October 1, 2013

The All-time Flash-in-the-Pan XI

Andy Zaltzman
Faoud Bacchus before the third Test, Pakistan v West Indies, Karachi, December 27, 1981
Faoud Bacchus: not quite the party animal with bat in hand  © Getty Images
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The Confectionery Stall Editorial Board has decided that, having watched approximately ten balls of cricket in the past five weeks, this week's blog should consist of the All-Time Test Match Flash-In-The-Pan XI. As has become traditional with Confectionery Stall XIs, the wordcount has ballooned, so it will appear in two parts.

If you can contain your excitement, here are the qualification criteria:

* A minimum of nine Test matches. Candidates must have played enough matches to have proved that the flash in their particular pan was a genuine one-off micro-flambé. The nine-match qualification standard was selected because most of the Confectionery Stall's all-time favourite cricketers have had at least nine toes.

* Players must have had one performance that stands out from the rest of their careers, like Daniel Barenboim playing a Beethoven piano sonata in a primary school concert for dangerously unmusical children. This could be a single innings or a single series. It is not enough for a player to have had one statistically stellar series, if he spoilt it with several useful ones, or to have had a Vaughanically good six-month statsblitz, unless that peak is unsullied by reasonably proportioned numerical foothills. We are looking for bona fide bolts from the statistical blue.

* Players must have verifiably completed their Test careers, by doing one or more of: (a) retiring; (b) dying; (c) having rendered themselves eternally unselectable through persistent failure to replicate their pan-flash; or (d) run away and joined the circus (an actual circus, not just the IPL).

* The selectors' decision is final. All complaints to be addressed in neat handwriting to Mr BK Moon, c/o The United Nations, New York, in an envelope marked: "There's More To The World Than Sorting Out Wars, Big Horse."

Part One: Numbers 1 to 6

1. Joe Darling (Australia): 537 runs at 67, including three hundreds, in the 1897-88 Ashes. Rest of career: 1120 runs, average 22, in 29 Tests, highest score 74
Darling was the first man to score three centuries in a Test series. Sixty-six other players have done so since (on a combined total of 105 occasions). Darling is one of only two who have never made another Test hundred. (The other is Denis Lindsay.) (See below.) He played in six other Ashes series, and did not average over 30 in any of them. A flash-in-the-pan pioneer, he combined a decade of numerical mediocrity with a sudden outbreak of unprecedented bat-raising brilliance.

2. Andrew Sandham (England): Scored 152, 51, 325 and 50 in the first and fourth Tests in West Indies in 1930. Rest of career: 301 runs at 15.8 in 12 Tests
Few have managed to flash themselves in cricket's pan in their final throes as a Test cricketer. Usually the mere fact of having done something incredible earns the pan-flasher the right to return to the humdrummery whence he emerged, enabling his Kilimanjaro of personal success to stand proudly above his otherwise Belgian statistical lowlands.

Sandham, however, clocked out of Test cricket in style. His ten Tests in the early 1920s brought him an average of 19 and a highest score of 58. After five years out of the England team, watching Hobbs and Sutcliffe carve themselves into immortality, he returned for England's first Test tour of the West Indies, in 1930. He scored 152 and 51 in the first Test in Barbados, before proving that his previous travails were no fluke by scoring 0, 5, 9 and 0 in the next two matches. Then, in the fourth and final Test, he scored Test cricket's first triple-century, followed by 50 in the second innings.

Hobbs and Sutcliffe returned for the 1930 Ashes, and Sandham's England career was finished. He remains the only man to have scored a triple-hundred in his final Test. As the old saying goes: "It is better to have scored a triple-hundred and lost your place in the Test side than never to have scored a triple-hundred at all."

3. Frank Hayes (England): 106 not out on debut v West Indies in 1973; did not reach 30 in 15 subsequent Test innings
Scoring a debut century against West Indies might seem like a good career move for an aspiring batsman, but it used to be the kiss of death for a player's Test career. Three men did it before 1975. None ever scored as many as 60 again. Hayes was the third of these, hitting an outstanding unbeaten hundred in the second innings of his debut as England sank to defeat against Kanhai's West Indians.

In his next innings, he ground his way to a painstaking 29 off 149 balls, which proved to be his second-best Test score. His final 14 innings (all, perhaps foolishly, against West Indies) brought six ducks and only two scores over 12.

Not many batsmen can claim that they bagged a duck in two-thirds of their Test matches. Then again, not many batsmen can claim that they scored their country's only hundred in a Test series against West Indies.

Hayes was the 14th Englishman to make a debut Test hundred. He was the seventh of them to never reach three figures again, and only one of those 14 - Peter May - went on to score more than two Test tons. There was a 20-year debut-centurion hiatus whilst the issue was rectified by the ECB, since when Thorpe, Strauss, Cook, Prior and Trott have thankfully bucked the trend, and bucked it hard.

No Test centurion classed as a specialist batsman has played more than Maitland Hathorn's 20 Test innings without reaching 50 at least once. Assuming you do not consider Ajit Agarkar to have been a specialist batsman. Which is a matter for the courts to decide upon

4. Faoud Bacchus (West Indies): 250 in the Kanpur Test, February 1979. Otherwise: 532 runs at 18.3 in 18 Tests
Question 1: what have only Jack Hobbs, Bill Ponsford, Don Bradman, Denis Compton and Faoud Bacchus ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Been out hit-wicket after scoring more than 150.

Question 2: What have only Jack Hobbs, Bill Ponsford, Don Bradman and Denis Compton ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Been out hit-wicket after scoring more than 150, but also scored other Test hundreds, and become immortal cricketing legends.

Question 3: What have only Wasim Akram and Faoud Bacchus ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Made 250 in an innings but ended with a career batting average below 30.

Question 4: What has only Wasim Akram ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Made 250 in an innings and ended with a career batting average below 30, but also taken more than 400 Test wickets. And scored two other hundreds.

Question 5: What have only Rohan Kanhai, VVS Laxman, Younis Khan, Virender Sehwag, Mahela Jayawardene, Hashim Amla and Faoud Bacchus ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Scored 250 or more in a Test innings in India.

Question 6: What has only Faoud Bacchus ever done in the history of Test cricket?

Answer: Scored 250 or more in a Test innings in India, without also scoring at least 14 other Test hundreds and having a career average of more than 45.

But for his Kanpur monolith, Bacchus - who also scored two of his three half-centuries in the same series - would have the 474th best average of the 477 batsmen who have batted 25 or more times in the top six in Test cricket, ahead only of three Bangladeshis. Of course, but for that innings, he would not have batted more than 25 times in Test cricket. Nevertheless, Bacchus still managed more Test hundreds than Jupiter, Neptune, Mars and Apollo combined, which is some consolation.

5. Maitland Hathorn (South Africa). Scored 102 against England in Johannesburg in 1905-06. Otherwise, in 19 innings in 11 Tests, averaged 12, with a highest score of 45
Selected for two reasons. Firstly, I had never heard of Hathorn until I started writing this article. There are not many Test cricketers of whom I have not heard in my disastrously mis-spent 32 years as a cricket obsessive. Hathorn thus had my full, undivided attention. And secondly, no Test centurion classed as a specialist batsman has played more than Hathorn's 20 Test innings without reaching 50 on at least one more occasion. Assuming you do not consider Ajit Agarkar to have been a specialist batsman. Which is a matter for the courts to decide upon.

6 and wicketkeeper. Denis Lindsay (South Africa): 606 runs at 86 in the five-Test 1966-67 series against Australia. Rest of career: 524 runs at 22 in 14 Tests. Next highest series tally: 123 runs
Lindsay played in six Test series for South Africa. He made his five highest scores, including his three hundreds, in just one of them, against Australia in 1966-67. His performance in that series stands out from the rest of his career. Sort of how it would have been if the Rolling Stones had released album after album of farmyard noise impressions either side of their 1972 masterwork Exile On Main Street. Furthermore, Lindsay took 24 catches in the 5 Tests in 1966-67. His next highest series tally was 10.

Lindsay was one of only three wicketkeepers in the first 115 years of Test cricket to don the gloves in ten or more Tests and to average 40 or more with the bat (alongside Les Ames and Clyde Walcott). However, if you discount his one big series, his average bobsleds downwards from exactly 40 to 21.8, and in the list of the 100 men to have kept wicket ten or more times in Tests, he plummets from eighth (just behind Prior and Sangakkara, just ahead of MS Dhoni) to 57th (gazing up longingly at the likes of Geraint Jones and Nayan Mongia, communing with Lee Germon).

Next time: numbers 7 to 11. Including Ajit Agarkar. Obviously. First name on the teamsheet

Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging and videotically diarising about my cricketing stand-up tour around India, which begins with shows at the Canvas Laugh Factory in Mumbai (3rd to 6th)

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

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Keywords: Nostalgia, XIs

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Posted by Sir_Francis on (October 5, 2013, 11:14 GMT)

The great Swampy Marsh scored 3 tons (& a 92) in his first 10 tests for an average of 41.82

Added one more Ton over the next 40 Tests. Averaging 31.05 in those final 40 Tests. Australia must have been slim on openers over those 6 year

Posted by ccaton on (October 2, 2013, 8:23 GMT)

What a shame the cutoff is 9 tests not 8. That eliminates New Zealand's Noel Harford who scored 93 and 64 on debut and then made 72 runs in his next 13 innings, at an average of less than 6.

Posted by godshand on (October 2, 2013, 6:11 GMT)

Yes, among Indians - Kambli, Amre, LSRK, Maninder Singh, VW Raman, VB Chandrashekhar, Kanetkar, Sadanlal Vishwananth etc. did appreciable well initially but couldn't sustain long-term.

Posted by   on (October 2, 2013, 0:21 GMT)

My pick would be Bob Massie, Narendra Hirwani, Ajit Agarkar, Md Sami, George Giffen and if you can believe, Harold Larwood. These all are known for only 1 particular series, does not matter how great or good they were.

Posted by Cricket_Fan_And_Analyst on (October 1, 2013, 23:25 GMT)

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan from India and Hasan Raja from Pakistan

Posted by ToTellUTheTruth on (October 1, 2013, 17:31 GMT)

How about Praveen Amre from India?

Posted by FAB_ALI on (October 1, 2013, 16:38 GMT)

Sorry, it was actually Nilesh Kulkarni who got a wicket of his first ball in test cricket. He also ended up with 3 tests only with one more wicket to his name.

Posted by devil_in_details on (October 1, 2013, 14:55 GMT)

O Andy! What would your work be without That Kirsten double hundred and That Agarkar century;)

Posted by mishmanin on (October 1, 2013, 14:23 GMT)

Vinod Kambli deserves to be included.....at least in this list....he peaked in his first 5 tests....and then the decline begun. Pravin Amre....an honourable mention....debut century....followed by none too impressive performances.

Posted by hooktwosixes on (October 1, 2013, 12:58 GMT)

I saw Dave Renneberg try to bounce Denis Lindsay and get hooked for six twice in a row. With my dad next to me booing Bill Lawry in the outfield, what could be finer?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
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.

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