XIs January 29, 2009

World's Dullest XI, part 2 - Deities of Dull

Confectionery Stallers, the waiting is at an end

Confectionery Stallers, the waiting is at an end. Here is the remainder of the post-1981 World’s Dullest XI. (Part 1 | Part 1 appendix)

The selection process has become no easier. Finding bowlers of the requisite level of tedium is not simple – to be a truly dull bowler, you first have to be a good bowler, in order to have the capacity to drive the game into a near-vegetative state. First, however, the wicketkeeper...

7. Jack Russell (England)

I include Russell with a heavy heart (and only after foolishly including Tillakaratne as a special batsman), as he was a favourite player of mine, and his batty quirkiness as a cricketer and hat-wearer transcend the boundaries of statistical dullness. Russell’s minimalist scoring rate was, objectively, unimpeachably tedious, so I have tried to view this from the perspective of non-English cricket-watchers, for whom enduring the Gloucestershire Gremlin as he poked, prodded and persevered must have been inexorably irritating.

Other glovemen made strong applications – including every single pre-Dhoni Indian since Kirmani – but few have bored over a sufficiently elongated career, and none has played an innings remotely in the negativity class of Russell’s great masterpiece – 29 not out off 235 balls in almost 5 hours as he saved the Johannesburg Test with a comparatively explosive Atherton in 1995-96. This was the slowest recorded Test innings of over 20, and, had it been played 500 years earlier, videos of it would have been used by the Spanish Inquisition to extract confessions from even the most blameless cricket watchers.

Career Highlight: Johannesburg 1995-96.

Some South African cricket watchers still curl up into a ball and start crying whenever they see a small man with a moustache. Of the traumatised bowlers, Meyrick Pringle could never bring himself to play Test cricket again, and Clive Eksteen took almost five years off, played one more wicketless Test, and promptly disappeared.

8. John Emburey (England)

Choosing a partner for the great Shastri in the spin-bowling defence was one of the toughest tasks facing the selection panel (namely, me and my 6-week-old son). Many will press the case of Ashley Giles in the most vocal and febrile terms available, particularly those who saw him ‘bowl’ in India in 2001-02, whilst Kumar Dharmasena (who has already created more excitement in his one-match international umpiring career than he did as a player merely by signalling a leg-bye) bowled as if he thought that displaying a semblance of either flight or turn would give him an incurable lifelong ear infection, and also plinked a few useful runs at a pitifully morose rate.

In the end, however, I have been swayed by statistics. Tauseef Ahmed’s numbers are impressive, but his moustache was quite exciting, and Emburey just has the edge, or lack of it, to nail down the spinner’s spot. He had a pleasing, classical off-spinner’s action, but the highest strike rate of any specialist bowler with more than 50 Test wickets in the 1981-to-now period (a wicket every 108 balls), and the third best economy rate, at 2.24. If he had ever bowled unchanged at both ends through a full day of Test cricket, the close of play score would have been a stadium-clearing 200 for 5.

The Middlesex Miser also adds valuable depth and immovability to the lower middle order – he used the least flamboyant batting technique ever developed in the history of the British Isles to jab his often critical runs away at just 35 per 100 balls.

Career Highlight: The entire Test summer of 1987. Bowled through 4 entire Tests without taking a wicket. whilst constricting the Pakistan batsmen to just 2 runs per over. His 0 for 222 off 107 overs series figures showed the control of a tantric Casanova, but the penetration of an inebriated eunuch.

9. Craig Matthews (South Africa)

Of all the South African seamers who have sent down over after over 18 inches outside the batsman’s off stump waiting for their adversary to chase one out of sheer boredom or smack their own stumps to pieces just to make something happen, Matthews was the dullest. Tediously effective from the tip of librarian’s haircut to the hooves of his workhorse feet, the Cape Constrictor ran to the wicket as if he was about to photocopy directions to a municipal rubbish dump for a public safety inspection officer, eyes set firmly on the maintenance of his career 2.26 economy rate.

Career Highlight: Debut v India, Johannesburg, 1992-93. Match figures of 4 for 64 off 49 overs of unmitigated nagging. Admittedly aided by an Indian batting line-up featuring Shastri, Jadeja, Amre, Manjrekar, Prabhakar and More – all of whom spanked it around at fewer than 40 runs per 100 balls over their Test careers.

10. Ewen Chatfield (New Zealand)

Again, it has been hard to narrow it down to one New Zealander from a veritable Pacific Ocean of possibles. How can one ignore the claims of Martin Snedden, for example, who not only bowled the least exciting medium pacers of all time but also once scored a three-day duck with the bat? But the perennially tidy Chatfield was the most economical seamer of the relevant period (2.23 per over). A tearaway fast bowler in the sense that spectators wanted to tear their eyeballs away from their sockets whilst he was in the middle of a long spell, the Manawatu Mogadon took a wicket roughly every two hours of bowling, yet still averaged only 32. Rumour has it that, when facing Chatfield, batsmen would smash themselves on the toes with their bats so that the pain would keep them awake at the crease.

Career Highlight: 1988-89 Wellington Test v Pakistan. A 53-over marathon of probe which yielded 82 runs and 1 wicket. A 1950s spinner trapped in the body of a fast bowler.

11. Alan Mullally (England)

Comically inept batting cannot outweigh his tireless pounding of the corridor of unreachability. The Leicestershire Lolloper gave his captain some control by refusing to aim anywhere near the batsman, let alone the stumps (which he hit approximately once every 70 overs of bowling), and enabled spectators to take regular toilet, refreshment or snooze breaks without fear of missing anything resembling action. Also made groundsmen feel that it had after all been worthwhile mowing the edges of the pitch. They gave Mullally the facilities. He used them. To a fault.

Career Highlight: Any time he heard a commentator utter the words ‘Alan Mullally’ without immediately adding the words ‘wasted the new ball by giving the batsmen too many balls they could comfortably leave alone’.

12th man: Asif Mujtaba (Pakistan)

Statistically, the dullest middle-order batsman of the modern era, with a strike rate of 28 runs per 100 balls over a barely-believable 25 Tests in which he averaged 24. After his promotion from the surprisingly intensive job of being Pakistan’s specialist substitute fielder, Mujtaba found the boundary boards with the regularity of a derailed Antarctican train ploughing into a queue of polar bears. Whilst it would be harsh to lay all the blame for the paltry attendances at Tests in Pakistan at his unspringy bat, it is scientifically provable that he did absolutely nothing to reverse the trend.

Career Highlight: 1992 series in England. The only time the Sind Sedative (a) did anything remotely useful against a major Test team in his 11-year career, or (b) scored at more than 2 per over in a series. His 33.55 strike rate constituted a positively Gilchistian onslaught by Mujtabatic standards.

So, the final post-1981 Dull XI is:

B.A.Edgar G.R.Marsh G.Kirsten C.J.Tavare (honorary captain) R.J.Shastri H.P.Tillakaratne R.C.Russell (wicket-keeper) J.E.Emburey C.R.Matthews E.J.Chatfield A.D.Mullally

12th Man: Asif Mujtaba

I look forward to your personal world and national Dull XIs. Congratulations to all those selected, and commiserations to the many grinders and trundlers who can feel rightly aggrieved to have missed out (of whom Sanjay Manjrekar, as many of you have forcefully pointed out, is probably the most unfortunate).

This is a team of players who have proven themselves dull over long and often distinguished Test careers. Anyone can achieve momentary dullness – Aravinda da Silva, a certified magician described by this very site as “one of the games’ best entertainers” and “an unrepentant attacker”, once clobbered 27 off 191 balls against a mighty Zimbabwe attack consisting of Streak, Rennie, Guy Whittall, Jarvis and Peall. It takes a steely force of personality to accumulate an entire career of almost unbroken inertia, and I defy any person to concoct any team that could force either a win or a defeat on a flat track against this agglomeration of the adhesive, this procession of the prudent, prosaic and parsimonious.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer