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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Stuart on December 6, 2008, 11:02 GMT

    Agree totally with Av79; rubbish list and article. Chris Martin, Ed Giddins and Bruce Reid would be in any properly researched list of true number 11s. Australia required 4 runs to win against NZ in the final over of an ODI in 1990 - Reid was on strike and failed to connect with any of the balls.

    Although his attitude was poor against genuine pace, Phil Tufnell isn't the worst batsman I have seen - you will find he scored 67* in a county game, looking like a batsman in this innings according to all reports. Andy Caddick was also pretty cowardly against the quicks at times, for instance costing Craig White a Test century at the MCG in 2002/3 with a cowardly swipe, but rightly should never be considered for a list like this.

    Glenn McGrath begun as a clueless batsman, but worked very hard on his batting and could stay around to see batsmen to centuries or winning runs. I saw his 61 against New Zealand and although NZ had dropped their bundle it was no fluke at all.

  • Glyn on December 5, 2008, 20:53 GMT

    Eric Hollies is perhaps best remembered for bowling Bradman for a duck in the latter's last Test at the Oval in 1948 but his other claim to fame is his career batting figures. Over the years 1932 to 1957 he took 2,323 wickets but scored only 1,673 runs average 5.00, figures unmatched in size by any other player. However, he usually managed to keep his end up so that a partner could reach a century and was proud of the fact that he saved a Test Match ( England v South Africa Trent Bridge 1947 ) when he and Jack Martin of Kent added 51 for the last wicket , Eric's share being 18 not out! He is also probably the only player to bat in a Test Match with his bat held together with a nail! Bill Bowes 1,673 wickets, 1,530 runs ( Tests 68 wickets 28 runs ) C.S.Marriott 711 wickets, 574 runs ( in his ONLY Test, a duck and 11 wickets!)

    Glyn Powell

  • Avery on December 4, 2008, 23:05 GMT

    Very poor list, which predictably takes delight in ridiculing English players (why should I be surprised?) Messrs Such, Tufnell and Walsh (who has 8 first-class half-centuries) cannot seriously be considered inferior with the bat to Bruce Reid, who comes second perhaps only to Martin as a batsman who apparently couldn't see the ball. Terry Alderman was dire also - a clearly inferior player to Walsh - and looked every bit as timid as Such at the crease. I've played against both Reid (at pennant level) and Mullally (in a charity match), and the latter is far superior a batsman. So all in all, I find it hardly surprising that we've opted for another let's-bash-England list. For the record, McGrath was a better tailender than either Alderman or Reid also. Poor list.

  • James on December 4, 2008, 22:14 GMT

    I can remember the post-match interviews after Ewen Chatfield put on his first-class high of 21 in a last-wicket stand with Jeremy Coney against Pakistan in 1985. An interviewer asked Chats how he felt about the partnership. The interviews were performed at the doorway of the dressing room, and when he replied to the effect that it was fine once he "got his eye in", the rest of the interview was lost in hoots of laughter from the changing area and calls of "Quick! Find that eye and keep it!"

  • Jonathan on December 4, 2008, 18:58 GMT

    If Courtney Walsh is in the list... then how to explain the fact that, for a fair number of his matches, he did not even bat last in the order? There was one man that he regularly came in AHEAD of: step forward, the only batsman ever to push Walsh up to ten in the order - Pat Patterson.

    I would compare Patterson's strict rotation between the "desperate forward swat" and "cow shot to the leg side" with Devon Malcolm's equally inept technique, were it not for one thing - Malcolm just occasionally managed to connect with one of his wild slogs. and actually seemed to read Shane Warne better than Robin Smith did. Shame he couldn't read anyone else...

  • Shankar on December 4, 2008, 18:36 GMT

    Didn't Mullally's 16 come in a match that England won by 12 runs over the Australians? How many Englishmen in the last twenty years can lay claim to having scored the vital runs in a test win against Australia? Also, McGrath's batting got better and better, as vouched for the fact that he had helped six of his partners to centuries! I vote for Ashish Nehra.

  • Sam on December 4, 2008, 13:45 GMT

    Wasn't it Bert Ironmonger who was known as "the ferret" - because they sent him in after the rabbits!?

  • matt on December 4, 2008, 11:30 GMT

    If you want to see a good video check this out. Chris Martin's learn to bat video!

  • Will on December 4, 2008, 10:56 GMT

    blair7713 - Chris Martin was the "hook" for the piece. If anything, he is the team manager...

  • Peter on December 4, 2008, 9:54 GMT

    Great article, but may I add another one, surely the greatest of them all? Assuming that you are not restricting this to Test players - consider big Norman Graham - Kent 1964 - 1977. 189 first class games 614 wickets at 22 - very respectable, but 404 runs at 3.84! 50% more wickets than runs over a 13 year career!

  • No featured comments at the moment.