Forgotten 90’s cricketer: Nathan Astle
There was no way he could win it.
Facing an impossible task of scoring 550 runs to win, the team was staring defeat at 333/9. There were 217 runs more to be scored and the only remaining partner was an injured Chris Cairns. From the situation of such despair, Nathan Astle produced one of the greatest gems in the history of Test cricket.
No introduction of Nathan Astle can ever be complete without mentioning his 222(168) against England at Christchurch in 2002. The more illustrious fact is that the innings still stands as the fastest double century ever scored. However not many know the circumstances and the grandeur with which it was scored.
The late 90’s was an interesting period in New Zealand Cricket. While other teams were struggling to find one or two decent all-rounders, the Blackcaps had their jars full. They had Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and plenty others. Interestingly our hero also commenced his career from this list.
Nathan Astle was born in Christchurch on 15th September 1971. The gutsy cricketer soon rose through the age-group cricket and was knocking on the doors of national selection. Early in his career, Astle batted at number five or six and bowled a few overs of gentle medium pace. He was the typical ODI all-rounder.
Things started changing for Astle when he came under the wings of the national coach Glenn Turner. After batting at six on his ODI debut against WI in Jan 1995, Astle was quickly promoted to the top in his fourth match itself. In the same year, he dashed to a match-winning 114 against India in the ODI at Nagpur. This was the first century of his international career. He subsequently made his Test debut against Zimbabwe in January 1996.
The turning point in Astle’s career arrived in the same year. After starting up with a 54 in the first innings at Bridgetown against West Indies, Astle improved and scored 125 in a solo effort in the second innings. Continuing the form in the next Test, the dashing batsman immediately scored 103. The Windies bowling attack at that time comprised Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, and Ian Bishop.
Proving his Test credentials, Astle played his second most extraordinary knock against England at Eden Park in 1997. New Zealand in that Test had to bat out four sessions to ensure a draw after conceding a heavy lead. Batting with number 11, Astle played an epic knock of 102* and stalled England’s definite victory. He forged an unbeaten 106-run partnership with the tail-ender Danny Morrison.
Before playing the legendary innings of 222 versus England in 2002, Astle encountered various patches in his batting form. The 1999 World Cup was a disaster for him as he could total only 79 runs from nine matches. The batsman moved on and started making handful contributions again.
All this while, Astle did his bit to support with the ball as well. He was a gentle medium-pace bowler who relied primarily on the swing to beat the batsman. His best figures in ODIs are 4/43 against Pakistan in the Pepsi Cup 1997, he had already scored 117 in this match. His 51 Test wickets and 99 ODI wickets stand a testimony to the all-round ability Astle possessed.
In late 2005, a disappointing white-ball performance against South Africa cost Astle his spot at the top. He soon came back in a sterling fashion with 118*(126) against West Indies at Napier in March 2006. However, something was amiss in his game thereafter.
Soon citing the lack of motivation to play the game, Nathan Astle hung up his boots. His decision to retire came at the time when the World Cup 2007 was just two months away. He soon gave up on first-class cricket as well. Later, Astle was involved with Mumbai Champs team in the rebel ICL league in India but the venture did not last long.
When Astle retired, he was New Zealand’s best ODI batsman. He was second in terms of runs scored but had scored ten more ODI centuries than the next batsman in the list. The top-order batsman remains to be a favorite of plenty. Yet he will always be remembered for his the epic Test knock of 222 against England.
The sound that Astle’s bat produced on connecting with the ball that day in Christchurch has to be heard to be believed (Check Youtube). The man himself confessed that he was hitting everything from the middle of the bat, and he could never repeat it again. In such ways, Nathan Astle has immortalized himself.
Nathan Astle (New Zealand)
Tests - 81, Runs - 4702, Batting average - 37.02, Test centuries - 11, Highest Score - 222, Wickets - 51, Bowling average - 42.01, Best Bowling figures - 3/27
ODIs - 223, Runs - 7090, Batting average - 34.92, Test centuries - 16, Highest Score - 145*, Wickets - 99, Bowling average - 38.47, Best Bowling figures - 4/43.
T20Is - 4, Runs - 74, Batting average - 24.66, Highest score - 40*, Wickets - 4, Bowling average - 12.50, Best bowling figures - 3/20