October 7, 2013

One-off saucepan sizzlers

Andy Zaltzman
Agarkar gave India the breakthrough, trapping Langer in front, Australia v India, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 4th day, December 15, 2003
Ajit Agarkar decided skittles were just not cricket  © AFP
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Here is part two of my Test Match Flash-In-The-Pan XI. My blogs and video diary pieces from my Indian stand-up tour will begin later this week.

Joining the top six line-up of Joe Darling, Andrew Sandham, Frank Hayes, Faoud Bacchus, Maitland Hathorn and Dennis Lindsay, according to the selection criteria laid out in part one, are the following:

7 & honorary captain. Ajit Agarkar (India): 26 Tests; one century, no other fifties; one six-wicket haul, no other four-wicket innings
The first name on the team sheet. Ignore his excellent ODI stats, Agarkar is a Test-match statistical legend of the highest calibre, a numerical phenomenon of almost mind-bending proportions. He played 26 Tests. He flashed in the pan once in 46 innings with the ball. He sizzled in the saucepan once in 39 innings with the bat.

His one day of glory with the ball was in the Adelaide Test of 2003-04, one of India's finest wins. Having taken 41 wickets at 46 in his first 17-and-a-half Tests (including, after a promising second millennium, a pitiful 28 scalps at 54 apiece in years beginning with the number 2, featuring just one three-wicket innings in 26 attempts), Agarkar suddenly put on his new magic Richard Hadlee cape and skittled Australia with 6 for 41. He then made the mistake of putting the cape in the same hot wash as his Christina Aguilera cape. His bowling was never the same again - eight more Tests, 11 wickets at 74 - but his singing voice is sensational.

His solitary batting triumph in the five-day game came at Lord's in 2002, where he carved his name on the honours board with a century that was of little relevance to the match - in the fourth innings, as India lost heavily - but which began with Agarkar proudly clutching a Test match average of just under 7.5, after 18 innings adorned with eight ducks, including an almost heroic four golden quackers in succession against Australia in the 1999-2000 series. That sequence was broken in Sydney when the Mumbai Momentary Marvel dug in, stopped the rot, built an innings, and got some valuable crease-time under his belt. With a staunch, resolute, indefatigable second-ball duck. A relative epic.

His 109 not out at Lord's was, therefore, a statistical Vesuvius erupting from a partially constructed molehill. He scored some useful runs in his final 14 Tests, but never passed 50 again. Of the 44 players who have converted their only Test half-century into a hundred, Agarkar's 38 further fifty-free innings is a Bradmanesquely-untouchable record - after him, the next most half-century avoiding innings by a centurion is 20, by his Flash-In-The-Pan XI team-mate, the early 20th-century South African non-legend Maitland Hathorn.

Agarkar is one of 32 Test bowlers to have taken six wickets in the only innings in which they have dismissed more than three batsmen. Only two of them have bowled in more than 30 innings - Agarkar (46), and India's 1950s batting allrounder GS Ramchand, who bowled 56 times, took 6 for 49 in Karachi in 1954-55, and whose third-best Test figures were 2 for 19.

Agarkar is the only choice to lead this team. He never captained India, but modern captaincy is much more about setting an example for others to follow than it is about leadership experience or tactical subtlety, and Agarkar is to Test match flash-in-the-pans what WG Grace was to late 19th-century batsmanship. A towering icon of one-off genius.

8. Upul Chandana (Sri Lanka): ten wickets against Australia in the Cairns Test of 2004; excluding that: 27 wickets in 15 Tests, average 49
Chandana began his Test career with 6 for 179 as Sri Lanka were pulverised by an innings by Pakistan in Dhaka in March 1999, but, given that his first wicket came at 483 for 3, with Pakistan already 250 ahead, it was not a resoundingly impactful performance. In his next ten Tests, he failed to take three wickets in any innings. So it is fair to assume that, when a very strong Australian batting line-up prepared to face him in Cairns in 2004, they were probably not thinking to themselves: "This guy is going to take ten wickets in less than 45 overs in this Test match, becoming the first visiting spinner to take five in both innings in Australia since Bedi and Chandrasekhar did so for India in 1977-78. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it."

That, however, is exactly what the Galle Googler did. They were, admittedly, expensive wickets, but he struck once every 27 balls. Excluding that one-match oasis of effectiveness, his ten Tests after his 2002 recall harvested 11 wickets at 76, with a strike rate of 143.

Prior to Bedi and Chandrasekhar, the only overseas tweakers to take five in both innings in a Test in Australia in the previous 100 years were South Africa's Hugh Tayfield, in 1952-53, and Jack White, in 1928-29, in his days as an England left-arm spinner, before he embarked on a major career change in the late 1990s to become the frontman of the Grammy-award-winning blues-rock legends The White Stripes.

9. Paul Allott (England): 14 wickets at 20 in three Tests against the 1984 West Indians, including 6 for 61 at Headingley; otherwise, 12 wickets at 66 in ten Tests, with a best of 2 for 17
Allott's 1981 debut promised much - an unbeaten half-century in his first innings, having come in at 137 for 8, and two wickets in each innings. However, in his next four Tests, that promise studiously avoided coming to fruition, as the Lancashire Lolloper took two wickets for 326 in 93 staunchly unremarkable overs. He was recalled for the third Test of England's 1984 clobbering by West Indies, and promptly took 6 for 61 in 27 overs of studious probery, including the wickets of Desmond Haynes and Viv Richards. He took eight wickets in the final two Tests of the series, a silver lining amidst the carnage of a 5-0 splatting.

Amid the rubble of this humiliating series whitewash, had England at least found a new line-and-length lynchpin to hold their attack together? No. No, they had not. Allott played five more Tests over the next year, striking once every 25 overs and averaging 64, and his Test career was finished.

10. John Lever (England): 10 for 70, and 53, on debut, in India in 1976-77; 26 wickets at 14.6 in the series. Thereafter: 16 Tests, best figures 5 for 100, never took more than seven wickets in a series; highest score: 33 not out
When Lever hooped England to an innings victory in Delhi in December 1976, he became the only cricketer in Test history to take ten wickets and score 50 on debut. His 7 for 46 remains the best analysis by an England bowler in his first Test innings, and he is the only English debutant since Alec Bedser in 1946 to take ten in the match. All this in a game in which only three other wickets were taken by seamers. And in which his 194-ball 53 constitutes the longest debut innings ever by an English tailender (batting 8 or lower).

Lever took 14 more wickets in the remaining four Tests, but could manage only nine in six Tests in the 1977 Ashes and the 1977-78 series in Pakistan. From then on, the mere mention of the name "Lever" was enough to prompt England to yank the lever on the selectoral trap-door, and leave out Lever. He played a total of nine more Tests in eight years, spread over a logistically impressive eight separate series. Despite reasonable results in Tests (34 wickets at 30), and a decade of relentlessly wicket-filled excellence in county cricket, England's selectors seemed convinced that if he played more than once in a series, the world would end, or the Queen would turn into a French pumpkin, or the Soviets would invade Somerset and steal Ian Botham, or the Soviets would invade and clone Geoff Boycott.

11. Chris Pringle (New Zealand): 7 for 52 and 4 for 100 in his third Test, in Faisalabad in October 1990. Otherwise: 19 wickets at 65 in 13 Tests, best match figures of 3 for 81
You are about to captain your country in a Test match, away from home, in Asia. Whilst you are rubbing a bottle of linseed oil with a cloth in your traditional pre-match ritual, a genie appears and offers you one paceman from the entire history of cricket to skittle your opponents with seven quick wickets on the first day. Who do you choose?

Chris Pringle. You choose Chris Pringle, the early-1990s New Zealand dobster. He is one of only two seam bowlers to have taken seven wickets on the first day of an away Test in Asia. The other was West Indies pace legend Andy Roberts, but you still choose Pringle, because he took his seven wickets in fewer overs and for fewer runs than Roberts did when he blasted India out with 7 for 64 in Chennai in 1974-75.

Pringle followed up with four more wickets in the second innings. And did almost nothing in his remaining 11 Tests. He is still the only visiting seamer to take ten wickets in a Test in Pakistan (or on neutral grounds against Pakistan). Admittedly, it was bottle-top-assisted, but genies appreciate people taking the tops off bottles. It stops them suffocating to death.

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

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Keywords: Stats, XIs

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Posted by nareshgb1 on (October 9, 2013, 0:41 GMT)

Ajit Agrakar - LOL. You were sharpening that knife for weeks wern't you?

Posted by Sir_Francis on (October 8, 2013, 23:00 GMT)

You forgot the rules, lads. The Flash-in-the-Pan had to have played 9 or more Tests to be considered. So Hirwani & Massie don't qualify, sadly.

I was at that Cairns Test. Nice place to visit. Large but with around 100,000 people (not including tourists). the fish was excellent.

I recall Allott's commentary work. he always seemed contemptuois of every player on the fiield. When invited by the broadcaster to email the Commentators I put in the Subject - Paul Allott and in the body of the email I simply put his Test stats.

He was less contemptuous for the rest of the day.

Posted by Jonathan_E on (October 8, 2013, 18:14 GMT)

Two more flash-in-the-pan debutants: Narendra Hirwani has been mentioned, 16 wickets on debut, pretty much nothing else of note. And also, the only other person to take 16 wickets on debut, also to achieve almost nothing else: Bob Massie.

Another flash in the pan, although this time a bowler who had enjoyed a lot of success as a bowler but producing a single great day with the bat: Jason Gillespie - 201 not out, admittedly against Bangladesh. The only nightwatchman ever to score a double century.

I wonder if Chris Lewis's only test century counts as a flash in the pan?

Or Vaughan Brown's only test wicket in two matches... which not only deprived Richard Hadlee of the second ever 10-wicket innings haul in Tests, but was only achieved thanks to a brilliant catch by Hadlee himself? :-)

Posted by concerned_cricketer on (October 7, 2013, 15:31 GMT)

I could relate to that piece on Agarkar. Truly magnificent piece. My tummy is still suffering from crams due to laughing without making much noise in the office.

Posted by ROLAYH on (October 7, 2013, 11:53 GMT)

How about Hirvani? the guy took 16 wickets on debut and then nothing substantial.

Posted by cnksnk on (October 7, 2013, 8:21 GMT)

John Levers debut match at Delhi , where he performed so well, was also followed by what was then called Vasaline controversy. Lever had applied vasaline on his face to prevent sweat from dripping down, or so the story goes. What ever bee the reason he was quite unplayable on that day. A hugh furore erupted on the usage of vasaline and he could never replicate the form.

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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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