Cricinfo XI

Curse of the first ball

Andrew Miller and Martin Williamson look at the fate of those who took a wicket with their first ball in Test cricket

Martin Williamson and Andrew Miller

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Nathan Lyon got his Test career off to a flier with a wicket off his first ball against Sri Lanka in Galle. Only 13 other players have taken a wicket with their first ball in Test match cricket. But unluckily for them, this feat often seems to be something of a curse rather than a blessing, given that few of them went on to great things. Here we look at 11 of those debuts



Arthur Coningham: fires in the outfield, beamers in frustration, and was once caught committing adultery in a garden shed © WCM
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Arthur Coningham - Archie MacLaren
Australia v England, Melbourne, 1894-95
Coningham played once for Australia, but what's surprising is that he was ever allowed to play for them at all. A colourful character, he once set light to a newspaper in the outfield to "keep warm"; accused an archbishop of adultery with his wife; was sent to prison for fraud and died in a mental asylum. Although he dismissed MacLaren with the first ball of the match on his debut, he took only one more wicket and blotted his copybook in the second innings when he responded to being no-balled by deliberately bowling a beamer at MacLaren.

Bill Bradley - Frank Laver
England v Australia, Manchester, 1899
A big and powerful fast bowler, Bradley took 5 for 67 on his debut as a 24-year-old, including Lever with the one over he bowled before the close of the first day of the match. It was harder work thereafter. In the second innings he took one wicket but had a crucial chance dropped by wicketkeeper Dick Lilley and, retained for the final Test at The Oval, he bowled tightly but with no success. England did not have another home Test for almost three years, by which time Bradley - a rarity in that he was a fast bowler who was also an amateur - was in his final season before retiring.

George MacCauley - George Hearne
South Africa v England, Cape Town, 1922-23
It was a memorable Test debut at Newlands for MacCauley. Firey, hostile and sometimes wicked, according to team-mate Bill Bowes, not only did he dismiss Hearne - caught off " a feeble attempt" (The Times) in the slips by Percy Fender - with his first ball, he followed up with 5 for 61 in the second innings, and then from his No. 11 spot, hit the winning run as England squeezed a one-wicket win. MacCauley's debut came less than two years after he quit his job as a bank clerk after some good performances for Yorkshire. He won only four more caps after that tour, with limited success.



Maurice Tate: four wickets in a debut innings which lasted less than an hour © Cricinfo
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Maurice Tate - Fred Susskind
England v South Africa, Birmingham, 1924
Probably the most successful of this elite club, Tate's father had played one disastrous Test against Australia in 1902. Tate junior made his debut against South Africa on a pitch ideally suited to his fast seam bowling, and his first ball dismissed Susskind, who was also making his Test debut, for 3. Inside an hour, Tate (4 for 12) and Arthur Gilligan (6 for 7), his captain at both county and country level, bowled South Africa out for 30. Tate produced the ball of the match to remove Herbie Taylor, the visitors' captain, which The Times said "came back like lightning from the line of off stump to send the leg cartwheeling". He never looked back, and that winter took 38 wickets against Australia, a record series aggregate for more than three decades.

Matt Henderson - Eddie Dawson
New Zealand v England, Christchurch, 1929-30
Not only was it Henderson's first Test, it was also New Zealand's, against a third-string England side again led by Gilligan (a stronger XI was also playing a Test in Barbados at the very time this game was happening). As expected, New Zealand were no match even for this team, and England completed an eight-wicket win inside two days. Henderson, who came on second change, dismissed Dawson with his first ball, and then Frank Woolley is his second spell, but lacked control and was dropped. In fairness, Test cricket came too late for Henderson, who was 35. He played three more games before retiring.



Len Hutton and Walter Keeton walk out to open for England at The Oval in 1939. Keeton was back in the pavilion minutes later © The Cricketer
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Tyrell Johnson - Walter Keaton
England v West Indies, 1939
Fate conspired to limit Johnson to one appearance in the last Test before the Second World War, a match which was also his last in first-class cricket. A left-arm quick bowler, he was 22 and full of promise when Keaton, recalled for his second Test five years after his debut after a triple hundred against Middlesex, attempted to leg glance his first ball in the match's second over and clipped it into his leg stump. It was an adventurous shot given that Johnson had three leg slips posted. Johnson added the wicket of Len Hutton shortly before lunch - caught and bowled off a checked push - but one more second-innings scalp was the sum of his Test career. He had also taken a wicket with the first ball of the tour at Worcester.

Dick Howorth - Dennis Dyer
England v South Africa, The Oval, 1947
Howorth was robbed of his best years by the Second World War and his international chances beforehand were blocked by Hedley Verity. But in 1947 Howarth, by then 38, finally got his chance and with his first ball had Dyer caught at cover trying to drive, and followed soon after by removing Dudley Nourse in an identical fashion. He finished with six wickets in the match - Wisden said he was the pick of the bowlers - and made four more appearances that winter in the Caribbean, where he shouldered an injury-ravaged attack. He retired in 1951 when as effective as ever because "it's not as much fun as it was".

Intikhab Alam - Colin MacDonald
Pakistan v Australia, Karachi, 1959-60
Intikhab is a rarity in this group in that he actually went on to have a long and distinguished career, eventually captaining his country. Drafted in as an 18-year-old for the final Test of a turgid series, Intikhab bowled opener MacDonald with his first ball late on the second evening, finishing with three in the match. The game itself was forgettable, and a bewildered President Eisenhower, who popped in for a couple of hours on the fourth day, must have wondered what an earth he was watching. His visit coincided with the slowest day in Test history - in three sessions, Pakistan made 104 runs for the loss of five wickets. Unsurprisingly, no leader of the free world has been back to a Test since.

Richard Illingworth - Phil Simmons
England v West Indies, Trent Bridge, 1991
An unassuming man with an unassuming moustache, Illingworth was the Ashley Giles of his day - a solid, professional, left-arm spinner, whose absence of flair was a blessed relief for an England management that had been exhausted by Phil Tufnell's histrionics on the Ashes tour six months earlier. Although he formed a vital cog in the one-day side that reached the World Cup final in 1992, he played just nine Tests in four years, and never trumped the events of his very first match. David Lawrence had just made the breakthrough when Illingworth came on to bowl, and his very first delivery - a gently flighted tweaker - bobbled off Simmons's bat and inner thigh to roll inexorably onto the stumps. Appropriately enough, the thunder of his moment was quickly stolen by the BBC, who were already halfway into their fade-out to a news bulletin.

Nilesh Kulkarni - Marvan Atapattu
India v Sri Lanka, Colombo, 1996-97
First appearances can be deceptive, as Kulkarni discovered to his cost on one of the more topsy-turvy Test debuts in history. He must have thought it was a mug's game when, with a fat Indian total of 537 for 8 in the bank, he found Atapattu's edge as soon as he was thrown the ball. His glee, however, was shortlived. Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama soon set about teaching him a lesson or two about the rigours of Test cricket as they compiled a phenomenal second-wicket stand of 576, the first 500-plus partnership in Test history. Sri Lanka's total of 952 for 6 dec was also a record, and Kulkarni didn't take another wicket in 69.5 overs of the hardest toil. In fact, he added just one more in his three-Test career, that of Matthew Hayden at Chennai in March 2001, the game in which his spin-partner, Harbhajan Singh grabbed a series-stealing 15 for 217.

Chamila Gamage Lakshitha - Mohammad Ashraful
Sri Lanka v Bangladesh, Colombo, 2002
A man with as many first names as Test wickets, Materba Kanatha Gamage Chamila Premanath Lakshitha was given his opportunity in the second Test of a dismally one-sided series against Bangladesh. After victory by an innings and 196 runs at the Premadasa, Sri Lanka rested nine players, including Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, and Lakshitha, a 23-year-old Air Force recruit, was given his chance to impress. He duly did so, taking 3 for 81 in the match, including the illustrious first-ball scalp of a young Ashraful, bowled for 1 by a typical inswinging delivery. It was not the launchpad to greater things, however, as he played just one more Test, against South Africa at Centurion, before being jettisoned for good.

* The other two are Ted Arnold (Victor Trumper), Dennis Smith (Eddie Paynter).

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Posted by notvery on (September 2, 2011, 5:54 GMT)

@hinderson. the caps lock button is to the left of the keyboard mate try hitting it till the little light goes off..... also the queen is not the "leader of the free world" she and others before her did and still do come to many games. those Germans just love their cricket.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2011, 3:58 GMT)

To break the curse he got a wicket in the last ball as well so it doesnt apply here...

Posted by Hendersun on (September 1, 2011, 19:36 GMT)

WHILE PRESIDENT EISENHOWER WATCHED LIVE ON THAT SLOWEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME PLAYED AT KARACHI IN THE 1959/60 SERIES,SUBSEQUENT TO THAT, HER MAJESTY DID COME TO SEE SIR GARY BAT AT LORD'S IN THE 1966 SERIES, ENGLAND VS WEST INDIE, ON HIS WAY TO SCORING A MEMORABLE 163*.

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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