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Archive for February 7th, 2006

Hat Trick – That only tricked to deceive

Posted by Sathyamurthy www.sathyamurthy.com on February 7, 2006

Hat-trick: a potted history

When Irfan Pathan bowled Mohammad Yousuf with a peach of an inswinger that curled slyly and slipped between bat and pad, the young fast bowler seemed astonished by what he had achieved: a hat-trick. He might be just as surprised to learn that the term for his rare feat entered usage as early as 1858 during a cricket match between an All-England team and Hallam XI at Sheffield’s Hyde Park ground. A certain H.H. Stephenson of the All-England team took three wickets in three successive balls and, the story goes, a collection was made on the spot and the proceeds deployed to buy him a hat.

The healthy custom of giving a hat or cap to bowlers who struck thrice in successive deliveries continued for a while, but it took two decades before the word hat-trick was dignified in print. It was first used in a publication to describe the fiery Australian pace bowler Frederick Spofforth’s achievement of shattering the stumps of three batsmen in the space of three balls in a match at the Oval in 1878. A year later, `The Demon’ became the first man to perform a hat-trick in Test cricket. Thirty-two others have done so since. It’s a motley list: some great, some middling, a few who just fluked. But only three men achieved the feat twice: Pakistan’s Wasim Akram and Australia’s Hugh Trumble and T.J. Mathews (the last did it in both innings of a 1912 match against South Africa).

Hat-tricks, thanks to their statistical rarity, have a premium value. In the 129-year history of Test cricket, they have occurred 36 times — once every 3.58 years. However, this rarity has declined significantly over the past decade, in line with the increase in the number of Tests played. In fact, an astonishing 47.22 per cent of Test hat-tricks have occurred since 1994. The hat-trick is cricket’s gift to the vocabulary of sport.

In football and hockey, it occurs when a player scores three goals in a game. Hat-tricks can be bad, as in baseball where they apply to a batter who strikes out thrice in a game. Ice hockey has them too, although with interesting adaptations. Fans acknowledge three goals by a player in one game by throwing hats on to the ice, and one team (Florida Panthers) celebrated hat-tricks by throwing plastic rats — a tradition that revolved round an incident in which a team member rid the locker room of a rodent with his stick before a game.

Ice hockey has yet another variation. The Gordie Howe hat-trick — accomplished by scoring a goal, getting an assist (deflecting the puck towards a scoring teammate), and winning a fight — is named after the celebrated player who was renowned for his speed as much as for his ill-temper.

As a talented Pathan celebrates his hat-trick of hat-tricks — nobody did it before him in the very first over of a cricket Test — India might ponder over another record. It might be eons before a team hat-tricks in the first over and manages to lose the Test by over 300 runs.

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