On the 24th of February, 2010, cricketing history was being made as Sachin Tendulkar approached his double century in an ODI against South Africa. Probably there was none better than the living legend himself to pioneer this feat. Cricket fans from all over the world were sitting in front of their TV, anxiously waiting not only for the man to reach the “200 runs” milestone, but in the process also break the record of Saeed Anwar (194, till a point in time, the highest individual score in ODI’s). But when the record books were consulted after the innings, to their utter amazement they found out that it was not Anwar, but a certain Charles Coventry standing on 194*, whose record was just surpassed. Saeed Anwar was 2nd on the list with the same score but Coventry had his nose ahead because he was unbeaten. “Who is that?” a friend had asked that day, clearly bemused. “A Zimbabwe cricketer, scored that against Bangladesh.” I replied. There were many like him who had never heard of Coventry, let alone the record. Had Tendulkar not scored that 200*and the screen not highlighted who the vanquished record holder was, perhaps many a cricket fan would still be in the dark.
On August 16, 2009, with Bangladesh already 2-1 up in the series, Zimbabwe was looking to come back in the fourth ODI to save the series. Charles Coventry returned to the Zimbabwe squad in this series after a considerable gap. He was a naturally aggressive player, but consistency was not his cup of tea. This often kept him out of the team. Coventry arrived at the crease when Zimbabwe were precariously placed on 5/1 after electing to bat, with Hamilton Masakadza at the other end.
With a wicket down, Coventry teamed up with Hamilton to steady the ship, rotating strike initially. His first six came off a Mahbubul Alam delivery which was full and outside off. Coventry launched it into the sky standing tall and swinging hard, showcasing how clean a striker of the ball he was. However, this rush of blood almost led to his dismissal the very next ball, when he sat on one knee and slogged one to the deep square leg. Syed Rasel made a mess of it. Coventry raced from 7 off 18 to 22 off 23. Rasel then came to bowl with the hope of some redemption. He ended up getting more lashes on his wounds when Coventry sent the ball twice to the fence; once with a deft touch to the fine leg and later through a lofted shot over cover point. The partnership had already crossed fifty when spinners were brought in. Coventry attacked Mahmudullah and drove him out of the attack, and then took on Shakib, thrashing him consistently through off side. Coventry reached his 50 in the 13th over, but soon lost his partner Masakadza, who was dismissed by Ashraful.
Suddenly Zimbabwe found themselves sliding to 111/4, from a position of 87/2. Bangladesh had made inroads and were now in charge. S Matsikenyeri joined Coventry at the crease. And as the situation demanded caution, these two put a price tag on their wickets. This however slowed the run rate down. Coventry changed his gear and picked up one’s and two’s. His six off Naeem Islam in the 28th over was his first hit of a boundary or more since the 15th. As the partnership grew, Coventry was steadily progressing towards his century. At the end of 35 overs the score was 170/4. Coventry was on 96 from 101 balls, having hit only a six and a four in last 20 overs.
NERVOUS 90’S AND THE MAIDEN CENTURY
Alam came to bowl the 36th over. Shakib set up a field with third man inside the circle. Alam kept tempting him with deliveries outside the off stump, and Coventry kept taking the bait. He tried to guide one past the keeper and missed; and the next ball he tried a cut and missed. Alam almost had his number again on the fourth ball, only this time the keeper’s antics allowed a bye to get him off the strike. He was back on strike to face the last ball of the over, when he again flirted with a wide delivery and narrowly missed nicking the ball. He kept the strike for the 37th over scoring off the extra delivery though. Mahdmudullah returned and Coventry had no problems knocking off 3 singles in his over. He reached his maiden ODI century off 110 balls. S Matsikenyeri, who had partnered him well, hugged him, and the dressing room erupted in joy. What was to come, however, no one had foreseen.
After getting the monkey off his back, Coventry was on the charge. Matsikenyeri was run out soon, but Coventry carried on, assembling boundaries quickly; stepping out to Shakib; clearing his front leg to hit Rasel and thumping Enamul down the ground. He was dropped for the second time by Mahmudullah when he tried to sweep Shakib, highlighting the woeful Bangladeshi fielding again. On Enamul’s return, Coventry hit him for a magnificent shot over extra cover, giving himself room when there was none offered. In the same over he reached his 150 in 137 balls, with a six over deep mid-wicket. He hit Shakib for two sixes in a row in the next over, and finished the over off with another boundary to put the icing on the cake. At the end of the 49th over, Charles Coventry was unbeaten on 191 from 154 balls, and on strike.
THE DRAMATIC END
Coventry had 6 balls to break a decade old Saeed Anwar’s record, and possibly garner a double century. The dressing room and the crowd were anxiously waiting for the moment. Coventry took a single from the first delivery, but T Mupariwa got trapped in front of the stumps the next. Four deliveries remained when captain Utseya came out to bat. An innocuous shot that was meant to bring Coventry on strike was misfielded, resulting in a boundary. Further agonizing the crowd, Utseya took a couple off the fourth. He did however, take a single off the fifth ball. Coventry returned to face the last ball needing one good hit to break the record, as a double century was out of the question now. And he had his moment, scrambling across for two desperate runs. His 194* came off 156 balls; he had scored 94 runs in his last 46 balls; he had hit 16 boundaries and 7 sixes. The Bulawayo ground was not small by any means. The Bangladeshi players congratulated him, and the dressing room stood up to honor the man who had just made history. Zimbabwe finished the innings on 312/8. Bangladesh had never successfully chased that score or more before.
However, a spirited innings from Tamim Iqbal saw Bangladesh chase it with more than two overs to spare. A disappointed Coventry found some consolation winning Man of the Match jointly with Tamim.
Coventry would later disappear from the Zimbabwe squad, not having capitalized further on that mammoth score. Recently he did however make a comeback in 2015 against Pakistan. Coventry has played 39 ODI’s and scored one century and three half centuries. He has also played 2 Tests and 13 T20I’s for Zimbabwe. Many cricket fans worldwide did not notice what had transpired that day in Bulawayo. Some, who did, argued that he had got two chances, and was batting on a flat track against a weak bowling attack. The same critics however would probably hide for cover when asked why Hayden’s world record breaking 380, which too was a less than chanceless innings against a weak attack, made headlines. Saeed Anwar had not even heard of Coventry. After Sachin’s feat, Anwar said this while congratulating him, “I heard somebody equaled my record some time ago. But I did not know him. It’s great that my friend from Mumbai Sachin broke it. I am very happy for him.”
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh were no titans of the game, resulting in lack of interest in the series played between the two nations. This probably was the reason that the innings might have slipped from the mind of an average cricket fan. But does this excuse legitimize the slippage? These teams were of equal strengths and weaknesses though, and that should be taken into account whenever we judge this record breaking feat.
While congratulating Tendulkar, Coventry said, “I was very proud to have held the record for a little while but there could be no better man in the history of the game to break through the 200 barrier. Zimbabwe versus Bangladesh … India versus South Africa. Not quite in the same bracket, are they?”. Although he probably genuinely congratulated Sachin, one might actually trace a hint of sarcasm in what he said. Deep down, he must have known that Sachin had made him more famous than his innings itself.
Charles Coventry’s 194* now stands as the highest individual score in ODI, in a losing cause.
~ Supriyo Das
Photo Courtesy – http://www.zimbio.com, AFP