December 20, 2010

Where'd he come from?

Michael Beer might not have made his Test debut in Perth after all, but there is still a rich history of unexpected selections

Ken Burn
Burn was a solid batsman who had a long if unspectacular career for Tasmania in the late 19th century, many years before they were included in the Sheffield Shield competition. In 1890 he was chosen for that year's Australian tour of England, as the second wicketkeeper behind the long-serving Jack Blackham. Burn waited until the team's ship reached the Red Sea before admitting that he'd never actually kept wicket before. He played his only two Tests on that tour - as a batsman - and made 41 runs.

Aftab Gul
After England's 1968-69 tour of South Africa was called off, they visited Pakistan instead. But there was a lot of political unrest there at the time (plus ça change...), and it was said in some newspapers that the only way of avoiding crowd trouble would be for Pakistan's selectors to include Gul, a student leader who was also a handy batsman. He was duly called up, and made 12 and 29 in Lahore in a match that passed off without major incident, but even he couldn't prevent a riot in the third Test, in Karachi, after which England flew home. Aftab played a few more Tests without much success, and was then arrested after a change of government: he supposedly had some grenades and a rocket launcher hidden under his bed. He was exiled for a while, but eventually returned to practise law: he's now representing Salman Butt in his fight against ICC suspension.

Peter Taylor
The last time England won the Ashes in Australia, in 1986-87, there was a call-up of Beer-like proportions by Australia for the final Test. Offspinner Peter Taylor had played only six previous first-class matches, only one of them that season. A TV crew assumed there was a mistake and went to congratulate Mark Taylor on his first Test cap instead. But Mark had to wait a couple of years: Peter Taylor had previously impressed Greg Chappell, a selector at the time (he is again now, and was part of the committee that whistled up Michael Beer). And Chappell got it right: Taylor took 6 for 78 and batted well for 42 as Australia pulled off a consolation victory in Sydney. Taylor later became a Test selector himself.

Darren Pattinson
Hardly anyone in the England set-up had met fast bowler Pattinson when he was called up to play South Africa at Headingley in 2008: he'd played only 11 first-class matches, and the first five of those were for Victoria in Australia, where he was brought up. But Pattinson was born in Grimsby, and his English birthright, and a good start to his county career with Nottinghamshire earlier in 2008, swayed the selectors. The other England players weren't quite so impressed: Michael Vaughan, the captain, admitted afterwards that the bizarre selection destabilised the team. Pattinson didn't bowl too badly but was quietly dropped afterwards, and hasn't looked like featuring again: after a horror season in 2009 he did contribute to Nottinghamshire's Championship triumph in 2010. His younger brother, James, in now on the fringe of a Test side too - Australia's.

The Maharaja of Porbandar
Back in the days of Empire it was felt in India that their national side had to be captained by a person of substance, and various princes squabbled over the right to lead India's first Test tour of England in 1932. The Maharaja of Porbandar, from the state of Gujarat, eventually landed the job, the only drawback being he wasn't much of a cricketer. He'd played only one first-class game before his team arrived in England, and he appeared in only four of the 26 matches on the tour: CK Nayudu captained in the sole Test, when Porbandar wisely declined to select himself. Legend has it that during the tour he collected more Rolls Royces (three) than runs (two).

John Watkins
Watkins, a legspinner from Newcastle in northern New South Wales, had had limited success in five first-class matches when he was a surprise call-up to play against Pakistan at Sydney in 1972-73. He struggled with the ball but made an important 36 when he batted, which helped Australia secure an unlikely victory. It also earned him a place on the West Indian tour that followed. But he didn't threaten to get into the Test side there: Test opener Keith Stackpole wrote that Watkins was "possibly the luckiest player ever to represent Australia", and added that in one of the tour games "he almost hit the square-leg umpire with the widest full-toss I've seen". Watkins never played first-class cricket again after returning from the Caribbean.

Tauseef Ahmed
While the Pakistanis were in the nets the day before their first Test against Australia in Karachi in 1979-80, a bystander told Mushtaq Mohammad, the former Test skipper turned coach, that his friend was a better bowler than anyone on view. Instead of laughing at him, Mushtaq told the man to bring his mate in. Tauseef duly confounded Pakistan's seasoned batsmen. Mushtaq told him to report to the team hotel, but the staff refused to believe his story and he sat in the entrance hall until midnight. But in the match itself Tauseef took seven wickets as Pakistan coasted to victory.

Walter Giffen
Giffen has a claim to being one of the worst Test batsmen of all time, after three 19th-century matches brought him just 11 runs at the unBradmanesque average of 1.83. The story goes that he played only because his brother, the much more celebrated George Giffen - Australia's premier allrounder of the time, and often captain - said he wouldn't play unless his brother did too. Walter was a decent club player, and might have done better if he hadn't lost the tops of two fingers when he got his left hand trapped between a pair of cog-wheels in 1886. Maybe he should have done a "Dainty" Ironmonger and tried to spin the ball off them...

John Cameron
West Indies' vice-captain for their 1939 tour of England was chosen because he had bowled some decent legspin for Cambridge University and Somerset earlier in the 1930s. He had played most of his cricket in England: his only two first-class games in his native Jamaica had been for a touring Universities side. By the time of the 1939 tour, however, Cameron had lost his legspin, and was bowling offbreaks instead: he played in two of the Tests and took three wickets.

Charlie McGahey
The popular Essex batsman McGahey, who scored more than 20,000 first-class runs in all, had been feeling a bit seedy during 1901. The doctors suspected tuberculosis. The slightly unusual rest cure prescribed was a place in Archie MacLaren's side which toured Australia that winter: McGahey played his only two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, and averaged just 9.50. But he did come back cured.

Trevor Meale
Left-hander Meale hadn't played first-class cricket for four seasons when New Zealand's team to tour England in 1958 was selected. He had been living in England, where he tried unsuccessfully to qualify for Kent... but he had played club cricket for Ealing, and this experience of English conditions seemed to convince the selectors, if not the captain John Reid ("I advised against his selection, but he was still sent"). What was possibly the weakest touring side ever to visit England avoided a 5-0 whitewash only thanks to heavy rain in one of the matches. Meale played in two of the Tests, managed 21 runs in four innings, and was never seen again. He died in 2010.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011. And Ask Steven is now on Facebook

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