April 2006

Five first times

Five cricketers talk about their first Test. By Nagraj Gollapudi

The success of debutants during the India- England series got us thinking: are players more prepared today than they used to be? Here are responses from across the years

How did you hear about your selection? What was your reaction?

A fevered debut by Alastair Cook © AFP
Andy Roberts
3rd Test v England, Bridgetown, 1973-74
Before the Test I was playing a first-class game in Barbados. Rohan Kanhai, the West Indies captain told me to stay in Barbados, where the third Test would be played, as Keith Boyce was injured. [But I waited and] no one said anything to me, so I returned home. Then a car pulled up and the president of the Antigua Cricket Association, Lester Bird, came out and said, "You are to go to Barbados in the morning".

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan
5th Test v West Indies, Antigua, 1982-83
I was hopeful of my chances as I had done well in the Irani Trophy game, picking up four second-innings wickets. That evening, after the game, I was at [Krishnamachari] Srikkanth's fiancée's home when I got a call from Mohinder Amarnath who told me I had been picked. Srikkanth was also picked, so we celebrated. I had played just three first-class games till then. It was a great feeling.

Tatenda Taibu
1st Test v West Indies, Bulawayo, 2001
The chairman of selectors told me that I was to play the whole series against West Indies but I had already known I would because Andy Flower was out for three weeks, and it was only normal for me, as the A-team wicketkeeper, to anticipate a debut.

Mohammad Asif
3rd Test v Australia, Sydney, 2004-05
I had performed well and I was one of 10 fast bowlers called to the pre-tour camp. Bob Woolmer and Inzamam bhai encouraged me during the nets. A day before the squad announcement Woolmer told me, "You are going with us."

I felt my life had suddenly changed. When I came to the camp I knew in my heart that I would go to Australia. But I didn't tell anyone anything.

Alastair Cook
1st Test v India, Nagpur, 2005-06
I found out I was playing the night before the Test. I was obviously delighted but also nervous because I wanted to do well and make the most of the opportunity.

How did you prepare mentally and physically?

Roberts I was prepared considering I had just finished a match, so I was in the right frame of mind and fit too. Mentally, I never had a problem as I never get ruffled - I just take things as they come.

Sivaramakrishnan I was hoping to play every game on the tour but I only got to play the side games. Eventually I got my chance. Kapil Dev told me on the eve of the Antigua Test that I would play. One good thing was that Srinivas Venkataraghavan, my Tamil Nadu captain, was my room partner. It helped me prepare for the big moment.

Taibu In the ODI series before the Test I had done well with the bat and the gloves, so I tried keeping it simple during practice and reminded myself that what I had done before had got me to the Test level.

Asif We had lost two Tests by the time I played. The night before, I just thought of bowling line and length, nothing else.

Cook Physically, my preparation wasn't ideal because I had flown halfway round the world [from the West Indies, where he was touring with England A] just before the Test. Mentally, it all happened so quickly that there wasn't much time to think about it. On the morning of the game, the adrenaline kicked in and helped me get through the physical demands of the game.

What was going in for the first time like?

Andy Roberts: With the ball, it's all good © The Cricketer International

Roberts Even if I was excited, I didn't let the emotions get the better of me. I can't recall if I was nervous. Once I had the new ball in my hand, everything was okay, and even more so when I pitched it.

Sivaramakrishnan My first moments were with the bat. I got my first run off Larry Gomes and then faced Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, and Winston Davis. It made me believe that I belonged. I took that confidence to my bowling. Even if I didn't get any wickets, I thought I had done pretty well. On the first morning Kapil had given me my Test cap and said that he had confidence in me, which gave me confidence.

Taibu I was full of confidence because I hadn't been dismissed in the three ODIs I had played before the first Test. But I was very worried at the same time because players had indicated that Test cricket was a big step up.

Asif It was the best day of my life. One thing I learned was that if a bowler can swing the ball at good pace, it troubles the batsman. Before the match, I was really excited and when I took the ball I felt on top of the world.

Cook I collected my Test cap from Freddie [Flintoff] just after the toss. It was a nice moment. I do remember my first ball, from Sreesanth, which I left alone outside the off stump.

What advice did you receive before your debut?

Roberts I can't recall getting any advice.

Taibu After praying with Stuart Matsikenyeri, he said, "Because you are with God, you musn't worry about anything". The other one was from my coach, Mr Mangongo, who said that the cricket ball would leave the hand, hit the pitch, and then my bat.

Sivaramakrishnan Venkataraghavan told me not to get overawed by the situation and just to stick to basics.

Asif The only thing the captain told me was to stick to a rhythm and focus on bowling accurately.

Cook The best advice I got was that it's still the same game, so keep it simple and go out and enjoy it.

What is your best memory of the match?

Roberts Having Keith Fletcher caught off a no-ball in the second innings and ending up drawing the match instead of winning. I made a promise not to bowl no-balls again, and I bowled very few through my career.

Taibu Taking a catch to dismiss Carl Hooper off Bryan Strang, standing at the stumps.

Sivaramakrishnan If I had taken my first Test wicket it would have been probably a great moment.

Asif As a kid I used to tell my friends that I would one day play at the Sydney Cricket Ground. But I never thought I would make my debut on my dream ground.

Cook The cut shot off Harbajhan to get to my hundred was a fantastic feeling and one that I hope I will be able to repeat again in the future.

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Nagraj Gollapudi is Assistant Editor of Cricinfo Magazine