DAMIEN MARTYN
Illustration- Rajni Kanth

January 6, 1994. Australia’s second match of a three-Test series with South Africa, who had won two of their three Test series since post-Apartheid re-admission. Damien Martyn, a 22-year-old playing his seventh Test match, walked out to bat with Australia 63 for 5 chasing 117 to win in the fourth innings, the heavy weather a little bewildering to those who thought it would be a cinch. Fanie de Villiers and Allan Donald were on fire, especially with half the side gone with barely half the runs made. Martyn’s 59 had been the second-highest Australian score in the first innings, so all was certainly not lost. However, within 10 runs, Mark Waugh, Ian Healy and Shane Warne were dismissed and a deep, dark hole had suddenly opened up right under Australian feet. Martyn and Craig McDermott held on, their roles reversed. Off just 38 balls, McDermott hit four boundaries in his 29 as the senior partner, while Martyn hung on grimly for almost an hour and forty minutes, making 6 off 59 balls. Together, they seemed to have cracked it, till six runs away from the target, Martyn attempted a nervous, and unnecessary, cover drive where Hudson took a simple catch. McGrath fell a run later, and Australia lost by five runs.

That one moment of weakness cost Martyn six years of his Test career. And in many ways, it perhaps defined his Test cricket when he came back in 2000 – he was mentally stronger and not one to give away his wicket easily. It resulted in an impressive run that was particularly sensational during perhaps the most significant period in contemporary Australian cricket, when they won in Sri Lanka and India in 2004, and laid to rest all doubts about Australia’s status as an all-conquering side.

Martyn was the highest impact Test batsman in the world in 2004.

It is that period that marks Martyn out as an underrated batsman in Australian cricket. His role in Australia’s epoch-making dominance is not seen to be as significant as Ponting’s or Hayden’s (or even Langer’s or Gilchrist’s, for many) but that is entirely misleading.

Martyn was the highest impact Test batsman in the world in 2004 (min. 5 Tests).

He was the highest impact Test batsman for Australia for the two year period – January 1, 2004 to December 31, 2005 (min. 8 Tests) whereas conventional stats tell us that he had the third highest average for Australia during this period behind Ponting and Langer (minimum 1000 runs).

Martyn was the third-highest impact Test batsman in the world (minimum 10 Tests) during those two years (after Inzamam-ul-Haq and Younis Khan) whereas conventional stats place him at the number 13 position as far as averages go.

A COMBINATION OF TWO QUALITIES

Interestingly, this high impact was achieved as a combination of characteristics. As if to exorcise that decade-old ghost, Martyn did two things brilliantly during this period. He absorbed pressure of falling wickets better than any other player (except Inzamam and Younis Khan). And his ability to build partnerships was also only second to Inzamam. In fact, no Australian batsman with a higher Runs Tally Impact (proportion of team and opposition runs scored) with the exception of Steven Smith has absorbed as much pressure (minimum 40 Tests) as he did in the new millennium. Also, interestingly, his Runs Tally Impact is only third for an Australian batsman in this period after Matthew Hayden and Steven Smith – truly remarkable if one sees the names below him in this regard – Ponting, Langer, Hussey, Clarke and Warner to name a few.

Martyn was also consistent; his 40% failure rate is the third-lowest (for an Australian batsman) after Smith, Warner and Hayden in the new millennium.  To add to that, Martyn also had one series-defining performance in this period. Given the significance of this period in modern Australian cricket, Martyn’s contribution was huge.

When it came to building partnerships, Martyn’s credentials define him better than anything else. Martyn is the third-highest Australian of all time when it came to Partnership-Building Impact after Don Bradman and Matthew Hayden (minimum 50 Tests).

In fact, in the new millennium only Hayden has had a higher Partnership-Building Impact than him in the world. Given that Martyn played 60 of his 67 Tests in this period, it basically translates to the fact that Martyn had the second-best ability in the world to build partnerships for 90% of his career.

STRONG COMEBACK

Martyn’s sensational comeback to international cricket in the Trans-Tasman Trophy in February 2000 in New Zealand was a sign of things to come.

Third Test, Hamilton: Australia were reeling at 29-5 when Martyn walked in. He put together 75 for the fifth wicket with Mark Waugh before being involved in an attacking century partnership with Adam Gilchrist. Martyn remained unbeaten on 89 off 136. Australia won by 6 wickets.

A remarkable performance by Martyn – given that this was just the third Test of his first series post a six-year hiatus – it showed his hunger.

HIGH POINT

However, we have to go back to 2004 if we’re to fully understand Martyn’s impact. Since 1995, when they snatched the Test crown as it were, from West Indies, the only two teams to have beaten them in their backyard were India and Sri Lanka. Even though Australia were, by a distance, the best team in the world, this was the one blot on their landscape that stopped them from being an all-conquering side.

It was remarkable enough that Martyn consistently kept his place in a side as good as this (which also meant he shared possible impact with other outstanding batsmen in his team) – his specific skill of absorbing pressure and building partnerships at the same time had already been successfully tested. In March 2004, in Sri Lanka, it reached a new level.

Martyn is the third-highest Australian of all time when it came to Partnership-Building Impact after Don Bradman and Matthew Hayden (minimum 50 Tests).

AUSTRALIA vs SRI LANKA 2004

Sri Lanka had won six out of their last seven home series (with one drawn) before they hosted Australia in March 2004. Australia had lost their previous Test series in Sri Lanka in 1999. In March 2004 followed one of the most remarkable Test series of all time.

First Test, Galle: Electing to bat first in the opening Test at Galle, Australia were 62 for 2 when Martyn walked in. The visitors soon lost skipper Ponting at 76 for 3 when Lehmann joined Martyn at the crease. Not comfortable by any means.

The pair put on a brisk 72 for the fourth wicket before Martyn departed for 42 (the second highest score of the innings); Australia were bowled out for 220 and after Sri Lanka notched up 381, went back to bat, an intimidating 161 behind.

Brimming with determination, the visitors then amassed 512 in the second innings. Martyn was one of the three centurions along with Hayden and Lehmann. Set a target of 352, Sri Lanka succumbed to the spin of Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill and astonishingly capitulated for 154. Australia were victorious by 197 runs and took a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.

Second Test, Kandy: The match began explosively – Australia were dismissed for 120 in 43 overs. Sri Lanka were reduced to 132 for 9 till Chaminda Vaas, batting like a proper batsman (68 in two hours of batting), and Muralitharan like a lucky tailender (43 in 28 balls with 3 sixes) took Sri Lanka to a seemingly significant 91-run lead. It seemed particularly significant when Australia were at 26 for 2 when Martyn walked out to bat. But the next four hours would change everything again. Gilchrist and Martyn put on 200 and the Martyn just carried on – he scored 161 and was the last man out at 442 – a lead of 351. This time, Sri Lanka fought back through Jayasuriya, Dilshan and Vaas (yet again) but fell 27 runs short. Australia had won the series.

Australia went on to win the next match as well, despite conceding the lead yet again (though a marginal one that time). Martyn’s two third innings performances while the series was still alive (reminiscent of Peter May at his best) made him the highest impact batsman of the series from both sides. It is rare when cricketers accomplish big performance timing as often as their shot timing.

Martyn registered an SD for high impact performances in the first two Tests.

This was only going to get better.

AUSTRALIA vs INDIA 2004

Australia had not won a series in India since 1969. Steve Waugh’s ‘final frontier’ had seen them fail 2001 (in what eventually became India’s greatest Test series win), and in 2003-04, India had drawn with them in Australia. India were on a high after beating Pakistan in their backyard and the die was cast for what promised to be another classic series. It did become that, but for entirely different reasons. Australia won comfortably against an off-colour India in the first Test – an unexpected beginning.

Second Test, Chennai: After a 136-run opening wicket stand from Australia, Anil Kumble picked up seven as a dramatic collapse saw the visitors being cleaned up for 235. Sehwag’s heroics helped India post 376.

Martyn walked in at 121 for 3 which soon became 145 for 4 as Gilchrist exited. It was precarious as Martyn gradually took charge with nightwatchman Jason Gillespie and put on a match-saving 139 with him. As Australia registered 369 in the second innings. India were set 229 for victory and rain deprived a possibly memorable end.

Martyn’s 104 was the highest score in the second innings for Australia (the next best being 49). Once again his ability to build a partnership at a crucial juncture in the match came to the fore.

Third Test, Nagpur: Electing to bat, Australia had lost both their openers when Martyn walked in with the score at 79. Katich was to follow soon. This time, it was Martyn and Lehmann who took charge, with a 148 run stand before the latter departed. Martyn then added a further 90 with Michael Clarke and in the process registered his second successive ton in back-to-back Tests. After Australia’s 398, India were bundled out for 185.

Martyn followed up his 114 in the first innings with 97 in the second as Australia set India a mammoth 543 for victory. The hosts crumbled for 200 giving Australia a massive 342-run win and with it the series.

India won a dramatic fourth Test on a dustbowl at the Wankhede by 13 runs to earn a consolation victory. Martyn’s 55 was again the highest score for Australia in the match – a feat he had achieved in the previous two Tests too.

Clarke, Katich and Glichrist registered an SD for changing the momentum of Australia’s fortunes in India with their high impact performance in Bangalore. However, in a match by match context, it was Martyn who emerged as the highest impact batsman of the series.

After these two series triumphs, all doubts about Australia’s all-conquering status vanished. They touched heights no other team had ever touched before (even though they lost the Ashes for a brief while in a classic series in 2005). It was Damien Martyn’s performances that had helped them touch that next level.

Martyn specialised in performing when the top order had failed and produced his best in adversity. It is baffling that a batsman of his calibre has not been given due recognition by cricket pundits. The only reason for this could possibly be the fact that none of his top ten batting performances include any heroics from the Ashes – which is considered to be the yardstick for success for many in Australia and England. These experts also missed the bald fact that seven of his top ten batting performances in a match context came on tour, that is, in away conditions – a truly astonishing feat.

His career batting average (by which all cricketers are wrongly judged) of 46 in 67 Tests does not entirely tell the story of his contribution to an all-time great Australian side packed with greats.

PLACE IN HISTORY

On an Impact scale, he show ups as the eighteenth-highest impact Australian batsman of all time (minimum 50 Tests) . Just for perspective, he is above the likes of Doug Walters, Michael Hussey, Allan Border and Adam Gilchrist.

It perhaps came full circle though for Martyn. Just three Tests before his last one (in March 2006), Martyn produced a potential classic when he made 101 in a fourth innings chase of 292 – the highest scorer, but was seventh out at 258 before Brett Lee and the tailenders finished the match off sensationally, as Australia won by 2 wickets. They won the series 3-0 and there were no recriminations. But in December 2006 (in the revenge Ashes series where Australia won 5-0), Australia, despite having conceded 551 for 6 in the first innings, found themselves chasing 168 to win. It was going well at 116 for 2, when Ponting fell, and Martyn walked out with 52 runs required from 14.2 overs. He hit a four off his third ball – a lofted shot over mid-off, but was out off the very next ball, trying to cut but getting caught. It was a somewhat strange moment, given how uncharacteristically cavalier it was. At least for the previous seven years.

Martyn unexpectedly announced his retirement from international cricket after that match and the curtain went down without any fanfare. But his career contribution will always have top billing in Australian cricket history.

 

 

Nikhil Narain/ Jaideep Varma

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.