24 May 2024 07:14 AM



The Story Behind the Most 'Unsuccessful' Cricketers Ever

NEW DELHI: With individual cricketing achievement commonly measured in terms of runs scored, wickets claimed or catches held and the longer version of the game being the gold standard, the most unsuccessful cricketers ever, in at least one view, would be those who ended their Test careers without a single run, wicket or catch to their name. There are 21 (of 2,861 capped till date) such individuals. Each, not difficult to guess, had a brief Test career. In fact, but for Indian medium pacer T A Sekhar, none got a second Test.

A look at the list confirms that misfortune spares few. On it are men from every Test-playing nation except Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and every cricketing trade except wicketkeeping. Nine batsmen, two allrounders and bowlers of varying type. Fast-medium, left arm orthodox, off-break and leg-break. Barring the 1870s and the 1950s, every decade from the time Test cricket began (1877) till the 1990s has seen the debut - and career-end - of at least one person on the list.

Do the holders of the most unflattering of individual Test records deserve it? Perhaps not. The five among the 21 who did get other international opportunities (in shorter formats) – Australian medium pacers Paul Wilson and Simon Davis, Pakistani left arm orthodox bowler Nadeem Ghauri, Scot allrounder Gavin Hamilton (his Test appearance was for England) and Sekhar - did open their run/ wicket/ catch accounts. In some cases, they did more than that. Besides two hundreds and nine fifties mostly against the minnows, Hamilton has some handy knocks England, India and Pakistan to his credit in his 38 one day internationals (ODIs) and Indians of a certain vintage will remember Davis’ niggardly spells during the ODI tri-series involving India, Australia and New Zealand in early 1986.

What happened to our 21 in the Test arena then? For one, Lady Luck ensured that no catches came their way or came only to be floored. And behind the runs they didn’t make and the wickets they didn’t take are stories that need to be told.

Rain, cricket’s biggest scourge after corruption, played an unambiguous part in two instances. Englishmen Jack MacBryan (and his side) didn’t get to bat at all – the July 1924 England-South Africa Test at Old Trafford saw less than three hours of play on the first day and none thereafter – and, in February 1990, Pakistani left arm orthodox bowler Nadeem Ghauri got only eight overs during one of the wettest weeks Sydney had seen in a hundred years. (MacBryan at least had another sporting achievement – he was part of gold winning British field hockey team at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics – to comfort himself with and show the world. No similar redemption for Ghauri who went on to become an international umpire and got banned on corruption charges.)

At a pinch, two others - Kiwi off-break bowler Colin Snedden (uncle of the better-known Martin Snedden) and Davis - could claim inclusion among the rain-hurt too. More than two full days’ equivalent of play was lost and not even two match innings were completed in the March 1947 Christchurch Test featuring Snedden and the February 1986 Wellington Test featuring Davis. That said, the duo’s case is less robust than Ghauri’s. To Ghauri’s eight overs, Snedden got 16 and Davis 25.

Odd team management decisions – and not rain – may have spoilt things for six men. These were specialist bowlers who were under-bowled and a specialist batsmen who was sent in at an unfamiliar position. Said batsman being South African Gerald Bond who appeared at No. 9, way below his usual No. 3 or 4 slot for Western Province, to face the English attack at Johannesburg in the December 1938 - and was dismissed first ball.

Pakistan’s Farrukh Zaman (left arm orthodox) got only 10 of the 154.3 overs sent down to the Kiwis in Hyderabad (Pakistan) in October 1976. Medium pacers Lance Pierre (West Indies), V N Swamy (India) and Wilson had rough deals too. Pierre: 7 of 157 overs versus England at Georgetown, March 1948; Swamy: 18 of 267.1 overs versus New Zealand at Hyderabad, November 1955; and, Wilson: 12 of 159 overs versus India at Kolkata, March 1998.

But here’s the part that would have riled Swamy, Wilson and Zaman most: each saw five others from the side get more bowling. In Wilson and Zaman’s case, this included mates known better for their batting. So, more overs for Greg Blewett and Mark Waugh than Wilson and more overs for Javed Miandad and Mushtaq Mohammad than Zaman.

Zaman, who had earned his place in the Test side with a seven wicket haul against the same opponents representing the NWFP Chief Minister’s XI, would have been particularly perplexed. Pierre too, one supposes. For John Trim, another debutant and Pierre’s new ball partner, got 23 overs (ended with match figures of 44/ 3 and went on to play three more Tests). Roshan Guneratne, the last introduced and least bowled Lankan against Australia at Kandy in April 1983, also qualifies for the team management-affected but only just. His 17 overs were expensive, costing 84.

Since all it takes is a good ball or a nanosecond of ill luck to lose one’s wicket, an understanding view could also be taken of the record of Australian Roy Park, Englishman George Hearne and West Indian Lincoln Roberts. Each got only one opportunity to bat as opponents - the Englishmen at Melbourne over December 1920- January 1921, the South Africans at Cape Town in March 1892 and the Australians at Kingston in March 1999, respectively - crumbled to massive defeats. Park departed first ball (his wife missed his entire Test career having bent over to pick her knitting); Roberts lasted seven. The length of Hearne’s stay at the crease remains unknown but it is certain that he came in at No. 4 and registered the lone duck of the English inning.

The match non-performance of three South African batsmen, Clarence Wimble, Percy Twentyman-Jones and Plum Lewis, may be condoned because few others in the side distinguished themselves. Wimble was only one among six South Africans not to reach double figures in either innings of the 1892 Cape Town Test versus England. Twentyman-Jones and Lewis were only one among five of their side not to reach double figures in either innings of the 1902 Cape Town Test versus Australia and the 1913 Durban Test versus England, respectively.

The case of the remaining others is less easy to explain. Australian new ball bowler Pud Thurlow, who sent down 39 overs versus South Africa in January- February 1932 at Adelaide, can, at best, blame teammates Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly who cornered 18 of the 20 South African wickets that fell on the occasion. Sekhar sent down 34 overs in two back-to-back Tests versus Pakistan in January-February 1983, the first of which was rain-marred but not enough to deny Kapil Dev an eight wicket haul the only time the Pakistanis batted.

Most curious though is the case of the two allrounders, Hamilton and Kiwi Len Butterfield. They, being allrounders, had more chances to do something and yet couldn’t register presence.

Butterfield and Hamilton may have played against different opponents fifty-plus years apart (Butterfield at Wellington versus Australia in March 1946, Hamilton versus South Africa at Johannesburg in November 1999) but there are eerie similarities in what they ‘delivered’ on the field. Both registered ducks in each of the two innings they batted, were claimed on each occasion by the opposition’s star performer (O’ Reilly and Allan Donald, respectively) and got a little over a dozen luckless overs in the lone inning their own side bowled.

These then are the tales of opportunities denied by gods (of rain), men (from the team management) and a lady called Luck. And an additional factor that Englishman Emile McMaster, dismissed first ball the only time he got to bat, would be best placed to identify. For McMaster did not even know he had played a Test. The English tour party’s March 1889 Cape Town match against a South African XI was awarded Test status retrospectively. McMaster remains among the few cricketers whose only first class appearance was in a Test.

(Manish Dubey is a policy and crime fiction writer with an interest in politics, cinema and cricket.)