The Don Bradman of bowling unpenetratively in ODIs
Welcome to part two of the Confectionery Stall Good-In-One-Format-But-Rubbish-In-Another XIs. Last time, the Test-Stars-But-One-Day-Flops XI top five was announced as: Slater, Vaughan, Kim Hughes, Viswanath and Samaraweera. This has understandably left some of Test cricket’s leading practitioners ‒ amongst them, Border, Gower and Laxman ‒ weeping salt tears of devastation that they had been overlooked. They have only themselves to blame, for not having been quite ordinary enough, consistently enough, in the shorter form of the international game.
Joining the aforementioned five batsman are:
6. Ian Botham (England): 102 Tests, batting average 33.5, bowling average 28.4; 116 ODIs, batting average 23.2, bowling average 28.5.
Botham is selected for his performances in the ODI arena when he was at his peak, destroyed bowling attacks and batting line-ups in Test matches as if brought to life from the pages of a comic book, whilst being just about adequate in ODIs.
Botham’s Test averages (particularly his bowling average) took a gradual pounding as the effects of injury and age diminished him over the course of his cricketing career. They had also taken a pounding for a year when, in the midst of his Himalayan Test peak, he failed to respond to a captain with whom he clearly did not gel harmoniously – himself.
In considerable mitigation, Botham made the schoolboy error of being offered the chance to become the youngest England captain since the 1880s, with little if any captaincy experience, ahead of back-to-back series against a useful West Indies outfit which vigorously eschewed the temptations of the medium-paced dibbly-dobbler. West Indies arrived in 1980 with a four-pronged bowling attack comprising Roberts, Garner, Holding and Marshall (and Croft returned in the series in the West Indies early in 1981), and a batting line-up containing Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd and Kallicharran. Mike Brearley, who had led England for the previous three years, shrewdly consulted the fixture list, the opposition’s team sheet, and his own 38-year-old birth certificate, coughed nervously, and stepped aside.
Botham’s England performed creditably enough in the circumstances, losing 1-0 at home and 2-0 away, with a total of six mostly rain-aided draws – the next three series against West Indies would bring England a considerably less impressive haul of draws (one in 15 Tests, to place proudly on the mantelpiece next to the zero wins) ‒ but Botham’s individual form nose-dived like Pinocchio in the penalty area in an Italian football match. The captaincy removed, he instantly recovered his previous form and blasted himself into English sporting immortality.
It is the peak-era non-captain Botham who walks triumphantly into this team. He was a marvel of statistics and personality in Tests, a leviathan who routinely shaped and decided matches through his extraordinary range of skills and an aura that has seldom been matched in the history of the game. At the same time, in ODIs he was a useful bit-part player who chipped in every now and again with a handy wicket or two.
At the end of the 1981 Ashes, excluding his unhappy stint as captain, Botham had a Test batting average of 42, with eight centuries in 29 matches, and a bowling average of 18, with 17 five-wicket hauls and four ten-wicket matches (plus 46 catches). He had played 27 ODIs in the ranks, averaging just under 17 with the bat, and a decent if not world-shattering 25 with the ball, but with best innings figures of just 3 for 16 (and only seven catches).
Thereafter Botham declined in the Test arena, whilst remaining capable of sporadic acts of wonder at least until 1987, but he remained bizarrely irrelevant in ODIs – between January 1983 and December 1986, he did not take more than two wickets in an ODI innings, and scored more than 30 only once. Overall, he never took an ODI five-for (and took four wickets only three times in 115 innings), and made just nine half-centuries, with a highest score of 79.
What makes it all so puzzling is that Botham clearly had the range of talents to be one of the greatest ODI players of any era. He had skill and power with the bat, craft and explosive swing with the ball. His performances in the ODI arena are one of cricket’s more curious failures.
7 & wicketkeeper. Matt Prior (England): 58 Tests, average 42.6; 68 ODIs, average 24.1.
For the last four years, Prior has been one of the highest-value cricketers in the Test game, scoring important runs regularly, and with considerable style, his reliability with the gloves increasing seemingly in direct correlation with the shininess of his pate.
His batting in Tests is a pyrotechnic cocktail of classical strokeplay and 21st-century innovation, all delivered with mellifluously classy timing, and often at its best in pressurised match situations. It is a blend that ought to have transferred seamlessly to ODIs. Instead, it has transferred to ODIs as seamlessly as Inzamam transferred to the Atkins diet.
In ODIs, Prior has failed in various incarnations over several years, and in multiple places in the batting order, leading to allegations that the Sussex Swashbuckler has a secret twin who takes the field in ODIs whilst the real Matt Prior attempts to execute a Houdini-style escape from a cricket bag to alert the confused ECB.
Prior’s Test strike rate of 64 runs per 100 balls is the seventh best of the 67 players who have scored at least 1000 Test runs since his 2007 debut. His ODI strike rate of 76 is the 74th best of the 130 batsmen who have scored more than 1000 ODI runs since Prior first donned the sacred blue of England eight years ago.
Of wicketkeeper-batsmen in Tests since May 2007, Prior has the best average, challenged closely only by Dhoni. In ODIs in the same period, even discounting Prior’s early ODI struggles before his Test career began, he is tucked in towards the back of the pack, in between Mushfiqur Rahim and Carlton Baugh. Aged almost 31, Prior still has time to rectify this, but the clock is ticking increasingly loudly.
8. John Bracewell (New Zealand): 41 Tests, 102 wickets, average 35.8; 53 ODIs, 33 wickets, average 57.0.
No one would claim John Bracewell was the greatest spin bowler in Test history. Even fewer would claim he was the greatest spin bowler in ODI history. In fact, some might even claim he was the worst.
Bracewell was a good Test bowler in an almost spin-free era, and played a vital all-round role in New Zealand winning three successive series against Australia, and in England in 1986. He was one of only five spinners to take 100 Test wickets between 1980, just after the great Indian spin era had come to an end, and the 1992-93 season, when Warne, Murali and Kumble all made their Test breakthroughs.
However, in ODIs, he was unremittingly useless. Since one-day cricket shuffled accidentally and unobtrusively onto the international scene in 1971, 402 bowlers have taken 25 or more ODI wickets. Bracewell’s average of 57 places him way out on his own with the most rubbish ODI average of all time – a full five runs per wicket worse than his nearest challenger, Asanka Gurusinha, who was, verifiably, a batsman, not a bowler. Bracewell also has the worst strike rate (74) of those 402 bowlers, and is one of only four of them who never took three wickets in an ODI innings. In fact, he took two wickets only eight times in 50 ODI innings. John Bracewell was the Don Bradman of bowling unpenetratively in ODIs.
And do not be fooled by his economy rate of 4.6. It might appear tidy by 21st-century standards, but bear in mind Bracewell was playing in the 1980s – over the course of his career, he had the eighth-worst economy rate of the 63 bowlers who bowled at least 200 overs in ODIs.
He fights off strong competition for the spinner’s spot from Tim May (Test average 34, ODI average 45), Tauseef Ahmed (31 v 40), Rangana Herath (31 v 44), and Abdur Rehman (28 v 45), partly because the others maintained far tidier economy rates. But mostly because he was the Don Bradman of bowling unpenetratively in ODIs.
9. Dion Nash (New Zealand): 32 Tests, 93 wickets, average 28.4; 81 ODIs, 64 wickets, average 40.9.
Nash qualifies as the only man to have taken 40 or more wickets in both Tests and ODIs and to have averaged under 30 in the five-day game but over 40 in one-dayers.
Kiwi cricket is festooned with bowlers who have been far better in the shorter game – Geoff Allott, Chris Pringle, Kyle Mills and Chris Harris, to name but a few ‒ but Nash did his heroic best to buck that trend, and buck it hard. He has the fourth-best average of the 32 New Zealanders to have taken 50 Test wickets, but none of the 23 Kiwis who have taken 50 ODI wickets has taken them more expensively.
10. Jeff Thomson (Australia): 51 Tests, 200 wickets, average 28.0; 50 ODIs, 55 wickets, average 35.3.
Another deeply curious one-day failure. Thomson was, for a while, not only the most petrifying sight in the history of cricket, but one of the most terrifying things in the entire 1970s world, alongside the lingering threat of nuclear war, fictional shark star Jaws, and Margaret Thatcher’s smile.
But in one-day international cricket, he was basically useless. Of the 32 bowlers who had taken 35 or more ODI wickets by the end of Thomson’s career in 1985, the Sydney Slinger had the second-worst average, better only than Viv Richards, who at that stage in his career made up for his bowling average of 37 – still handy for an occasional support bowler – by being comfortably the best one-day international batsman in the universe.
Thomson also had the sixth-worst economy rate, and third-worst strike rate. Oddly, the third-best strike rate in those early ODI years was boasted by part-time West Indian tweakman Larry Gomes. It is probably fair to say that, given the choice, most batsmen would still have chosen to face the taciturn Trinidadian’s gentle spinners. In fact, his success may have been down to batsmen making the not unreasonable choice to get out to him before having their faces rearranged by a 95mph nose-tickler from Garner or Holding.
Thomson only once took four wickets in an ODI innings, and even then he conceded 67 runs (against West Indies in February 1978, at that time one of the most expensive analyses by a Test-nation bowler in an ODI). Most of his pace contemporaries in a glorious era for flinging round leather-covered balls as fast as humanly possible were also significant and often decisive influences in one-dayers. Thomson was slightly less useful than Jeremy Coney.
11. Mohammad Asif (Pakistan): 23 Tests, 106 wickets, average 24.36; 38 ODIs 46 wickets, average 33.13.
When history judges Asif’s career, it is likely to concentrate more on him being a very naughty boy than on his struggles to replicate his stellar Test form in the limited-overs format. One of 21st-century seam bowling’s foremost artists, Asif could have been an all-time great if he had learned to control himself with the same mastery with which he controlled small round bits of red leather.
The white ball, however, eluded his skill-set almost as much as the ability not to be sent to jail. Over the period of his Test career, Asif had the sixth-best average of the 66 bowlers who took 35 or more wickets. Over the span of his ODI career, he had the 67th best average of the 96 bowlers with 35 or more victims.
If you exclude his unsuccessful first two Tests and his final match, which was utterly disastrous on every conceivable level, the divergence is even more pronounced. And his ODI bowling struggles were mirrored with the bat – he averaged a paltry 3.7 in ODIs but a positively Miandadesque 5.6 in Tests. Narrowly edges out, amongst others, Bruce Reid (Test average 24, ODI average 34).
The full Test-Stars-But-One-Day-Flops XI: Slater, Vaughan, Kim Hughes, Viswanath, Samaraweera, Botham, Prior, Bracewell, Nash, Thomson, Mohammad Asif.
The team of ODI-Legends-But-Test-Match-Muppets that they will humiliate in a three-Test series but be eviscerated by in a subsequent seven-game ODI rubber will be announced in the next blog. Selection will be even more hotly contested.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer