Saleem Elahi and the rich man's Saleem Elahi
Welcome to Part Three of the smash hit Confectionery Stall Good-In-One-Format-But-Rubbish-In-Another XIs, a series of learned treatises that has in many ways overshadowed the American presidential election in the global media, and utterly stolen the publicity thunder of the newly launched James Bond film. Following the announcement of the Test-Stars-But-One-Day-Flops XI, which has been the talk of nightclubs, libraries and opium dens from Aarhus to Zhengzhou, here is the top six of the ODI-Legends-But-Test-Match-Muppets XI.
The qualification criteria are that a player must have played a minimum of ten Tests and 20 ODIs, and - preferably - have certifiably failed in one of the formats.
1. Nick Knight (England): 17 Tests, average 23.9; 100 ODIs, average 40.4. In 1996, Knight scored three centuries against the Pakistan of Waqar, Wasim and a Mushtaq Ahmed at his brief international peak - one in a Test, two in ODIs. Wise judges saw his dashing strokeplay, dexterous hands and ability to attack both pace and spin, and confidently predicted that he would prove to be an England lynchpin in both forms of the game. They were half-right.
In his first seven Tests, he scored four half-centuries as well as that Headingley hundred. He added a disappointing zero more centuries and nought more fifties in his remaining ten Tests, splattered over five years, as the world's quick men exploited his Achilles throat against short-pitched bowling.
In ODIs, he was comfortably England's best one-day batsman over the course of his seven-year career, scoring more and averaging more than any other regular player, and passing 50 on 30 occasions, 11 more than England's next-best half-century poster in that time. In the midst of this, he was the victim of one of the wonkiest selections in an era of crackpot cricketer culling, when he was dropped from the England squad before the home 1999 World Cup, after a disappointing winter in Australia, despite two years of regular success and having averaged 61 in his 11 ODIs in England.
He was replaced as opener by Nasser Hussain, who had never opened in his sporadic, unsuccessful and slow-scoring ten-year ODI career up to that time. The soon-to-be-fortune-transforming skipper scored unbeaten half-centuries in easy run chases against Kenya and Zimbabwe, but failed - along with the rest of England's batting ‒ in two tournament-ending thrashings by South Africa and India, as England constructed a remarkably well-executed attempt to claim the Most Inept On- And Off-Field Performance In A Home World Cup title.
Knight was instantly restored to the team, and remained a consistent scorer until a disappointing 2003 World Cup, after which he retired from ODIs with what was, at the time, the highest ODI average by an English batsman who had played more than 20 matches. His Test career ended in 2001 with one of the poorest Test averages of any English specialist batsman who has played 15 or more Tests - only Mike Brearley, Bill Athey and Jack Ikin have out-failed him in the last 100 years. Curiously, Knight averaged more for England in ODIs than he did in county one-day cricket. He also averaged almost twice as much in first-class cricket as he did in Tests.
2. Saleem Elahi (Pakistan): 13 Tests, average 18.9; 48 ODIs, average 36.7. In four spells in Tests, Elahi played 13 matches, reached 50 only once, bagged enough ducks to feed a sizeable dinner party (six, including two pairs), and registered the worst average of the 194 batsmen who have opened in 20 Test innings. He had a decent series against England in 2000-01, but was otherwise unremittingly unsuccessful in six separate series, in six separate countries, and in five different years.
Statistically, he has a strong claim to being considered Pakistan's least-successful-ever Test batsman. Admittedly that is probably not a claim he would be particularly anxious to make, but Sergeant Stats is willing to make it on his behalf.
By considerable contrast, Elahi opened in 28 of his 47 ODI innings, averaging 42 - the 14th best of the 147 players who have opened at least 20 times in ODIs, and the best of the 15 Pakistanis to have done so. He is one of only seven opening batsmen to have scored a hundred on his ODI debut. He had similarly divergent returns in non-international cricket, averaging 32 in first-class cricket, and 52 in List-A one-dayers. He also took his only ever wicket in a limited-over match. A genuine one-day specialist. If Saleem Elahi ever turns up at your door offering to play a four- or five-day cricket match for you, politely turn him away.
3. Graeme Hick (England): 65 Tests, average 31.3; 120 ODIs, average 37.3. Hick is selected as a specialist No. 3. He was not a complete disaster as a Test player. He started and ended disastrously - either side of the first and last of his six Test hundreds, he averaged 16 in 23 Tests. However, from 1993 to 1995, he averaged 46 in 30 matches, the best by an England player in that period, against some very good bowling attacks in an often-struggling team. Nor was he an unmitigated success in ODIs, averaging a competent but not Wisden-shattering 37, and scoring three of his five career hundreds in a heady ten-day spell in the middle of the 1998-99 Carlton & United Series.
He was, however, one of the very few successful ODI No. 3s who have performed significantly worse in the same position in Tests. Batting 3 in ODIs, the Worcester Warrior averaged 44 - the tenth best of the 80 players who have batted 3 in 20 or more ODI innings, the second top-averaging English No. 3 after Jonathan Trott. Batting first-wicket down in Tests, however, the Worcester Worrier averaged 34 - 76th best of the 96 who have gone in at No. 3 20 or more times in the five-day game. Throughout, he was overshadowed by the mythical bowler-devouring, record-obliterating run monster that people expected him to be. One of several England players who would have benefited from having been born a decade later, and playing in an era when team selection was not conducted by a mixture of a blindfolded game of Pin the Tail on the County Averages and a ouija board link-up to the extremely confused ghost of ace 19th-century nurse Florence Nightingale.
4. Boeta Dippenaar (South Africa): 28 Tests, average 30.1; 107 ODIs, average 42.2. If I was to ask you to list the three batsmen with the highest averages as openers in ODIs - including only players who have opened in 30 or more innings - many of you would probably be able to take an educated guess at the top two. Hashim Amla (average 60, in 58 innings) leads the way, with Sachin Tendulkar second (48, in 340 innings). If you were to guess the third-placed batsman in that list correctly, I would assume you were one or more of: (a) dangerously obsessed with ODI statistics; (b) guessing wildly; (c) drunk; (d) joking; (e) me, having just looked it up on Statsguru to write about for this blog; or (f) Boeta Dippenaar.
If you were to add that the same player also has the third-best ODI average by a No. 4 batsman in 20 or more innings, I would then assume that you were definitely both (c) and (f). And probably (a). And possibly (d).
Dippenaar, persistently just-about-barely-adequate as a Test player over almost a decade, averaged 47 in the 43 ODIs in which he opened for South Africa, and 57 in 20 one-day innings at No. 4. He did not score his ODI runs at a particularly useful strike rate (67 overall), but in some ways this makes the divergence between his one-day achievements and his prolonged struggles in Tests - averaging 30 in 38 matches over eight years, bolstered by an unbeaten 177 against Bangladesh, and a pointless fifth-day first-innings century in a rain-ruined draw against New Zealand ‒ even more striking.
Sixty-seven batsmen have played 50 innings batting in their country's top six in Tests between the top eight teams since 2000. Dippenaar's average in those innings (28.4) is the 65th best, ahead only of Devon Smith and Daren Ganga, who both had the decency and moral consistency to be equally mediocre in ODIs. The Kimberley Konundrum has a better ODI average than Ponting, Lara, Pietersen, Saeed Anwar, Gayle and legendary UAE World Cup skipper Sultan Zarawani. At least five of those men might be surprised by that fact.
5 & wicketkeeper. MS Dhoni (India): 69 Tests, average 38.4; 211 ODIs, average 51.1. I have bent the rules for this selection. Dhoni is the one Test success in this XI of five-day flailers. He has been a very good Test player, as a batsman-wicketkeeper and as a captain, for most of his illustrious career. He is way out on his own as India's highest-averaging wicketkeeper in Tests, and is high on the all-time world list. But he makes it into this team for two reasons:
1. There are no wicketkeepers who have been big-time ODI successes but proper Test flops. None at all.
2. Dhoni has been good in Tests. He has been moderate in T20Is. But he has been one of the greatest and most influential ODI batsmen of all time (albeit that ODI all-time only dates back to 1971) (assuming no future archaeological digs suggest the existence of a flourishing pyjama-cricket circuit in ancient Sumeria).
The Ranchi Rampager averages over 100 in the 51 successful chases in which he has batted, and he grasped hold of a World Cup final that was balanced precariously on a sushi-sharp knife edge, flicked it up in the air with that knife, and, with a musketeerian waggle, carved it into a statue of himself before swallowing it whole. With his power and nerve, Dhoni has touched perfection as a one-day batsman. His ice-cold navigation of the path to victory would make South Pole pioneer Roald Amundsen roar his Norwegian approval in his grave. The difference in his Test and ODI stats is almost exactly replicated in his first-class and List A numbers. He is a rich man's Saleem Elahi. A very rich man's Saleem Elahi. Who also keeps wicket and captains.
6. Michael Bevan (Australia): 18 Tests, average 29.0; 232 ODIs, average 53.5. Arguing that Michael Bevan was not one of the world's best limited-over batsmen around the turn of the millennium would be like arguing that Mozart was a better car mechanic than composer, or that drinking meths at breakfast makes you immortal, or that Alan Mullally was one of the world's best limited-over batsmen around the turn of the millennium.
Bevan was staggeringly consistent over the ten years of his ODI career - he was not out in single figures until his 25th ODI innings, averaged 44 or more in nine separate years, finished four successive years as the top-ranked ODI batsman in the universe (1999-2002) and ended eight successive years in the top 4 (1996-2003). He was out for less than 30 in just 66 of his 196 ODI innings (33% - compared with, amongst other stellar ODI players, Tendulkar's 48%, Kallis' 46%, Viv Richards' 43%, Hussey's 40%, and Dhoni's 39%). Only Amla and Ryan ten Doeschate average more than Bevan in more than 20 ODI innings, and the latter has played only eight of his 33 ODIs against Test nations.
In Tests, however, after a propitious start, in which he passed 70 in each of his first three matches, against Pakistan, Bevan failed miserably. Unless you are English, in which case, he failed heroically, gloriously, and historically.
He passed 30 in just nine of his 30 Test innings, registered seven single-figure scores in his final ten knocks, and, almost uniquely for an Australian of his vintage, saved his worst for the Ashes. Of the 200 batsmen who have batted in the top six in at least ten Ashes innings, Bevan has the fourth-worst average (12.0), ahead only of 19th century Baggy Green stars Bonnor and Turner, and allrounder Richie Benaud, who did significantly better batting lower down the order, which Bevan did not. In his one innings at seven. In which he was out for 4.
By contrast, he averaged 71 against England in ODIs, and 57 in both first-class and List A cricket. Bevan also had an Achilles throat in Tests. He may have been using an Achilles bat as well. Whereas his mother dipped his ODI bat in magic linseed oil when he was a baby, making it indestructibly immortal.
Unlucky to miss out:
Roger Twose (New Zealand): 16 Tests, average 25.1; 87 ODIs, average 38.8. Rated one of the highest-impact New Zealand ODI batsmen by Impact Index, Twose ended up with a better ODI career average than Adam Gilchrist. Even he himself probably struggles to remember his Test career.
Ajay Jadeja (India): 15 Tests, average 26.1; 196 ODIs, average 37.4. Averaged 37 in ODIs, and 37 in List-A matches. Averaged 26 in Tests, but 55 in first-class cricket. Played in 15 of India's 66 Tests from 1992 to 2000, and 196 of their 264 ODIs. It is fair to say he did not quite master the five-day game.
Neil Fairbrother (England): 10 Tests, average 15.6; 75 ODIs, average 39.4. England's third-highest-averaging middle-order batsman in ODIs (minimum ten innings, batting 4 to 7); England's sixth-lowest-averaging middle-order batsman in Tests (ditto), ahead only of three bowling allrounders and two nightwatchmen.
The bowlers for this unbeatable 50-over firestorm will follow in the next blog. After which, I will do some proper work (within the realms of "proper work" for a stand-up comedian / podcaster / cricket writer), and the world can refocus its attentions on global poverty, economic mayhem, finding an antidote for excessive use of the word "like", and trying to clone Garfield Sobers.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer