October 15, 2012

Phantom and Co

Some entertainingly hopeless batsmen

Chris Martin
It would be hard to start anywhere else than with Chris Martin, an endearingly useless batsman who has had 102 Test innings for New Zealand ... and been out for a duck in 35 of them. That includes seven pairs - no one else has more than four in Tests. Only once in those 102 attempts has Martin reached double figures, which he did to riotous applause against Bangladesh in Dunedin in January 2008. Overall his Test average is 2.41, helped by the fact that exactly half his Test innings have been not-outs.

Seymour Clark
The longest first-class career without ever scoring a run belongs to Seymour Clark, an engine driver from Weston-super-Mare who played five matches for Somerset in 1930 after their regular wicketkeeper fell ill. His nine innings produced seven ducks and two nought not-outs: one kindly opponent tried to give him "one off the mark", and served up a lollipop that bounced twice ... Clark had a swish and was bowled. Despite his batting, Somerset were so impressed by his keeping that they offered him a contract - but he preferred long-term security and went back to the trains. Clark thought his highest score in club cricket was 3, two of which came from overthrows.

Pommie Mbangwa
The worst batting average for anyone who had more than eight innings in Tests is a none-too-princely 2.00, by the Zimbabwean medium-pacer Pommie Mbangwa. He scored 34 runs in 25 innings all told, with a highest of 8. Remarkably, Mbangwa - who is now a TV commentator - was once promoted to No. 10 in the order, which doesn't say much for the batting talents of the new No. 11 (Everton Matambanadzo). Mbangwa responded by surviving for more than half an hour... before being out for 0.

Jack Iverson
Australian mystery spinner Jack Iverson befuddled the 1950-51 England tourists, finishing the successful Ashes defence with 21 wickets at 15.23. His batting, though, was a different matter: he managed three runs in seven attempts in that series (his only flirtation with Test cricket), although he fared a little better at first-class level, averaging 14 with the aid of 27 not-outs from 46 innings. He wasn't much of a fielder, either: in his superb biography of Iverson, Gideon Haigh suggests that he was probably the worst all-round cricketer ever to play in a Test, although he did add that "It is not to say that there won't be a bowler again so outstanding but specialised that their incompetence with the bat and in the field will be overlooked."

Shem Ngoche
Left-arm spinner Shem Ngoche, one of four brothers to play for Kenya, had a terrible time with the bat at the 2011 World Cup. He played three matches, batted three times, faced three balls ... and was out three times. He didn't make contact once, leg-before first ball against New Zealand then bowled against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Mark Robinson
Mark Robinson was a handy fast-medium bowler who played 229 matches in a first-class career that included spells at Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Sussex (where he is now the director of cricket). In that time he took 584 wickets, and just crept past that with 590 runs. He had a record barren spell in 1990, when he went 12 innings without scoring (seven of them admittedly not-out), during a runless trot that stretched from May 18 to September 15, when he managed a single against Leicestershire on the last day of a season he finished with three runs from 19 games (average 0.50).

Glenn McGrath
When he started in international cricket Glenn McGrath was little more than a walking wicket - he was dismissed first ball in Tests and one-day internationals, a unique double - and it was more than three years before he made it into double figures in Tests (a heady 24 against West Indies). But McGrath worked hard on his batting, encouraged by his team-mates, and against New Zealand in Brisbane in November 2004 made a fine 61, sharing a last-wicket stand of 114 with Jason Gillespie (another who started out as a bit of a duffer with the bat but rounded off his career with an astonishing double-century as a nightwatchman).

Ajit Agarkar
Only eight Indians have their names on the batting honours board at Lord's after scoring a Test century there, and some big names (Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Sehwag) are not among them. One who is, though, is the Mumbai fast bowler Ajit Agarkar, who survived for four hours for 109 not out as India slid to defeat in July 2002. But it's not that innings which usually comes to mind when Agarkar's batting is mentioned: it's more likely to be his horror run in Australia in 1999-2000, when he was dismissed from five successive deliveries (a Test record) starting with his first-innings dismissal for 19 in Adelaide, followed by after a first-baller in the second-innings, a king pair in Melbourne, and another golden duck in the first innings in Sydney. In the second innings the SCG crowd roared when he survived his first delivery, from Glenn McGrath. Relieved, Agarkar faced up to the second one ... and nicked it to the wicketkeeper to complete his fifth successive duck.

Reg Perks
A Worcestershire stalwart who won two England caps, swing bowler Reg Perks took more than 2200 wickets in a long career that stretched from 1930 to 1955. But he was less of a force with the bat - "started as a poor player but made himself into a useful tail-end hitter," said Wisden - and holds the record for the most dismissals for nought in first-class cricket. Perks made 156 ducks in all, topping a list otherwise heavily populated by Gloucestershire spinners: Charlie Parker bagged 150, Tom Goddard 149, Sam Cook 147 and John Mortimore 143. Don Shepherd of Glamorgan (149) is the only other interloper in the top six.

Alan Hurst
The unwanted record for most ducks in a Test series belongs not to Ajit Agarkar, as you might expect from the above, but to the Australian fast bowler Alan Hurst, who collected six blobs during the 1978-79 Ashes series Down Under, including pairs in Brisbane and Sydney. That was a six-Test rubber, though: nine players have collected five ducks in shorter series, including Agarkar and two specialist batsmen in Pankaj Roy (for India in England in 1952) and Mohinder Amarnath (India at home to West Indies in 1983-84).

Evan Gulbis
He has scored 62 in a one-day match for Tasmania in October 2011, so almost certainly doesn't really belong on this list... but Evan Gulbis is currently giving Seymour Clark a run for his money in first-class cricket. Gulbis (whose name means "swan" in Latvian) made his debut against his native Victoria in Hobart in November 2011, but was cleaned up fourth ball in both innings for ducks by the tearaway fast bowler Jayde Herrick. And in his second match, also against Victoria later the same month, Gulbis bagged another pair, caught behind off Clint McKay both times. This time the agony lasted only seven balls in total. Four innings, no runs...

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.