Australia v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Sydney, 4th day January 6, 2017

Before Warner: How Yardley's 38-year record was made

Bruce Yardley had remarkably held the record for fastest fifty by an Australian - a 29-ball knock from No. 8 against the might of the West Indies pace attack
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The fastest Test fifties

The list of fastest hundreds in Test cricket reads like a who's who of batting: Brendon McCullum, Viv Richards, Misbah-ul-Haq, Adam Gilchrist, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, David Warner, Chris Gayle, Roy Fredericks, Majid Khan. A few allrounders are scattered through, too - Jack Gregory and Kapil Dev, for example - but few bowlers. It is usually too difficult to sustain the agricultural style long enough to reach a century.

But the list of fastest fifties is quite different. There are of course fine batsmen among them - Misbah, Jacques Kallis, Shahid Afridi, to name a few. But the group is also populated by tail-enders who rode their luck: Shane Shillingford, Dale Steyn and Tim Southee, for example. And there is one such name that has sat there for 38 years, the owner of the fastest Test fifty by an Australian: Bruce Yardley.

At least, the record-holder until today. When Warner smashed a struggling Yasir Shah over mid-off for six from his 23rd ball of this innings, he had recorded the second-fastest Test fifty of all time. Only Misbah, whose 21-ball effort in Abu Dhabi in 2014 humiliated the Australians, has done so quicker. And, of course, it also meant that Warner had broken the long-standing mark set by Yardley in 1978.

It is perhaps surprising that the milestone has stood for so long, especially as Adam Gilchrist's 96-Test career, in which he reached fifty on 43 occasions occurred in the meantime. What is not surprising is that it should be Warner to eventually rewrite the record.

For the second time in this Test, Warner did something special. On day one, he became just the fifth man in history to score a hundred before lunch on the first day of the Test - and the first to do so in Australia. One of the most remarkable features of that innings was that included not a single six. It was about as restrained as such a brisk innings can be.

But his fastest fifty was different. The fourth over of the innings, bowled by Yasir, began with two sixes contemptuously smashed over long-on for sixes. A pair of fours followed, and Warner looked a realistic chance of producing the highest-scoring over in Test history. Instead, he tucked a single off the next ball, and waited a few overs to resume his hitting.

Four consecutive fours were crunched off Imran Khan, and then his third six off Yasir brought up the half-century. Misbah's record was safe, but Yardley's was gone. And so it seems only fitting to reflect on the remarkable feat of Yardley, an offspinner who could swing the bat. And it was remarkable - for his 29-ball half-century was scored by a No.8 batsman against the might of Andy Roberts, Joel Garner and Colin Croft in Barbados.

It's surprising the record stood for that long in an era where Adam Gilchrist got past fifty 43 times © AFP

Yardley entered the match having just had the spine of a Caribbean black sea urchin removed from his foot, and further pain was to come once he walked out to face the West Indies fast bowlers. This was the match in which Graham Yallop became the first person to wear a full protective helmet in Test cricket, but Yardley wasn't wearing one.

"Kensington Oval reminded him of home at the WACA, where anything short tended to clear the stumps and rewarded the slasher," Gideon Haigh wrote of Yardley in The Cricket War. So he slashed, and cut Garner for six over deep point, also copping blows to the elbow, throat and toe. "When I got hit in the elbow I thought my whole arm was gone," Yardley recalled in Haigh's book, "and I can't have been thinking too straight because the next ball I tried to hook. It hit me in the throat."

Along the way, Yardley lost a few batting partners - Steve Rixon, Jeff Thomson and Wayne Clark all fell to the bowling of Garner. But the No.11, Jim Higgs, one of the more renowned bunnies in Australia's recent Test history, defended staunchly and survived for long enough - 27 minutes, in fact - for Yardley to bring up his half-century by hooking a bouncer for another six.

"I can still remember the innings," Higgs recalled to ESPNcricinfo today. "It was scary in terms of some of the shots he played, but it was also scary from the point of view of the bowlers. I blocked and blocked and blocked...and he was trying to hit Croft over cover and they were going over backward point, one bounce. It was like a high-pressure, get-them-before-they-get-me type of innings from him. I remember it being full of adrenaline."

The one thing, though, that the Australians did not know at the time was that Yardley had scored the fastest Test fifty by an Australian. In fact, at the time it was the second-quickest in all of Test history, behind only a 28-ball effort from West Indian Foffie Williams in 1948 - at the same ground, Kensington Oval.

"I must say I never knew that was the record," Higgs said. "And we didn't at the time, over there. No one made any comment about it."

How times have changed. Between commentary, social media and the scoreboard at the ground, when Warner slogged his six off Yasir, it was impossible not to know that it was Test cricket's second-fastest fifty. But it was a very, very different innings from that played by Yardley.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cheetah58 on January 8, 2017, 7:57 GMT

    Re the Jim Higgs tour of England - he was out to the first ball he faced on the tour, and the Aussies contrived, as a joke, to make sure he didn't face another. So - while he was no batsman - the stat doesn't do him justice.

  • Ms.Cricket on January 8, 2017, 0:18 GMT

    With all respect to Warner's two remarkable innings at the SCG, wins and individual achievements by the home team have really no meaning now days. Players make all the records at home then come a cropper when playing overseas.

  • Downtheorder on January 7, 2017, 22:09 GMT

    Just one more point on The Roo - I seem to recall that he made a comeback to FC cricket for one season at well over 40 years of age. He'd been out of the game for 5-ish years. His bowling was still very effective, but by his own admission, his batting had fallen away considerably.

  • CricMystique on January 7, 2017, 12:08 GMT

    @ bobco...yeah thats what i meant... jim higgs had guts and heart to fight it out, didnt score much on one tour of eng, but was good enough to stick it out for a while (i think against nz) and help doug walters get his 100....btw ...as an indian fan....just curious...why is Bruce yardley called the 'roo'?

  • Behind_the_bowlers_arm on January 7, 2017, 11:17 GMT

    I think Jim Higgs went through an entire tour of England without scoring a run. Was a Chris Martin type number 11.

  • Nivalink on January 7, 2017, 5:45 GMT

    Must have been a Lance Cairns type of Innings and connected a few. Hardly anyone remembers Bruce Yardly the bastman. So excellent article reminding us of one off knocks from someone who re-started the Spin department of Australia.

  • BobCo on January 7, 2017, 1:40 GMT

    @cricmystique... erm? I watched Higgs often enough, and he was not under-rated as a batsman. He was pretty bad, but he had heart, guts if you prefer -- I would put late career McGrath ahead of him on a batting sheet, but early career McGrath might be behind him. He wasn't that good a fielder either, but he was a pretty decent leggy.

  • TestCricketSupreme on January 7, 2017, 1:35 GMT

    I think you are being a little ungenerous there to Yardley. who was a handy #8-ish type. Which is to say he probably had more fifties in him than he ended up getting, but the only way he was ever going to get a fifty was quickly!

  • Downtheorder on January 6, 2017, 23:59 GMT

    The Roo doesn't get the recognition he deserves as one of Australia's best off-spinners. He was super-effective with that fastish, hi-rev delivery that drifted away, dipped and spun back to the right-hander. He was one of the few slower bowlers to have regular success against the super WI teams of the era. And always fun to watch with the bat too!!

  • nlambda on January 6, 2017, 23:18 GMT

    Anyone who gets 50 off 29 against Garner and Croft is not a tail ender :-)

    And Sunil Gavaskar's 100 off 94 against Garner, Marshall, Holding and Roberts is a special century ahead of those scored by Warners and Sehwags.

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