It's not how you begin...

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

Steven Lynch

December 5, 2011

Comments: 57 | Text size: A | A

Shane Warne bowls in his first Ashes Test, England v Australia, 1st Test, Manchester, June 1993
When he started out, Shane Warne didn't give any hint he would become the greatest legspinner in the game © Getty Images
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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.


Saeed Anwar sweeps Harbhajan Singh as Mongia looks on, India v Pakistan, Asia Test Championship, Eden Gardens, Calcutta, 16-20
Saeed Anwar: nothing impressive about him, eh? Sajal Mukerjee / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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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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Posted by JG2704 on (December 7, 2011, 14:05 GMT)

@AlanHarrison on (December 06 2011, 11:30 AM GMT) Re Mike Gatting - I was slightly too young to remember his debut whereas with Stewart , I remember him consistently not doing anything with the bat. Also I thought Stewart started his career off purely as a batsman. Certainly Jack kept wicket on his debut in 1990. I'm not sure when he first kept wicket for England. What I think is significant is that we both agree that if you took away his first 10-20 inns he'd have had a much better average. Also I'm not sure how Vaughan did early in his career. I certainly don't remember him showing anything that would make him at one point become the nr 1 batsman in the world

Posted by CricketPissek on (December 6, 2011, 22:59 GMT)

Time for Steven Lynch to come up with a new XI. "XI Players who are not Sachin Tendulkar." Maybe we'll get some peace and quiet on the comments then :) Jokes aside, Atapattu's opening sequence is legendary but still shocking to see. He'd never be given opportunities like that in a post-1996 Sri Lanka team! And the only reason he was invited back and bat at #3 was because the bearded legend Asanka Gurusinghe quit after clashing with Arjuna Ranatunga. So Marvan was a very lucky man!

Posted by   on (December 6, 2011, 19:18 GMT)

To people who're asking why Sachin isn't on the list; I think there are 2 reasons (which could probably cover why Bradman isn't on the list too)

1. Sachin wasn't an unknown when he entered. He's been famous since he was 14. Even though it took him 14 innings to get his first test hundred, he had hit 4 half-centuries by then, and was averaging 33.62, which isn't that bad. People knew it was just a matter of time. Likewise with Bradman. They were famous even before they played test match cricket.

2. Probably Steven's only talking about test matches. In ODIs, Sachin did start off with 2 ducks, and he did take 79 ODIs to get his first 100. But even then, in his first 78 ODIs, he hit 17 half-centuries and averaged 32.70, which is good for a no.5-no.6 batsman. SRT's first match as opener was in his 70th ODI.

Posted by   on (December 6, 2011, 17:36 GMT)

SACHIN TENDULKAR, in this case, is worth mentioning too. The greatest ODI batsman started his ODI career with two ducks, one against Pakistan and New Zealand each. On his debut match against Pak during 1989-90 series, he scored a ducked and was dropped for the next two matches. Three months later when India toured NZ, he scored a duck against the kiwis once again. It took him 9 matches to score his first fifty and 79 matches(4 years) to score his first century. It would have been very difficult for him to make a comeback, if the competion had been as tough as these days. But during this time sachin had played some important innings in both Tests and ODIs. He scored his first century in ODI against Australia in 1994. Four years after that he was holding the record for most ODI hundreds. Rest is history.

Posted by CricketMaan on (December 6, 2011, 11:47 GMT)

How come this list is missing SRT, shouldnt he be in any cricketing list? ofcourse he made just 16 on debut, didnt he?

Posted by AlanHarrison on (December 6, 2011, 11:30 GMT)

@JG2704: Alec Stewart, while England's second highest ever run scorer in test history, averaged just short of 40 in his test career, which certainly isn't that great, and indeed he didn't have that good a start in test cricket, requiring two years (and about 15 tests) before he got his first test century in 1991 against Sri Lanka. However, I can think of worse examples (e.g., Mike Gatting as previously mentioned needed seven years to get his first test century). One thing which probably made more of a difference to Stewart's final career statistics with the bat was keeping wicket as much as he did. From memory there is a substantial difference between his batting average when he played as a specialist batsman (which is maybe about 45) and his average when designated wicketkeeper (perhaps about 35).

Posted by karthik12 on (December 6, 2011, 7:36 GMT)

2 name don bradman had a poor first test, sachin had ducks in his 1st and 2nd odi and of course his first test was ordinary

Posted by harshthakor on (December 6, 2011, 4:01 GMT)

You have forgotten the great Imran Khan who was not the shadow of himself from till his great burst in Sydney in 1977 when he captured 12 wickets.Infact he was only a batsman who occasionally bowled till then.The 1977 Sydney test gave him the sporadic burst that set up his illustrious career.

Malcolm Marshall became a superstar only in 1983 and in 1978 was not a shadow of his true self when he toured India.Rohan Kanhai also started his carer as a wicketkeeper and blossomed out into one of the greatest batsmen of all time some years later.

Posted by Irfanskp on (December 5, 2011, 21:03 GMT)

It's not how you begin...Aamir' career- the way he started was remarkable and ended behind the bars!

Posted by JG2704 on (December 5, 2011, 19:08 GMT)

Actually , an England player who springs to mind is Alec Stewart. Maybe not a huge worldwide player. But as an England fan I remember saying to my dad "Why is Stewart being given all these chances - Is it because his dad is the chief?" Then he became a solid tenacious player for the side and I grew to really like the player. I don't know off hand what his test average was in the end but I'm sure it would have been alot higher without such a bad start

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Steven LynchClose
Steven Lynch Steven Lynch won the Wisden Cricket Monthly Christmas Quiz three years running before the then-editor said "I can't let you win it again, but would you like a job?" That lasted for 15 years, before he moved across to the Wisden website when that was set up in 2000. Following the merger of the two sites early in 2003 he was appointed as the global editor of Wisden Cricinfo. In June 2005 he became the deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. He continues to contribute the popular weekly "Ask Steven" question-and-answer column on ESPNcricinfo, and edits the Wisden Guide to International Cricket.

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