July 31, 2012

Bowling a hoop downhill, and uphill averages

Also: five wickets before the first day's lunch, two hat-tricks in 90 minutes, T20 records, and those who weren't Wisden Cricketers of the Year

Which Test captain said a bowler who played under him "couldn't bowl a hoop downhill"? asked Jim Hastings via Facebook
Fred Trueman seemed to say this about almost everybody, but of course he wasn't a Test captain! Actually I believe the skipper in question is Nasser Hussain, and the unfortunate bowler the legspinner Chris Schofield. He was chosen for two Tests against Zimbabwe in 2000, early in Hussain's captaincy, but finished with figures of 0 for 73. In his autobiography, Nasser wrote: "He didn't seem to be able to bowl a hoop downhill in my estimation, and wasn't a very pleasant lad either, so that particular selection wasn't exactly a roaring success." Schofield never did play another Test, although he made a surprise reappearance in England colours for the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa in September 2007.

After the Oval Test, Ravi Bopara had a Test bowling average of 290. Has anyone ever had a higher one? asked Hugh Oxlade
Ravi Bopara's unflattering average (he has taken one wicket for 290) is very nearly the worst on record. He's a boundary away from equalling the 294.00 of the Sri Lankan slow left-armer Roger Wijesuriya, who took one wicket in four Tests in the 1980s, although the current leader in this regard is the Sri Lankan medium-pacer Nuwan Pradeep, whose three recent Tests currently give him a bowling average of 345.00 (and a batting one of 0.50). A few people have had Test bowling averages in the 400s at some point in their careers: the former Bangladesh captain Khaled Mahmud did at one point, before taking a few wickets against Pakistan and improving it no end, while the West Indian legspinner Rawl Lewis had a stratospheric average of 414.00 before dismissing Dale Steyn in Cape Town in 2007-08. Lewis rather ruined everything by taking two more wickets in the second innings of what was his fifth and final Test. But the probable winner in this regard was another West Indian spinner, slow left-armer Freddie Martin, who had one wicket for 417 after seven Tests (he had also made a century, so it hadn't been a complete disaster). In his eighth, against Australia in Melbourne in February 1931, he took 3 for 91 - but all three came late in an innings of 328 for 8 (the first one was Don Bradman, for 152, which made it 286 for 5). So, although we don't know quite when the wickets came, it's obvious that Martin's average was nudging 500 before he dismissed the Don.

I noticed that Maninder Singh took five wickets before lunch on the first day of the fifth Test against Pakistan at Bangalore in 1986-87. Is he the only spinner to have done this? asked Dilip Chowdhury from Hyderabad
Slow left-armer Maninder Singh did indeed capitalise on a turning pitch in Bangalore in March 1987, with five pre-lunch wickets on the first day, on the way to career-best figures of 7 for 27. That match, which Pakistan edged by 16 runs to take the series, was also notable for Sunil Gavaskar's valiant fourth-innings 96, in what turned out to be his last Test match. Only two other spinners have taken a five-for so early in a Test, and both of them were left-armers too. Kent's Colin Blythe did it for England against South Africa on a matting pitch at Cape Town in 1905-06*, and then Alf Valentine did it for West Indies against England at Old Trafford in 1950. That was his Test debut too: Valentine uniquely took the first eight wickets to fall, and finished with 8 for 104. Five wickets before lunch on the first day is a pretty rare feat even for a fast bowler - it's only known to have been achieved on seven other occasions in Tests, most recently by Dale Steyn for South Africa against India in Ahmedabad in April 2008.

When Jimmy Matthews took his two hat-tricks in the same Test, were they on the same day? asked Christopher Ratcliffe from Melbourne
Not only were legspinner Jimmy Matthews' two hat-tricks on the same day - May 28, 1912 - but they were actually completed within around 90 minutes of each other. It was the first Test of the ill-fated Triangular Tournament, played at Old Trafford: Australia made 448 on the first day, and South Africa had reached 265 for 7 in their reply before Matthews polished off the innings with his first hat-trick, bowling Rolland Beaumont and trapping Syd Pegler and Tommy Ward lbw. South Africa were forced to follow on, and struggled to 70 for 5 before Matthews struck again, this time removing Herbie Taylor (bowled), Reggie Schwartz and Tommy Ward again (both caught and bowled). "His colleagues showered their congratulations on him," observed the Manchester Guardian, "and the crowd, when they had recovered from their astonishment, gave him a splendid cheer." Shortly afterwards, Australia completed an innings victory. The unfortunate Ward thus completed a king pair on his Test debut, as the third man in both hat-tricks. Matthews took only those six wickets in the match, but didn't need any assistance from fielders for any of them.

What's the highest individual score in a T20 match (not necessarily an international one)? asked Mark Lucas from Oxford
Two men have reached 150 in a senior T20 match: Graham Napier smashed 152 not out, with 16 sixes and ten fours, from just 58 balls for Essex against Sussex in Chelmsford in June 2008. But earlier that year, in the very first match of the very first IPL, the New Zealander Brendon McCullum blasted 158 not out from 73 balls (13 sixes, ten fours) for Kolkata Knight Riders against the Royal Challengers in Bangalore. The highest so far in a T20 international is Richard Levi's undefeated 117 for South Africa against New Zealand in Hamilton in February 2012; Chris Gayle was out for 117 for West Indies against South Africa in Johannesburg in September 2007.

Who's the best player never to have been chosen as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year? asked Rajesh Mohmand from Delhi
That's a difficult one, as several prominent overseas players have missed out on the award because they had little success in England - and it's usually performances in the preceding English season that count towards selection as one of the famous Five Cricketers of the Year. One player who has not been selected yet is Jacques Kallis - but he might well be in the frame after that big hundred at The Oval last week. As we read in this column last week, Doug Walters, the Australian favourite, made several tours of England without ever managing a Test century, so he was never chosen either. It's not an exact science, but the 2008 Wisden included a feature on five great players who had all missed out on the award for one reason or another: Abdul Qadir, Bishan Bedi, Wes Hall, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Jeff Thomson.

* This article was edited on July 31 to insert the information about Blythe, which was inadvertently omitted originally.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012. Ask Steven is now on Facebook