Apr 242013

Chris Gayle made history yesterday by smashing the fastest ever century in professional cricket during an Indian Premier League game between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Pune Warriors.

The West Indies opening batsman took just 30 balls to reach his 100, shaving four deliveries off the previous record set by Andrew Symonds’ 34-ball ton in 2004.

The 33-year old finished on 175* from 66 deliveries, including 17 sixes and 13 fours, eclipsing the previous T20 record high score set by Brendon McCullum’s 158* in 2008, also coming in the IPL.

Though a 30-ball century is unprecedented in the cricketing world, the record has tumbled often throughout the history of the sport, across all forms of the game.

Test cricket set the benchmark in 1902 when Englishman Gilbert Jessop struck a 76 ball century in an Ashes match at the Oval, including 17 fours and without a single maximum. Australian John Gregory surpassed the record in 1921 with a 67 ball hundred in Johannesburg.

Gregory’s record remains totemic; only two batsmen in the Test area have since outstripped him – Viv Richards in 1986, and Adam Gilchrist 20 years later. Richards’ 56 ball hundred against England remains the yardstick, but it is in the shorter forms of the game that the records have tumbled with regularity and facilitated a strike rate of over 200.

The roots of the 50-over format can be traced back to a match between England and Australia in 1971, but it is only in the last 20 years that the batting barriers have been smashed. The record was shattered twice in the space of eight months in 1996, first by Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya and then Pakistan’s enigmatic all-rounder Shahid Afridi.

Jayasuriya’s knock of 134 was the first century reached in under 50 balls, before Afridi blew it out of the water with a remarkable 37 ball ton against Sri Lanka.

The advent of Twenty20 cricket in 2003 ushered in a new era of astonishing strike rates and bewildering run rates. Though no player has plundered an international hundred in the T20 format in under 50 deliveries, Gayle and New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum share the record on 50 balls, the domestic competitions in England and India have witnessed many an incredible innings.

In the inaugural game of the Indian Premier League in 2008 Brendon McCullum powered to 158* from 73 deliveries, paving the way for further power hitting. It did not compare with Andrew Symonds’ 34 ball ton for Kent in 2004, but its ceremonial resonance is clear.

Twenty times has a batsman scored a century in under 50 balls in T20 cricket, with Scott Styris, Yusuf Pathan and Louis van der Westhuizen joining Gayle and Symonds in posting sub-40 ball centuries.

The next frontier for T20 batsmen to target is the sub-30 ball hundred. In contrast to Gilbert Jessop’s seminal ton in 1902 without a single six, Gayle hit 17 yesterday. He would need to hit 17 sixes in as many deliveries to strike the perfect hundred. Perhaps that is beyond cricketers, but a sub-30 ball ton certainly isn’t.

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