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A hat-trick too many?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-05-2014 Vimal Kumar

On 5 May, Rajasthan Royals player Pravin Tambe’s sensational spell against the Kolkata Knight Riders in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) not only won the match but also resulted in a “rarest of rare” kind of hat-trick in cricket. Usually, it takes three consecutive balls to take three wickets. Tambe, however, did it in two balls since one of his victims was stumped on a wide ball—even if the ball didn’t count, the wicket did. This is a feat that has been matched only by Isuru Udana, playing for Wayamba (versus Central Districts at Port Elizabeth, South Africa) in the Champions League Twenty20 (T20) in 2010.

Three days after Tambe’s feat, his team captain Shane Watson had the second hat-trick of the IPL season 7 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad in Ahmedabad.

No one perhaps cares to remember the fragile batting records in the T20 format but traditionally cricket has given special recognition to the hat-trick; even in the shortest format, it is often seen as a splendid accomplishment.

However, there has been a surfeit of hat-tricks in the IPL which may have diminished its significance. In just seven years since the IPL’s inception, there have been 13 hat-tricks. Test cricket took nearly 83 years, and One Day Internationals (ODIs) almost 17 years, for 13 hat-tricks. In the IPL, on an average, every season witnesses two hat-tricks. In fact, Amit Mishra (in 2008 and 2010) and Yuvraj Singh have achieved double hat-tricks in the IPL. Singh, in fact, had two hat-tricks in one edition alone in 2009 in South Africa.

“The shorter the version, the more the chances. In T20 formats, batsmen never think of denying you a milestone by either blocking the third ball or leaving it alone, unlike in Test or ODI matches,” says Chetan Sharma, the first cricketer to get a World Cup hat-trick in 1987 against New Zealand.

Apart from Sharma, only Kapil Dev (in ODIs), Harbhajan Singh (watch video here) and Irfan Pathan have got hat-tricks in international cricket for India (in Tests). Dev and Sharma never played T20 cricket but Pathan and Harbhajan have played over 150 T20 matches, including the IPL, Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and international matches, without being able to repeat the feat.

“As a bowler, one will always feel that the likelihood (of a hat-trick) is more in T20 since batsmen do take a lot of risks in this format. But, don’t take away (the credit) from the bowler since it still requires a tremendous amount of skill to take three consecutive wickets regardless of the format,” says Pathan, who had a first over hat-trick against Pakistan in a 2006 Test. (Watch the video here)

Wasim Akram. Photo: Mike Finn-Kelcey/Allsport Past records show that getting a hat-trick is not an easy feat, especially in the longer format of the game. Traditionally, bowling feats like a five-wicket haul in an innings or a 10-wicket haul in a match is considered the batting equivalent of 100 or double 100. “The impact of a hat-trick in winning a match may not be same as a five-wicket haul or 10 wickets in a match but considering the rarity and element of luck, one can compare this with a triple ton in Test cricket,” says Sharma. Statistically speaking, a hat-trick in Test cricket is almost as distinctive as a triple ton. It has happened only 40 times in 135 years whereas only 28 triple hundreds have been made.

An exceptional hat-trick trio

Hugh Trumble, Jimmy Matthews and Wasim Akram are among three bowlers who have had hat-tricks twice in Test cricket. If Trumble did it within a couple of seasons (1901-02 and 1903-04), Akram did it in back-to-back Test matches (versus Sri Lanka in Lahore and Dhaka in 1998-99). (Watch the video here). Matthews’ hat-trick, however, is as unheard of as it is unimaginable. And no one has come remotely close to matching it in over a hundred years of Test cricket. On 28 May 1912, Matthews got a hat-trick in each innings of a Test match, on the same day. There’s more. All his six dismissals in the double hat-trick were taken without the help of a fielder.

The master of the hat-trick perhaps was Akram. One of the greatest fast bowlers of all-time, the Kolkata Knight Riders’ bowling coach is the only player who has not only done it twice in Tests but has been able to repeat it in the ODIs as well. On both occasions in the ODI format, his victims were clean-bowled.

“The combination of lethal yorkers and speed movement in the air made Akram the most difficult bowler. Even if you tell me a lie that he has taken six wickets in four balls I won’t ask questions since he was blessed and capable of doing anything with a cricket ball,” says Sharma.

Akram’s mastery over his craft can be understood by the fact that hat-tricks for him were neither a fluke nor a felicitous occurrence. He is the only one who has also missed hat-tricks twice by a whisker in Test cricket. On two occasions, the Pakistani great has taken three wickets in four balls. Against West Indies in 1991, he took four wickets in five balls of an over in Lahore. “He has been my hero. It takes a generation and maybe even a decade for a country to have four hat-tricks and one bowler doing it not once or twice but four times,” says Pathan. Parenthetically, Akram has also taken a hat-trick for the English county Lancashire (against Surrey in 1988) in first-class cricket.

In the ODIs, apart from Akram, Pakistani bowler Saqlain Mushtaq and Sri Lanka’s Chaminda Vaas have achieved the hat-trick twice. Apart from Akram, Australia’s Brett Lee is the only bowler who has done it in two formats of international cricket—ODIs and T20.

However, Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga is the only bowler to have got it thrice in a single format. Malinga not only has taken three hat-tricks in ODIs, but managed to get four wickets in four balls against South Africa in the 2007 World Cup.

Hat-tricks can also be identified variously in cricket. It’s not a matter of just three wickets in three consecutive balls by one bowler. If Pathan has the distinction of getting a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match (versus Pakistan in Karachi, 2005-06), Sri Lanka’s Nuwan Zoysa has the even more enviable distinction of three wickets in first three balls of a Test match against Zimbabwe in Harare (1999-2000). If that was the quickest hat-trick for any bowler in Test cricket, then bowlers like the West Indies’ Courtney Walsh and Jermaine Lawson, and Australia’s Merv Hughes had to wait more than 24 hours to get their hat-tricks as their deeds were split across the innings of the match. Vaas has taken a hat-trick in the first three deliveries of an ODI match (versus Bangladesh in 2003 World Cup).

In case, if you are wondering why cricket hasn’t seen a hat-trick which has been split in decades, years, months, weeks or matches, then the simple answer is that it is impossible. As a rule, hat-trick can only be interrupted by overs and innings and not by matches. A bowler can take hat-trick only in a single match. Else, it would have been one too many hat-tricks.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of the Century and deputy sports editor with IBN7.

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