HISTORY was made in the recent Australia versus India series when Steve Smith and Virat Kohli provided the first instance in the game’s history of two batsmen each scoring four hundreds in a Test rubber.
Smith hit 162 not out in the first Test at Adelaide, 133 in the second at Brisbane, 192 in the third at Melbourne and 117 in the fourth at Sydney.
Kohli scored 115 and 141 at Adelaide, 169 at Melbourne and 147 at Sydney, a valiant effort in a series that Australia won 2-0.
It took to 20 the number of times that a batsman has scored four or more hundreds in a Test series, with the West Indian Clyde Walcott the only man to make five – against Australia in the Caribbean in 1955.
The first man to perform this special feat was Yorkshire’s Herbert Sutcliffe, who struck four hundreds in the 1924-25 Ashes en route to a then record 734 runs in a series.
The opening batsman scored 115 in the first Test at Sydney, 176 and 127 in the second at Melbourne, and 143 in the fourth fixture also played at Melbourne.
To say that Sutcliffe’s efforts were in vain is an understatement.
England lost the series 4-1, which was actually an improvement on their previous visit in 1920-21, when they lost 5-0 in the only instance of a five-Test Ashes whitewash prior to Andrew Flintoff’s ill-fated tour in 2006-07.
Sutcliffe, who had just turned 30 at the time of the first Test at Sydney in December, 1924, had made his Test debut earlier that year.
The man who would go on to achieve the highest average by an England batsman in Test cricket (60.73 from 54 games) first opened for his country against South Africa at Edgbaston in July, 1924.
Sutcliffe scored 64 in an innings win in Birmingham, sharing an opening stand of 136 with the great Jack Hobbs, and then struck 122 in the next Test at Lord’s, where he and Hobbs shared 268 in another innings win.
The Yorkshireman made 83 in the third Test at Leeds, where England won by nine wickets, and although rain deprived him of a bat in the fourth Test at Manchester and he failed in the final Test at The Oval, there was no doubt English cricket had found a new hero.
After his success against a generally weak South Africa, however, who struggled away from the matting wickets employed in their homeland, Sutcliffe still had something to prove on his first overseas tour.
Against a strong Australian side boasting such talents as pace bowler Jack Gregory and leg-spinners Arthur Mailey and Clarrie Grimmett, he faced a stiff challenge on paper to replicate his form at county level, which had been impressive since entering first-class cricket in 1919, aged 24.
After consistently averaging in the low-to-high 40s in the formative stages of his Yorkshire career, Sutcliffe was now coming into his own and about to embark on a decade of sparkling success.
In each of the next eight English seasons, he would average over 50, three times scoring more than 3,000 runs in a season, with a best of 3,336 in 1932 with 14 hundreds – figures that today seem quaintly fanciful.
Despite their 5-0 battering in 1920-21, England had high hopes of winning the Ashes in 1924-25 under the captaincy of Arthur Gilligan.
The Sussex all-rounder, who was predominantly a pace bowler, had a strong side – one that also included the likes of Kent duo Frank Woolley and “Tich” Freeman and the Middlesex pair of Jack Hearne and “Patsy” Hendren.
But Australia – led by Herbie “Horseshoe” Collins – were a formidable outfit themselves and they immediately hit the ground running.
They won the first Test in Sydney by 193 runs, Collins scoring a hundred on the opening day of the series after living up to a nickname that came about due to his luck at the toss and on the gee-gees.
This match set the tone for a series in which England, in contrast, were often dogged by ill-luck and injuries.
For the heroes in defeat at the SCG were Sutcliffe and Hobbs, who continued their prolific alliance with partnerships of 157 and 110, and Maurice Tate, the Sussex pace bowler, who took 11 wickets.
Sutcliffe, Hobbs and Tate had eye-catching campaigns, Hobbs the second-highest run-scorer in the series to Sutcliffe with 573 at 63.66 and Tate the leading wicket-taker with 38 at 23.18.
Tate’s haul broke Mailey’s record for most wickets in an Ashes series (36 in 1920-21), Tate dismissing the wrist-spinner in the final game at Sydney to set the new mark.
England lost the second Test by 81 runs after Australia scored 600 in their first innings, Hobbs and Sutcliffe sharing 283 in England’s reply of 479.
The margin of defeat was only 11 runs in the third Test at Adelaide, where Australia took a 3-0 lead to retain the Ashes, and England hit back with victory by an innings and 29 runs in the fourth game at Melbourne, Hobbs and Sutcliffe sharing yet another three-figure stand – 126 in the England first innings.
Neither Hobbs nor Sutcliffe made an impact in the final Test, which Australia won by 307 runs on the back of Grimmett’s 11-wicket haul.
However, Wisden made clear: “Finer and more consistent batting than that of Hobbs and Sutcliffe in the first four Test matches could not well be conceived... Four times they participated in a first-wicket partnership of over a hundred runs.
“Had they received better support on two occasions, the history of the tour might well have been very different, but, unhappily at Sydney, after they were separated at 157 the other nine wickets went down for the addition of 141 runs and following the memorable partnership of 283 at Melbourne the innings was finished off for 196 more runs.
“Sutcliffe enjoyed the distinction of making four separate hundreds in the Test matches – a feat unprecedented in any tour.”
Sutcliffe – who was joined on the 1924-25 trip by another Yorkshire player in Roy Kilner, the left-arm spinner who was England’s second-highest wicket-taker with 17 at 23.47 – also hit four hundreds in a series in 1929 when South Africa visited England.
The other men to perform the feat twice or more are Australia’s Neil Harvey, who did it against South Africa in 1949-50 and 1952-53; India’s Sunil Gavaskar, who did it against the West Indies in 1971 and 1978-79, and Australian Don Bradman, who did it on three occasions – against England in 1930, South Africa in 1931-32 and India in 1947-48.
Bradman’s bag of 974 runs in the 1930 campaign – including a then Test-best 334 at Headingley – remains a world record.
How the runs stacked up in Ashes series
Herbert Sutcliffe in the 1924-25 Ashes series ...
First Test: (Sydney, Dec 19-27). 1st innings – 59 c VY Richardson b Mailey; 2nd innings – 115 c Gregory b Mailey. Result: Australia 450 and 452 beat England 298 and 411 by 193 runs.
Second Test: (Melbourne, Jan 1-8). 1st innings – 176 b Kelleway; 2nd innings – 127 c Gregory b Mailey. Result: Australia 600 and 250 beat England 479 and 290 by 81 runs.
Third Test: (Adelaide, Jan 16-23). 1st innings – 33 c Oldfield b Ryder; 2nd innings – 59 c Ponsford b Mailey. Result: Australia 489 and 250 beat England 365 and 363 by 11 runs.
Fourth Test: (Melbourne, Feb 13-18). 1st innings – 143 lbw b Mailey. Result: England 548 beat Australia 269 and 250 by an innings and 29 runs.
Fifth Test: (Sydney, Feb 27-Mar 4). 1st innings – 22 c Mailey b Kelleway; 2nd innings – 0 b Gregory. Result: Australia 295 and 325 beat England 167 and 146 by 307 runs.
Four or more hundereds in a Test series: Don Bradman (3), Herbert Sutcliffe (2), Neil Harvey (2), Sunil Gavaskar (2), Wally Hammond, George Headley, Denis Compton, Everton Weekes, Doug Walters, Clyde Walcott, Mudassar Nazar, Jacques Kallis, Mohammad Yousuf, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli.