed it with 94.

AFTER NEIL JOHNSON'S bravura effort it was said, and often, that this was the first hundred by a Zimbawean at Lord's. Perhaps it is being pedantic but it was not so. It was the first hundred for Zimbabwe.

The first Zimbabwean to make a century (or Rhodesian, as it was then, to continue with the pedantry) was Brian Davison, who did so for Leicester against Middlesex on a relaid, unfit pitch (unlike Johnson's) in 1974. Davison's 109 won the game.

He scored another (124no) two years later when David Gower made his first first-class century. Two other Zimbabwean-born players beat Johnson. Graeme Hick made 173 for Worcestershire against Middlesex in 1987 and 173 not out for the MCC against the Pakistanis two years later, while Kevin Curran scored 142 for Gloucestershire against Middlesex in 1988. None of which diminishes Johnson's achievement.

THIS TOURNAMENT, of course, has been planned down to the finest detail. Or, at least the matches have taken place where they were supposed to have done.

Perhaps the nature of the competition has made precise scheduling of the ancillaries difficult. Lunches have been provided as a courtesy to the Press, hundreds of whom are from overseas, of course.

At Old Trafford last week for the match between India and Pakistan, the Press Box was packed with reporters from the sub-continent. They opened the tuck boxes and found before their eyes a pork pie each - embarrassing for the hosts. Most of the recipients politely declined, on grounds of religion.

WHENEVER ENGLAND'S early exit is mentioned so is their lack of one-day international experience compared to other countries. There is something in this. They had played 282 before the tournament began, when Australia and Pakistan had more played more than 400 games and India approaching that number. South Africa, who did not start till 1992 had played more than 200. Apart from anything else it is sensible strategy for learning (not to mention lucrative for the bank balance, thus giving the lie to the idea that the ECB is only it for the money). But if the lack of games is England's reason for losing one-day matches what is their Test excuse?

CARNIVAL CAPERS

SAQLAIN MUSHTAQ reminded us spinners are playing in this competition by taking a hat-trick at The Oval on Friday. It was novel for going stumped, stumped, lbw. No such umpiring intervention was required when the only other World Cup hat-trick was taken. In 1987 Chetan Sharma of India bowled all three of his New Zealand victims. Zimbabwe should have known all about Saqlain. In November 1996, in Peshawar, he dismissed four of them in five balls. He is the seventh Pakistani to take a one-day hat-trick from a list containing only 12 bowlers.

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