The blog you've all been waiting for
Another hectic week in international cricket, albeit one that, I can report first-hand, received little traction in the New York media. Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th international hundred was passed over in favour of the altogether less-edifying spectacle of the principal Republican presidential candidates continuing to tear into each other like two lions dressed in zebra costumes, and the frankly alarming sight of the incumbent president of the world’s top-ranked superpower taking a half-hour break from his no-doubt extremely hectic schedule to predict how the end of the student basketball season would pan out. Were there not more pressing issues for Mr Obama to address – the Syrian crisis, perhaps, or the continuing global economic blooper fest, or the likelihood of any cricketer scoring a century of international centuries, or England’s prospects in overcoming their frailty against spin in their two-Test micro-tour of Sri Lanka? Evidently not.
I have now returned from the Big Apple to cricketing civilisation, slightly relieved, having seen how seriously they take their national sports - that the Americans plumped for baseball rather than cricket as their clouting-a-small-hard-ball-with-a-bit-of-wood sport of choice. If they had taken cricket to their ample sporting bosom when they had the chance (and let us not forget that the USA featured in the first ever international cricket match, against Canada in 1844), then the rest of the cricketing world might as well have taken its stumps home to make an ornamental plant stand. Major League Cricket would have made the IPL look like a home-made jam raffle at a village fete.
More on Tendulkar, Bangladesh, Vernon Philander – he of the Dickensian name and the appropriately 19th-century bowling average ‒ and the latest twists in this fascinating 2011-12 international season, in the new World Cricket Podcast later this week, but now it is time for Part 3 of The Official Confectionery Stall Going Out In A Blaze Of Glory Test XI – The Bowlers. Strap in.
8. Mike Procter (South Africa, detonated his final Test fireworks as South Africa popped and banged into Test oblivion in 1969-70 with a whitewash of an Australian team that had lost two series in the previous 13 years (one of which was Procter’s only other Test rubber, three years previously) (I know I wrote in the pre-amble to Part 1 of this arguably over-long three-part blog that Procter had “no part in this team” due to an insufficiently long Test career, but I’ve changed my mind in a classic selectorial volte-face) (if Manchester City can recall Tevez, I can pick Procter)
A second selection from his country’s final international series for two decades, the Durban Dervish took 26 wickets at 13.5 in the four-Test Aussie annihilation. He finished with his Test best figures of 6 for 73 in the final innings of the series to conclude his disappointingly/mercifully brief Test career (delete according to whether or not you were an early-1970s Test batsman), in which he took 41 wickets at an average of 15. One of the finest allrounders cricket has seen, a mighty hitter and devastating paceman, if Procter was playing today, he would (a) be the first name on England’s team sheet, and (b) make Ravi Jadeja’s IPL auction fee look like loose change.
9. Andy Caddick (England, wheelspan his career car off into the distance in 2002-03 by bowling England to victory against Australia in Sydney)
Caddick’s distinguished England career was fading away as New Year struck in 2003. After averaging under 30 in 11 out of the 13 series he played after his 1996 recall, he had a mediocre Test summer in 2002, then struggled as England were mashed like an annoying potato in the first four games of the 2002-03 Ashes. After three early wickets in the first innings of the final Test, Caddick was taken to the cleaners by Steve Waugh and Gilchrist, then presented with a rather steep laundry bill for his rather soiled bowling figures.
Vaughan’s majestic 183, however, put England in a winning position by the fourth evening, and Caddick – who over the course of his career averaged 20 in the second innings of Tests, compared to 37 in the first ‒ despatched Langer in his first over, then Ponting in his third, before completing the job on day five with figures of 7 for 94. Thanks to Caddick, England avoided a whitewash, conquered the mighty Australians, and set themselves on a glorious journey on which they have not lost an Ashes series since (excluding any Ashes series which began with a physics-defying wide, in accordance a little-known sub-clause of the Geneva Convention).
Injury ruined Caddick’s 2003 season, and by the time he returned, Harmison and Flintoff had transformed into high-class Test bowlers, and Caddick’s international goose was baked. He thus became just the eighth man to take 10 wickets in his final Test appearance, and the only one to do so since before Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia (a reduction in the number of bowlers bowing out of Test cricket with a ten-wicket match haul is one of the repercussions of Nazi military expansionism often overlooked by historians) (perhaps understandably).
Caddick also became only the second man ever to take seven wickets in the fourth innings of his final Test, the other being Hugh Trumble, who took 7 for 28 in 6.5 overs in his final Test innings in 1903-04, and 78 at 17 in his final 12 Tests. Figures which were, unarguably, slightly beyond Caddick, but the Somerset man gets the Zaltzman selectorial nod, because Trumble never made me jump up and down on my bed, whilst listening to radio commentary in the middle of the night, at the raw primeval thrill of England narrowly avoiding being whitewashed by Australia.
10. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka, chiselled his name even further into cricketing immortality by taking his historic and probably unrepeatable 800th Test wicket with his final Test ball, bowling Sri Lanka to victory in a home Test against India in 2010) (I know I also wrote in Part 1 that I would not pick Murali, or anyone whose career consisted largely of an elongated blaze of glory, but Murali’s form had dipped a little (only one five-wicket innings (against Bangladesh) in his previous 11 Tests over two years, after 50 in the 74 Tests before that) (and as glorious sporting exits go, his is hard to beat) (especially when you consider that his team have only won one Test match since he retired) (and my team needs an offspinner) (and it is getting late and I seriously need to finish this piece) (what am I doing with my life? I am a 37-year-old father of two, and I am sitting at my kitchen table at 2.30am picking hypothetical historical cricket teams) (I love cricket) (and parentheses)
11. Colin Blythe (England, surfed a statistical riptide into cricketing legend in 1909-10)
The Rudolf Nureyev of early-20th-century left-arm spin, silken tweaker Blythe had an inauspicious start to his Test career, taking a moderate 30 wickets at 29 in his first nine Tests, with no five-wicket innings – unremarkable figures by the standards of the time. In his remaining 10 Tests, Blythe took 70 wickets at 14, scalped ten or more in a match on four occasions, and winkled five or more in an innings nine times. In his final Test, in South Africa in 1909-10, he took 7 for 46 and 3 for 58 to twirl England to a nine-wicket win. He also took 18 wickets in his final two Ashes Tests in 1909, his only two appearances during a five-match series in which, according to legendary Wisden editor Sydney Pardon, England’s selectors “touched the confines of lunacy” – as glorious a phrase as can ever have appeared in the Almanack.
Blythe edges out his legendary contemporary SF Barnes (49 wickets in the first four Tests of his final series, before stropping out of the fifth Test in a contractual dispute), because Blythe played for my home county of Kent, died in the First World War, and, according to his ESPNcricinfo biography, had an “artistic temperament” that “did not always react well to the stress of Test matches”. Which, in the modern age, could have made for unmissable television. “Four more to Sangakkara, that’s gone straight past Blythe at mid-on, who was lying on the ground picking daisies and writing a poem about how his parents don’t understand him. Disappointing effort from the young man.”
The full Going Out In A Blaze Of Glory Test XI: 1. Andrew Sandham; 2. Bill Ponsford; 3. Vijay Merchant; 4. Nasser Hussain; 5. Seymour Nurse; 6. FS Jackson (capt); 7. Denis Lindsay (wk); 8. Mike Procter; 9. Andy Caddick; 10. Muttiah Muralitharan; 11. Colin Blythe. 12th Man: Bedtime.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer