Ross Taylor knocked off a lot of records during his innings of 290 against Australia at Perth in 2015. Among the records he broke was one that has been a career in the making: the most international centuries by a New Zealand batsman. His century was the 28th time he reached the mark for the BLACKCAPS across all formats, surpassing the record of 27 which Nathan Astle had held since 2003 when he went past Martin Crowe.
While this record takes into account all international formats, statistics in the game of cricket are usually broken down to the format they occurred in. In most situations, this gives a more accurate depiction of stats due to the lack of T20 cricket available to generations of cricketers. In the case of New Zealand, only two players have scored T20I centuries, and neither of those are Ross Taylor or Nathan Astle.
When fans and commentators talk about cricket’s greatest, they often focus on Test stats – still the pinnacle of the game. Astle is often, almost apologetically, introduced as our best ever ODI player, but his comprehensive career across the formats is seldom acknowledged. With Ross Taylor sitting on the brink of this centuries achievement, it’s placed a focus on players and complete careers. So let’s look at Astle across the formats.
When Astle retired, his place in New Zealand history seemed secure: 3rd highest Test run-scorer, 3rd highest Test century-maker, 2nd highest ODI run-scorer and highest ODI century-maker. In most categories, he still ranks inside New Zealand’s top ten batsmen across formats. During the span of his career, from 1995 to 2007, only Stephen Fleming scored more runs or played more matches, yet Astle managed 10 more international centuries, and 18 more than the next best in that period. Globally, he ranked highly too: his 16 ODI hundreds was also enough to place him as the 9th greatest century-maker from all countries when he pulled stumps. He was also our 4th highest T20I run-scorer when he retired, but we had only played 5 matches by that point…
He was a vital cog in the team beyond his ability to just score runs, scoring them at key moments and adding to the team in other ways. That list is long too: of BLACKCAPS’ fielders only Fleming has taken more catches, he was Man of the Match 25 times in ODIs, averaged more than anyone else in New Zealand Test and ODI victories through his career, hit 14 of his 16 ODI centuries in wins, had a higher Test average against Australia than his career mark, averaged over 70 in ODIs at home, and he could bowl a bit too. During his career he was the BLACKCAPS’ 6th highest wicket-taker with a list of Test victims that included Brian Lara (twice), Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Jacques Kallis, Sourav Ganguly and many other prolific batsmen.
Why then does Astle often appear to be overlooked by fans and commentators? There could be a few reasons: the view of him is as an ODI specialist, he played during a tumultuous period for New Zealand cricket, he was a quiet personality amongst teammates who were prone to headlines and outspoken moments, some saw him as a ‘ducks’ or diamonds-type player, and he left the game when the joy went out of it, probably before his time. Then there are those heat pump ads…
Strangely enough, of all these reasons, it might just be a focus on the diamonds which have had the greatest impact on clouding his overall legacy: when Nathan Astle was good, he was very, very good. From taking 4-43 and hitting 117 in an ODI against Pakistan, to a highlight reel catch on the boundary against the West Indies, to that sensational innings against England at Lancaster Park that resulted in the world’s fastest Test 200, Astle’s career is studded with individual performances to marvel at. These moments have become his legacy, YouTube clips to be shared, where-were-you stories to reminisce about.
After Viv Richards, Astle was just the second player in ODI history to take 4 (or more) wickets and hit a century in the same game
We think it’s time to give Astle his due beyond those magic moments and celebrate how they combine to create one of the greatest records any New Zealander has ever been able to establish in the game.
Do you agree, or does Nathan Astle get the credit he’s due? Who is our most underrated player in your eyes?