Mohammad Yousuf flicks one to leg

Mo runs, mo records: Yousuf gets going in Lahore at the start of 2006

Arif Ali / © AFP/Getty Images

High Fives

The streakers

Five batsmen and bowlers who enjoyed stretches of world-beating excellence

Mike Jakeman  |  

All cricketers, all sportspeople, search for what Michael Atherton in his autobiography calls "the zone". He describes it as a "trance-like state… of both inertia and intense concentration". Atherton found the zone just once in his accomplished career, during his marathon 185 not out against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1995. But what if a player locates their zone and is able to remain within it for more than a match or two? Here are five batsmen and bowlers who managed to achieve cricketing nirvana for longer stretches.

Mohammad Yousuf, 2006:
11 Tests, nine centuries; 1788 runs at 99.33

At the start of 2006, Yousuf was an established Test match batsman with good but not great numbers: after 62 Tests he had 14 hundreds and an average of 48. At home he was regularly excellent; abroad less so. At one point he averaged less than 20 in Sri Lanka and South Africa, under 22 in England and under 35 in Australia and India. But in 2006, something changed. Yousuf attributed it to practising on concrete. Either way, he continued to play straight and late, but added a greater hunger for runs. He bullied India on flat tracks at home, scoring 173 in Lahore, 65 and 126 in Faisalabad, and 97 in Karachi, in a series Pakistan won. Then, in alien conditions in England, coming in after misfiring openers, he scored 202 at Lord's to force a draw, and 192 at Headingley in a failed rescue mission. He also scored a forgotten hundred at The Oval in a match overshadowed by an umpiring row. He then demolished West Indies at home, with four centuries in five innings. He ended the year with records for the highest number of Test runs and centuries in a calendar year, both of which still stand. But after that Yousuf's powers seemed to wane. He played another 17 Tests, averaging an ordinary 36 and scoring just one more hundred.

Weekes in England in 1950, at the tail end of his golden run

Weekes in England in 1950, at the tail end of his golden run William Vanderson / © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Everton Weekes, March 1948-July 1950:
ten Tests, six hundreds, five fifties; 1228 runs at 94.46

Few sporting records have begun in such inauspicious circumstances. Weekes was not expecting to play in the third Test against England in March 1948. However, an injury to George Headley saw him summoned from Barbados, via Puerto Rico, to Sabina Park and he missed the entire morning session of the first day. At first he was booed by the home fans, who wanted a Jamaican to play instead. The mood changed as Weekes scored 141, helping the home side to a match-winning lead.

West Indies' next assignment was in India, eight months later. Weekes made 128 in his first away Test, a tepid draw in Delhi. Then, in Bombay, he scored 194, but India saved the game, having followed on. In the third Test, in Calcutta, came the innings that Weekes himself rates as his finest: 162 in a first innings of 366. "Everywhere I tried to hit the ball, I hit it," he recalled. "To do that for four hours or thereabouts was what made it so special." He then made his fifth consecutive century in the second innings of another draw. In the fourth Test, in Madras, West Indies finally took a series lead, but Weekes was run out for 90, a decision that he described wryly as "rather doubtful". Regardless, his five consecutive centuries were part of a two-year golden streak that helped establish West Indies as the most entertaining and attacking batting unit around.

Me and my army: Andy Flower bats in the Bulawayo Test of 2001, where he made two fifties, top-scoring in both innings for Zimbabwe

Me and my army: Andy Flower bats in the Bulawayo Test of 2001, where he made two fifties, top-scoring in both innings for Zimbabwe © AFP/Getty Images

Andy Flower in November 1999-November 2001:
20 Tests, seven hundreds, 12 fifties; 2280 runs at 91.20

For a period either side of the millennium, the best batsman in the world was a Zimbabwean. Flower was such a special player that he was able to transcend playing for an administratively dysfunctional team in a country falling apart, and still outshine all of his peers. He scored centuries at home against Sri Lanka and South Africa, and away in the West Indies and in India and Bangladesh, all while keeping wicket for a team that was usually out in the field for long stretches.

Two particular matches stand out. In Nagpur in 2000, he kept for 155 overs as India racked up 609 for 6. He made 55 in the first innings and shared a stand of 96 with his brother, Grant. When Zimbabwe followed on, he made 232 not out to save the game. Ten Indian players had a bowl and none managed to dislodge Flower. Ten months later, South Africa arrived in Harare. Flower kept for 139 overs as the tourists made a demoralising 600 for 3. He then made 142 out of a total of 286, and in the follow-on, another 199 not out. Only one other batsman made more than 19 in that innings. South Africa then knocked off the 78 they needed in an hour to win by nine wickets. Zimbabwe were crushed, but Flower stood tall.

Twist and shout: Alderman at Lord's in 1981. He took 42 wickets in that Ashes series, and 41 in the 1989 one

Twist and shout: Alderman at Lord's in 1981. He took 42 wickets in that Ashes series, and 41 in the 1989 one © Getty Images

Terry Alderman, June 1989-December 1990:
14 Tests, 77 wickets at 19.6

Australian seamer Alderman had a stop-start career. He looked a potential all-time great after his first Ashes series, in 1981, but then failed to hold down a regular place. He was injured for a year after tackling a pitch invader against England in 1982, then made a brief Test return, only to be suspended for playing in a rebel tour to South Africa. His excellence in the 1989 Ashes was therefore an unexpected bonus for captain Allan Border. Alderman took 41 wickets across the six Tests and so tormented Graham Gooch that legend has it that England's premier batsman later recorded an answerphone message saying, "I'm not here right now. I'm probably out… lbw, to Terry Alderman." It was after the 1989 Ashes that Alderman finally got some reward against teams other than England: eight wickets in four matches against New Zealand that bookended 13 in three against Pakistan. His last hurrah was against England again, in the 1990-91 Ashes, where he posted his best ever figures, of 6 for 47, in Brisbane.

Tony Lock greets the fans after his 6 for 20 shot West Indies out for 86 at The Oval in 1957

Tony Lock greets the fans after his 6 for 20 shot West Indies out for 86 at The Oval in 1957 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tony Lock, August 1956-August 1958:
ten Tests, 54 wickets at 9.64

Left-arm spinner Lock will forever be known as a support act, or if one is being uncharitable, a spoiler. It was he who took the other wicket in the Old Trafford Ashes Test of 1956, when his pal and partner Jim Laker captured 19 in the game. But for Lock to be remembered only for that would be doing him a disservice. He played 49 Tests for England over 14 years and achieved supreme success at county level with Surrey.

Lock was at his best for two years from the end of the summer of 1956. From the final Test of the 1956 Ashes to the final Test of a home series against New Zealand in 1958, he became - and remains - the only man to have a bowling average below 10 over a period of ten Tests. Such an achievement requires both wicket-taking ability (he managed 54 in that span) and supreme economy - he went for an average of 1.4 runs an over. Granted, all but one of those matches were at home, and the summer of 1958 was very wet. But it was Lock who took advantage.

Mike Jakeman is the author of Saving the Test. @mikejakeman