You can't be serious

Eleven players whose selection for their debut Test came in for criticism

Mathew Varghese and Siddarth Ravindran

July 24, 2008

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Darren Pattinson made his Test debut in the Headingley Test against South Africa, but not too many were happy over his selection. We put together a few more candidates whose Test debuts weren't quite expected


Arnie Sidebottom's son Ryan was by far the more successful Test cricketer of the two © Cricinfo Ltd
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Baqa Jilani
England v India, 1936

Before India were to set out on their tour of England in 1936, there were only two candidates for the captaincy: the Maharajah of Vizianagram (Vizzy) and CK Nayudu. After much acrimony between the two, Vizzy was elected leader, but the touring party was irrevocably split into two factions. Well aware that antagonising Nayudu would please Vizzy, Jilani insulted Nayudu at breakfast a few days before the Oval Test and was duly rewarded with a Test cap. It was his only outing at the highest level and a wretched one too - he scored 4 and 12, and sent down 15 fruitless overs - as India crashed to a nine-wicket defeat.

Peter Taylor
Australia v England, 1987

A surprise, but more of an error. When Taylor, the New South Wales offspinner, was picked for the fifth Test of the 1986-87 Ashes in Sydney, most headlines asked "Peter Who?" It was believed the selectors had called up the wrong Taylor: a 22-year-old opener called Mark was staking his claim for selection at the same time. Wisden even stated that "Mark believed for three hours that he was in the Test team". Mark eventually went on to become one of Australia's most astute captains; Peter, though, didn't have that bad a debut: he took 6 for 78 in England's first innings, and picked up a further two in the second, besides scoring 11 and a useful 42 in Australia's 55-run win. He played a further 12 Tests, and scored 87 as a night-watchman against New Zealand in 1990.

John Watkins
Australia v Pakistan, 1973

New South Wales legspinner Watkins was nearly 30 when he made his first-class debut. Less than a year later, with just five undistinguished first-class games under his belt, he was handed his Test cap, against Pakistan in 1973. Watkins had a poor game with the ball, bowling six wicketless overs, but hit a career-best 36 and was involved in a match-winning ninth-wicket stand with Bob Massie. A dearth of quality Australian legspinners ensured him a place on the subsequent tour of the West Indies but he was erratic and expensive in the tour matches, which signalled the end of not just his international career but his first-class one too.

Iqbal Siddiqui
India v England, 2001

When India hosted England in the winter of 2001, the selectors went in for a revamped bowling line-up - Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad were injured, and Ajit Agarkar, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan were omitted following their poor showing in South Africa on the tour just before. In came three uncapped players - Siddiqui, Tinu Yohannan and Sanjay Bangar. Yohannan was considered a future prospect and Bangar's steady all-round performances in the domestic season won him a place, but Siddiqui seemed destined to end his career as a domestic toiler. A four-wicket haul against England in one of the tour games perhaps refreshed his name in the minds of the selectors, and Siddiqui played his only Test: a ten-wicket win for India in which he became only the 12th player to open both the batting (India needed five to win) and bowling on debut.


Downhill from here: Hasan Raza bats on debut, aged 14 © The Cricketer International
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Hasan Raza
Pakistan v Zimbabwe, 1996

While Pakistan has a penchant for thrusting youngsters into the highest level, Raza hit the headlines for purportedly being only 14 at the time of his Test debut. He had the grand total of one first-class match and one List A game on his resumé before he played his first Test, in which he made a composed 27. His descent in the longer form was just as rapid as his rise: he was dropped after his debut and played just one Test in the next six years. There were a couple of comebacks to the national side before he signed up with the unofficial Indian Cricket League.

Arnie Sidebottom
England v Australia, 1985

Not many players would have earned a Test cap after an undistinguished football career and a three-year ban for going on a rebel tour to South Africa. Sidebottom started off as a footballer, joining Manchester United in 1971 and helping them win the Second Division title in 1974-75. Given that he was No. 5 on the Times' list of the worst footballers in England's top division, it was no surprise he tried his hand at cricket. He made his debut for Yorkshire in 1973, but was capped only in 1980. England's selectors, though, gave Sidebottom a chance like they did many others at the time, in Nottingham in 1985. His debut came at 31, when even Sidebottom admitted he was "past his sell-by date". Prone to injury, he limped out after taking 1 for 65 in his only Test. His son, Ryan, was nearly a one-Test wonder too, before his famous comeback in 2007. It was an injury to Sidebottom Jr that paved the way for Pattinson's selection.

Yasir Ali
Pakistan v Bangladesh, 2003

Stronger teams have often tested young blood against unfancied Bangladesh. However, the decision of Pakistan's selectors, under former opener Aamer Sohail, to hand a Test cap to upcoming fast bowler Yasir, just under 18, was a bit premature, given it also happened to be his first first-class match. Even Aaqib Javed later said that Yasir was "drafted in too early for the Pak team". Yasir made his entry alongside two other debutants - Farhan Adil and Salman Butt - in what was an eventful Test. A nervous Yasir started poorly, and ended with only two wickets to show. However, he was the slated No. 11 in Pakistan's shaky chase, and Javed Miandad, the coach, was frantically showing him how to bat in the dressing room before his turn came to go out. It worked, as Yasir crucially hung on for four deliveries as Inzamam-ul-Haq guided Pakistan to a narrow one-wicket win, denying the visitors their first Test triumph. Yasir wasn't picked for Pakistan again, and injuries hampered his career, but only 22 still, he could well make his way back into international reckoning.

Ian Healy
Pakistan v Australia, 1988
Many remember his unceremonious removal from Australia's one-day side in 1997 - to make way for Adam Gilchrist - but Healy's entry into Test cricket wasn't on a firm footing. Healy was chosen in Australia's squad to tour Pakistan in 1988; however, at that time he wasn't even the first choice in the Queensland team: he had played just six matches over two seasons as a substitute for the injured Peter Anderson. He was picked ahead of Greg Dyer, who had kept in the home series the previous summer. Although Healy won the admiration of team-mates with his enthusiasm and work ethic, many fans at the WACA still had a gripe that Western Australian Tim Zoehrer was only an understudy to Healy. In 1993-94, Gilchrist moved from New South Wales to replace Zoehrer, adding to the fans' fury, but he soon became Western Australia's adopted hero, and duly succeeded Healy.


Kenny Burn: the keeper who wasn't © Cricinfo Ltd
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Kenny Burn
Australia v England, 1890

A sign of a more relaxed age. Burn was taken on as the second wicketkeeper for Australia's 1890 tour of England and it wasn't until the ship set sail that it was realised that he had never kept wicket in his life. Luckily for Australia, their first-choice wicketkeeper was the legendary Jack Blackham, and Burn wasn't called upon to display his prowess behind the stumps. Burn played in two Tests as a specialist batsman, another surprising decision, as his highest score before embarking on the tour was a measly 26. He made 355 runs at the unflattering average of 10.14 in the series and was never picked for Australia again.

Fred Tate
England v Australia, 1902
When Tate, a pure bowler, was handed his debut in the Oval Test of 1902, it came at the expense of the great allrounder George Hirst. Tate's only Test got off to a poor start: he was ineffective with the ball in the first innings, which featured Victor Trumper's famous century before lunch on the first day. The match was evenly poised after the first innings, but England medium-pacer Bill Lockwood was in prime form and Australia were being skittled out in the second innings. With three of the visitors' best batsmen dismissed cheaply, Tate's match got worse when he spilled a catch off their captain, Joe Darling. Darling went on to make 37 out of a total of 86 and set England a target of 124. To round off a miserable match for Tate, he was the last man out as England ended up four runs short.

...And a last-minute compromise

Ehteshamuddin
England v Pakistan, 1982

Even at his physical best the portly Ehteshamuddin would have found it tough to survive modern cricket's strict fitness regimens. He had performed creditably in his first four Tests, but it was when he was recalled for a fifth that he "became something of a public laughing-stock", as Christopher Martin-Jenkins put it. Featuring in the Bolton Association League, Ehteshamuddin was set to play his benefit match when an injury-ravaged Pakistan contingent called him up as reinforcement for the third Test at Headingley. What they didn't know, perhaps, was that he was by then a few kilos heavier, and rather unfit. He bowled efficiently taking 1 for 46, but then pulled a muscle that saw him limp away from the Test arena for good.

Mathew Varghese and Siddarth Ravindran are editorial assistants at Cricinfo

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