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Benn, Gayle and Co realise how funny their achievement is
In the first Test in Trinidad, which followed to 100% accuracy an unofficial ICC computer-generated ball-by-ball prediction of what would happen, Chris Gayle’s West Indies came within one Dwayne Bravo delivery of history. Until Bravo dismissed Boucher to conclude South Africa’s first innings – a grave tactical error, as it transpired, which served only to unleash Steyn and Morkel onto a poor, defenceless batting line-up – all nine wickets had been taken by spinners.
Benn, Shillingford and Gayle himself had tweaked themselves to the brink of obscure statistical immortality. One more wicket would have resulted in them becoming just the third West Indian spin attack to dismiss an entire team, and the first to do so without containing both Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine (the former must be close to a recall, at the age of 81, as the West Indies seek greater penetration in their bowling; even the latter, some years after his death, might be worth a squad place).
They would also have become the first spin team to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings outside Asia since Warne and May thoroughly bammed England’s collective boozle at Edgbaston in 1993, and, by my and Statsguru’s reckoning, the first all-fingerspin attack to bowl out an entire side since 1968. Sleep well, Bravo. You have denied Shane Shillingford his slice of immortality.
As it was, it was the most profitable return by West Indies slow bowlers for nearly 40 years. How times have changed. West Indian spinners took more wickets in this single hypothetically five-day Test than the combined might of Caribbean tweakery managed in five years between March 1979 and March 1984. This statistic comes from no less a source that the all-knowing, all-seeing Statsguru herself (although, the great goddess who knows all does classify Viv Richards as “mixture/unknown” rather than “spin bowler”) (but the point basically stands) (and it completely stands if you chuck the word “specialist” in as the third word of the second sentence of this paragraph, before the word “spinner”).
This was also the second time in little over a year that the West Indies opening bowlers took no wickets in a Test match. The previous occasion, last February in North Sound, Antigua, was more excusable, as the match lasted just 10 balls, due to the minor inconvenience of the entire playing area having been constructed entirely out of sand.
Dale Steyn became the 57th bowler to pass 200 wickets in Tests. He sits 11th in the averages on that list, just ahead of Shaun Pollock, Waqar, Wasim, Holding and Lillee, so he is doing quite well for a someone who took 14 wickets at 60 in his maiden stint in English county cricket, outbowled in the Essex attack by, amongst others, Ravi Bopara and James Middlebrook. To this day he still cannot get back into the Essex team – some selectors have long memories − but his Test match strike rate of 38.9 is way out in front of Waqar, and makes legendary spearheads such as Jeff Thomson and Curtly Ambrose look like Derek Pringle and Martin Snedden.
Here is a stat for you that illustrates the state of world bowling. Chew it carefully, and then draw a picture that expresses what you think about it. Of all the bowlers who have made their debuts since 1999, only two – Steyn and Mitchell Johnson – have taken more than 100 wickets at an average of under 30. Of those who launched themselves into Test cricket between 1992 and 1998, 16 achieved that feat, beginning with Warne and ending with Ntini.
In an imminent future blog, I will speculate wildly on the various causes of the Great Great Bowler Drought. It is certainly a shame that Warne has not presaged a deluge of champion legspinners as was hoped. That is because being the greatest legspinner the universe has ever seen is not easy. Believe me, I tried. Briefly. I was, without question, the greatest legspinner in the Zaltzman family for a couple of heady years in the early 1990s, but when my googly started landing with unerring regularity half-way to third man, I decided to focus on becoming the greatest pogo-stick rider of all time. But I didn’t own a pogo stick, so I gave up and started reading books about 1950s Ashes series. There are now no known legspinners in my family, although my 18-month-old son does occasionally stick his belly out, throw his hands into the air and bark something that sounds a little like “Howzat”, so there is hope.
Copying Warne has proved impossible – similarly, when people visit the Sistine Chapel to have a look at Michelangelo’s pretty pictures on the ceiling, they do not, generally, whip out an easel and start painting feverishly whilst muttering: “I could do better than that, no problem.” They tend to take a photo, or buy a postcard, and say to themselves: “Fair play to the lad, he’s done me on painting. One-nil to him. But I’ll get him back at table tennis, the dead-for-446-years little rascal.”
All this panning for statistical gold has delayed my latest Question and Answer session, which I will post instead over the weekend. Please leave any further queries in the comments below.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writerFeeds: Andy Zaltzman
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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. 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 ESPNcricinfo.