December 4, 2008

Wallies of the willow

Inspired by Chris Martin's latest Test pair, against Australia last week, we present the lowest of all lower orders

Peter Such earns a standing ovation for his nought © Getty Images

Peter Such
Rarely has a batsman looked quite so petrified as Peter Such. Swaddled in layers of protective shields and resembling a startled Michelin man, Such's principal aim was to survive, yet his fragile presence at the crease gave depressed England fans brief but joyous entertainment in the 1990s gloom. In 14 Tests he managed a wonderfully measly 67 runs, averaging 6.09, and anyone who witnessed his tactic against bouncers - running to square leg against an enraged Merv Hughes in 1993 - can't fail to hold tail-end batting close to their heart. Such reached his zenith in 1999, playing in his final Test at Old Trafford, when he prodded the second-longest duck, from 52 balls, against New Zealand, earning a standing ovation.

Mark Robinson
A record-breaking rabbit, averaging 4.01 in a 15-year career made Robinson king of the county warren. Five hundred and eighty-four wickets and 590 runs tell a sorry story, but the minutiae of his lowly career statistics make for delicious reading. He set a world record when, in 1990, he scored 12 noughts in succession. And between May 17 and August 18 that year he failed to notch a single run, eventually crawling to seven runs in 27 innings to loft his season's batting average to 0.70. He broke free spectacularly in 1997 for his new county, Sussex, however, crawling to 100 runs in the season for the first and only time and reaching a career-high of 27.

Walter Brearley
No relation to the legendary England captain, although there are those who would argue their relative abilities with the bat were not too far apart. Brearley believed batting was for other people and something got out of the way as soon as possible. He was famous for rushing to the middle, on one occasion even vaulting the boundary fence in his haste to get there. In his career he took 844 wickets and scored 908 runs. Neville Cardus observed that "every ball was a crisis as far as Brearley was concerned". It was said at Old Trafford that when it saw Brearley's rolling gait heading out to bat, the horse walked between the shafts ready to drag the heavy roller for use at the end of the innings.

Phil Tufnell
Unfortunately Wisden doesn't record how many cigarettes Phil Tufnell gasped before each of his 59 Test innings, but his overwhelming nervousness at the crease contributed towards an heroic batting average of 5.10. Had he played a few more Tests, he would have become one of those rare bunnies who took more wickets (121) than he scored runs (153), yet he was not the consummate rabbit, technically speaking. His problem was apathy and laziness, something he admitted to in 2007: "It was difficult to see how a regular net would ever get me a Test match hundred." In 1998 he and his fellow lower-order squaddies were divvied-up with serious batsmen. Tufnell got Mark Ramprakash, an alliance that was doomed to fail from the outset.

What's that, Glenn? Allan Mullally in typically laidback mood in 1998 © Getty Images

Allan Mullally
That Mullally earned a superior average of 5.52 to Tufnell's 5.10 means diddly squat. Whereas Tufnell could just about hold up an end, Mullally struggled to even sight the ball, and a career average of 8.59 pays testament to his dearth in ability. He shone just twice, winding up Glenn McGrath with 16 in the 1998-98 Ashes, clumping fours over midwicket to leave the commentators in stitches. And David Lloyd once challenged him with a bounty of 30 pints if he could manage to reach the same figure at the crease. "Big Al was a hoot. He came back to the dressing room after an epic 6 or 8 and declared, 'I'm back'," Lloyd told Cricinfo this week. "Nobody knew that he had been anywhere…"

Chuck Fleetwood-Smith
A chinaman bowler who was one of the game's genuine characters, relieving boredom while fielding with loud bird impressions, golf swings, football chants, and in England in 1938, bellowing Lord Hawke's name. Team-mate Bill O'Reilly described him as being "totally around the bend". He had tremendous talent, was a prodigious spinner of the ball, and many believe he bowled the ball of the century (until Shane Warne took the mantle) to dismiss Wally Hammond in 1936-37. His batting, which suffered from the same indifference and inattention as his fielding, was in a different class, and he once said "if you can't be the best batsman in the world, you might as well be the worst". He was as good as his word and his career tally of runs (617) only just exceeded his haul of wickets (597).

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar
Polio rendered his right arm a withered limb when Chandrasekhar was five years old, but the disease didn't affect his bowling. His whippy action earned him 242 Test wickets as one of the game's finest legspinners, but he was cruelly handicapped with a bat in his hand. In 97 innings he managed just 167 runs, averaging 4.07 - the third-lowest in history among those who had a reasonably long career.

Bert Ironmonger
Dainty Ironmonger - he acquired the nickname because that was the one thing he wasn't - was 46 when he made his Test debut and 50 when he played his last game for Australia. He lost his forefinger in a farming accident as a child, using it to his advantage as he spun the ball off the stump to great effect. In 14 Tests he took 74 wickets at 17.97, and his 476 career runs were only 12 more than his total of wickets. "He could not bat to save himself," wrote his biographer, Gideon Haigh, "a quarter of his first-class innings ending in ducks. He shambled in the field, and no more resembled an elite athlete than he did an eminent artist."

Glenn McGrath
Rarely has a Test match fifty been greeted with such ironic applause as McGrath's maiden half-century was against New Zealand in 2004. Under no circumstances was his presence in this XI under threat: in 138 innings for Australia, he only managed 641 squirty little runs at 7.36. Importantly for a tailender, he was equally inept against pace as he was to the spinners: Courtney Walsh and Waqar Younis each cleaned him up eight times, and Harbhajan Singh got him on four occasions in six matches. "There are times when you're hitting the ball well and the other guy gets out. There goes a 50," McGrath said. Modest, delusional to the end.

Courtney Walsh
Why bat when you can bowl? That seemed to be Walsh's attitude, and why not? Hunched over his bat, his head almost horizontal with the crease, for nearly 20 years Walsh relied on the lower order's staple tactic of hit-and-hope, which netted him 936 runs at a pleasingly meagre 7.54. More importantly for this XI, however, was his world record of 43 ducks and near-total inability against pace: the quickies knocked over his stumps 29 times, prompting Walsh's obligatory facial expression of complete bemusement.

Jim Griffiths
Griffiths was a good seam bowler and a Northamptonshire stalwart for more than a decade, finishing with 444 first-class wickets at 29.05. In that time, however, he managed only 290 runs at a career average of 3.33, a figure boosted by 51 not outs from 138 innings. Of his 51 ducks, ten came in one sequence, and so bad was he that his testimonial brochure labelled him as the "Wally of the Willow". But his proud record was tarnished when, in the 1981 NatWest Trophy semi-final, he joined Tim Lamb with 13 needed and Michael Holding in full flight for Lancashire. Griffiths dug deep, "playing and missing comfortably" according to the Times, and such was his reputation that, despite the closeness of the game, Lamb, far from competent with the bat himself, turned down five easy singles. Griffiths then got off the mark when he hit the winning run and was carried from the field on the shoulders of the Northamptonshire faithful.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo