|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Games||Mobile|
The ICC’s much-maligned Best-Ever Test Match ratings, which have provoked typhoons of outrage and howls of misunderstanding across the cricketing universe, have fired the millennia-old debate about how best to assess a cricketer’s quality. Even the mathematically ingenious Babylonians and the wise old Ancient Greeks were unable to concoct a definitive equation for this deeply important matter, hindered as they were by an unfamiliarity with cricket. It is therefore unsurprising that the ICC (who often seem to suffer the same hindrance) have also failed.
In many ways, such rankings are, theoretically at least, a more reliable indicator of a player’s current standing than career averages, being more reactive to form, opposition, era, conditions and the other variables that can skew a players average so beguilingly. Perhaps an average of a player’s ranking after each Test he played would give a clearer measure of the overall magnificence, adequacy or rubbishness of his career, and return Matthew Hayden to his rightful place in the all-time batting pantheon – in other words, in that pantheon, but not eating at top table whilst Tendulkar, Lara, Headley, Compton and Boeta Dippenaar look on enviously, picking at their food and muttering, “I was better than him,” before four of them add, “Boeta, what are you doing here? Have you stolen Graeme Pollock’s membership card again? Leave, Boeta. Just leave.”
However, cricketing achievement is only one measure of a player’s contribution to the game. Another is dullness. Dull cricketers have played just an important part in the development of our beloved sport as exciting ones – whose genius and flamboyance is only noticed by comparison with the porridge-like drudgery of their less gifted colleagues.
To many in this Twenty-20 era, dullness is not a quality to be prized. The Confectionery Stall’s first exposure to cricket, however, was in the summer of 1981, famous principally for Ian Botham’s ludicrous feats of swashbuckling heroism, but equally noteworthy for some grindingly turgid batting by both sides (no bowler who played more than two matches in the series conceded more than 3 runs per over).
Botham’s 118 off 102 balls at Old Trafford may have shocked and intimidated the Australians (particularly after he had scored 3 from the first 30 balls he faced), but it was Chris Tavare’s 78 off 289 in 7 hours that broke their spirits, obliterated their love of cricket, and crushed their will to live, rendering defeat inevitable. It also inspired the young Zaltzman to strive for great feats of elongated scorelessness in his cricket career – my greatest achievements including playing the dominant role in an opening partnership of 1 in 10 overs in an under-11 match, and being out for 17 in the 31st over a 40-over West Kent Village League game for the mighty Penshurst Park CC.
Tragically, there are no official dullness rankings for fully appreciating the game’s less exuberant performers, so the Confectionery Stall would hereby like to honour the unsung heroes such as Tavare – the Behemoths of Boredom, the Titans of Tedium, the Grand-Masters of Grind – by announcing its post-1981 Dullest World XI.
This hypothetical team of dullards to take on the proverbial Alien XI would be required not merely to play for a draw from ball one, but also to put the invading extraterrestrials off cricket for good, leaving the sport unsullied in its rightful home – Planet Earth.
Dullness as a cricketer is of course somewhat subjective, and is not measurable purely by statistics. Batsmen must not only score slowly, but do so with a lack of style that renders them unwatchable to all but their closest family and most dedicated team-mates. They must also be aggravatingly good enough to stay at the crease sufficiently long to send spectators into a deep coma. Bowlers must be skilled and patient enough to contain and restrict, without threatening the excitement of a wicket by any other means than a mental capitulation by the batsman, brought on by overwhelming frustration and an uncontrollable consideration for the paying spectator. Thus, we are looking for the crabby, awkward stubbornness with the bat, and trundling negativity with the ball.
The obvious temptation is simply to pick 11 New Zealanders at random – a team of Edgar, Franklin, Wright (capt), Richardson, J. Crowe, Coney, Blain (w-k), Bracewell, Snedden, Chatfield and Watson would challenge the enthusiasm of even the most ardent cricket lover (and if Jacob Oram could bat like Chris Martin, he would walk into the team as a specialist bowler). But that temptation must be resisted, if only because other nations must be rightly recognised for their contributions to tedious cricket.
Here, then, is The Confectionery Stall's Post-1981 Dullest World XI.
Part 1: Batsmen
1. Bruce Edgar (New Zealand)
Just one of a seemingly endless production line of sleep-inducing Kiwi openers (Wright-Franklin-Hartland-Pocock-Young-Twose-Horne-Bell-Richardson-Papps-Cumming-Redmond-McIntosh, the list goes on, and will continue to go on as long as cricket is played in the land of the long white cloud). With a strike rate and average of 31, Edgar batted like the professional accountant he is.
Career Highlight: Wellington Test v Australia, 1981-82. After his team were put into bat, Edgar batted until well into the fifth and final day of the match. For 55 runs. Admittedly, rain had intervened, and intervened a lot, so Edgar faced a mere 259 balls and had clubbed an average of one boundary per day, but a five-day half-century is not to be sniffed at.
2. Geoff Marsh (Australia)
Perhaps the closest Australia have come to replacing Alec Bannerman since his retirement in 1893, Marsh scored at more than a run every other ball in only 7 of his 93 Test innings (and only once in his first 35 Test Matches). Dogged it out with the flamboyance of a road cone, making partner Mark Taylor look like Adam Gilchrist.
Career Highlight: Bicentennial Test v England, 1987-88. Contributed to the joyous celebrations and party atmosphere of his nation’s 200th anniversary by blasting his way to 5 off 49 balls in the first innings, then thrashing a 215-ball 56 in the second.
3. Gary Kirsten (South Africa)
An intensely personal selection. Kirsten has haunted my every cricketing nightmare since I took a week’s holiday to go to the England v South Africa Old Trafford Test in 1998. Kirsten spent the first 11 accursed hours of this match grinding out 210 grindingly ground-out runs in a manner that rendered previously sane cricket watchers insensible with boredom. Even his team-mates and blood relatives must have been drinking fearsomely aggressive espresso coffees every half hour to endure the vigil. Not wishing to waste a moment of my precious holiday time, I dedicatedly sat through every single ball of that innings. I have suffered flashbacks ever since, the deep psychological scars have seriously affected my family relationships, and I have never quite been able to see the sunny side of life as I had before. I survived the ordeal, but have never truly been the same cricket fan again. There have been statistically duller batsmen, but figures alone cannot express the anti-joy of watching Kirsten bat.
Career Highlight: Entire career. But especially Old Trafford 1998.
4. Chris Tavare (England)
See above. Outshone Boycott in 1981, averaged a boundary every 51 minutes of Ashes batting over his career, a strokelessness record that probably will and certainly should surely never be broken by a front-line batsman. The Bradman of Block.
Career Highlight: Perth Test, 1982-83. Backed up an 8-hour first innings 89 with his stonewalling masterwork – an incurably constipated 9 in 127 minutes.
5. Ravi Shastri (India)
A genuine dullness all-rounder. Scored and conceded runs at little more than 2 per over. If he could have bowled at himself, cricket would have died.
Batting Career Highlight: South Africa v India series, 1992-93. On the momentous occasion of South Africa’s first home Test since readmission, and the first ever Test between the nations, Shastri showed South Africa what they had been missing by clobbering 14 off 81 in his first innings of the series – and then slowing down in his subsequent efforts. In all, faced 412 balls in the 3-match series. For others, this might have been sufficient for a healthy 250-plus runs. Shastri bludgeoned just 59, at an average of 11.8 and a scoring rate of less than one run per over. Heroically dull.
Bowling Career Highlight: India v England, 1984-85. Sent down more than 1100 balls in the series, 7 of which took wickets, whilst England flayed him for 2.1 per over.
6. Hashan Tillakaratne (Sri Lanka)
Featureless accumulator, the very antithesis of Sri Lankan batsmanship, it was often impossible to believe he was from the same planet as Jayasuriya and de Silva, let alone the same country. Rumour has it that even Tillakaratne himself cannot remember any of his innings.
Career Highlight: Asian Test Championship Final v Pakistan, 2001-2002. Bounding to the crease in Sri Lanka’s first innings with his team strongly poised at 447 for 5, more than 200 ahead with 5 wickets in hand, having scored at almost 4.5 per over to that point, Tillakaratne rammed home the advantage by plundering 19 not out in almost 3 hours. Still, red ink is red ink.
It appears I have got a little carried away with this blog, so, in the interests of domestic harmony in the Zaltzman household, as well as of my other professional commitments, the announcement of the uninteresting wicketkeeper, stultifying bowlers and yawnsome 12th man will be delayed until the next blog. Who will join the Wellington Wall, the Perth Plug, the Cape Town Clogger, the Orpington Obstacle, the Bombay Blockage and the Colombo Crawl in this union of the unspectacular?
Time permitting, I will also suggest Dull XIs for all the Test teams, for which your nominations are welcome. Until then, let us remember the words of Sir Geoffrey Boycott, the Sultan Of Stodge himself: “You can’t score runs in the pavilion.”
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
© ESPN EMEA Ltd.
|Comments have now been closed for this article
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.