LONDON: For a player to play hundred Test matches or for a venue to stage a century of Tests is a landmark which is never to be forgotten.

Today, with the third Test between England and South Africa commencing with the series level at 1-1, The Oval goes down in history as only the fourth venue to host hundred Test matches. The three other cricket grounds to share this distinction are Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in Australia and, of course, Lord’s - the home of cricket.

Established in 1845, The Oval has the distinction of staging the first Test ever on English soil in 1880 against Australia and to record England’s first win in a Test by five wickets with the legendary Sir W G Grace making a century on debut.

The Oval also served as a prison camp in the World War, staged the first FA Cup in 1872 and many other sporting events over the years, but mainly cricket is what it has always been known for.

Pakistan’s first victory in England in a Test was also achieved here in 1954 when great Fazal Mahmood picked up 12 wickets in the match to level the four-match Test series. Pakistan also won a Test here in 1996 by 10 wickets and again in 2016 when the prolific Younis Khan slammed a brilliant double hundred.

My not so pleasant memory here is of Pakistan forfeiting a Test here in 2006 under skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq.

South Africa in 14 Tests have only one victory here in 2012 and that too by an innings when Hashim Amla carved up a monumental 311*, only the second triple century in a Test on this ground if you take into account Len Hutton’s 364 in 1938 against Australia when England made 903 for 7 and beat Australia by an innings and 579 runs.

It was here in 1930 that Sir Don Bradman and Bill Ponsford shared a record-breaking 451 runs for the second wicket, with both making double centuries (244) and (266). Also, in a historic incident, Bradman was out for a duck here in his last Test innings off leg-spinner Eric Hollies in 1948 to bring the curtain down on his illustrious career.

And it was here that I watched the great Michael Holding taking 14 wickets in a Test against England in 1976 with sheer pace and venom to win a fantastic Test for the West Indies. I also can’t forget Malcolm Devon’s 9 for 57 in 1994 in England’s fabulous Test win against South Africa.

It was also here that India’s legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar played his 100th Test in 2002.

Among the great innings that I witnessed at The Oval includes Sir Viv Richards’ 299, Zaheer Abbas’s 240 and Javed Miandad’s 260 which still remain etched in my mind.

And more recently, Pakistan outclassed India to lift the ICC Champions Trophy under Sarfraz Ahmed in a truly unforgettable moment last month.

This is the 100th Test at The Oval and may bring other memorable performances if the threatening weather does not interfere and the match progresses smoothly.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2017

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