December 5, 2011

It's not how you begin...

Players who failed to light up their debuts but went on to shine later in their careers

Marvan Atapattu
As an opening batsman you can't do much worse than begin your Test career with scores of 0 and 0, 0 and 1, and 0 and 0 (and, reports suggest, even that one run was actually a leg-bye). That was the nightmare start that Sri Lanka's Atapattu endured in three Tests from 1990 to early 1994. It was - perhaps not surprisingly - more than three years before he got another game, when at last he got into double figures. But he did very well after that, finishing a 90-Test career with 5502 runs and 16 centuries, no fewer than six of them doubles.

Shane Warne
In January 1992, when Warne was rather rounder than he is today - Ian Healy commented back then that Warnie's idea of a balanced diet was a cheeseburger in each hand - the great legspinner made an undistinguished Test debut in Sydney, taking one Indian wicket for 150 in 45 overs: his victim was Ravi Shastri, out to what Wisden called "a tired shot" after having amassed 206 in 572 minutes. After no wickets in the next Test, and 0 for 107 in the first innings of his third one, in Colombo in August 1992, Warne had a bowling average of 335.00 when he was handed the ball again in the second innings as Sri Lanka closed in on a probable victory. Suddenly things started to get better: he secured an unlikely win, taking three wickets for no run in 11 deliveries. The rest, as they say, is history.

Len Hutton
England tried out a new opening pair against New Zealand for the first Test against New Zealand at Lord's in 1937. James Parks (the father of the 1960s England wicketkeeper Jim) made 22 and 7, while a young Yorkshireman - he celebrated his 21st birthday on the rest day - made 0 and 1. Only one of them was named for the next Test - and, you've guessed it, it was Hutton who was retained. He scored 100 at Old Trafford, and the following year made 364 against Australia: in all he won 79 caps, and scored nearly 7000 runs. Poor Parks, however, never played another Test.

Viv Richards
One of the most intimidating batsmen of all time, Richards made a less than scintillating start in Tests, managing only 4 and 3 against India in Bangalore in 1974-75, falling in each innings to the whirling legspin of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. But any thoughts of a weakness against spin were banished in the next Test, in Delhi, where Richards slammed six sixes in an imperious 192 not out to set up an innings victory. That was the first of 24 Test centuries for the "Master Blaster".

Merv Hughes
After taking just one wicket for 123 in his first Test, against India, Hughes was pasted all round the Gabba by Ian Botham in the 1986-87 Ashes opener. After the next Test Merv had a bowling average nudging 50, and hadn't even looked like scoring a run. You'd have got long odds on him achieving the Test double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets, but he turned himself into a serviceable batsman and did just that. And his bowling improved out of sight too: he finished up with 212 Test wickets, most of them celebrated by squeezing a few well-chosen words through that famous bushy moustache in the general direction of the departing batsman. Probably Hughes' greatest sledge came not long after Pakistan's Javed Miandad had labelled him "a fat bus conductor". A few balls later Hughes dismissed him, and charged past, yelling "Tickets please!"

Graham Gooch
On his Test debut against Australia at Edgbaston in 1975, Gooch had a moustache to rival Merv's - and his batting was as productive as Hughes' in his early Tests. Gooch departed for 0 and 0, tickling a couple of catches to the predatory Rod Marsh, and after one more match returned to county cricket for three years to tighten things up. He re-emerged, tightness personified, to kickstart a Test career that ultimately brought him 8900 runs, still the England record.

Michael Holding
We remember Holding now as just about the perfect fast bowler - athletic, graceful, and above all scarily fast. But it wasn't all plain sailing at first: he took 0 for 127 in his debut Test, in Australia in 1975-76, and finished that chastening series - which the Aussies won 5-1 - with just 10 wickets at 61.40, being reduced to tears at one point as things went against him. Things began to look up later in 1976, though, when Holding blew England away with 14 wickets on a slow pitch at The Oval. "Whispering Death" had arrived.

Jeff Thomson
One reason the England tourists Down Under in 1974-75 didn't take much notice of Thomson's pre-series bluster about how much he liked to hurt batsmen was that they knew he had played just one previous Test, against Pakistan in 1972-73, and finished with 0 for 110 in 19 expensive overs. But what Mike Denness and Co. probably didn't know was that Thommo had been nursing a broken foot in that match - he thought he'd better play, in case he never got another chance. The next call duly came in Brisbane two years later, and Thomson shook England up with 6 for 46 in the second innings, then 5 for 93 in Perth in the next Test, both of which Australia won comfortably. By the time he ruled himself out of the series by injuring his shoulder playing tennis, Thommo had taken 33 wickets in four and a half matches, and the Ashes were back in Australian hands. He ended up with 200 Test wickets, exactly 100 of them against England.

Gautam Gambhir
Test stardom - and multi-million IPL contracts - probably seemed a long way off for Gambhir after his first Test for India, against Australia in Mumbai in November 2004, produced scores of 3 and 1 on an admittedly dodgy pitch (India won in three days, bowling Australia out for 93 in their second innings). The selectors stuck by Gambhir, who repaid them by making 96 in the next Test, against South Africa, and 139 against Bangladesh a few weeks later. Despite trouble with injuries, he now has more than 3500 Test runs.

Brad Hogg
Cricket's most famous ex-postman made his Test debut in Delhi in October 1996, replacing Shane Warne, who was recovering from surgery to his hand. Hogg, an unorthodox left-arm spinner, had an undistinguished start: his 17 overs cost 69, although he did claim the wicket of Sourav Ganguly. He didn't play another Test for six and a half years, although he did have a long run in Australia's one-day side. One story has it that Hogg had longed all his career to hear Ian Healy growl from behind the stumps, "Well bowled, Hoggy" ... but bowled so indifferently that it was never actually said.

Saeed Anwar
Given Pakistan's capricious selection policies, the deliciously wristy opener Anwar might never have played again after he bagged a pair in his first Test, against West Indies in Faisalabad in November 1990. As it was, he didn't win another Test cap for more than three years - but made it count when he did, with 169 against New Zealand in only his third match. Anwar ended up with 4052 runs in Tests - and more than double that (8824) in one-day internationals.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011.

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