Who, me?

Some of the unlikeliest men to play Test cricket

Steven Lynch

September 30, 2013

Comments: 32 | Text size: A | A

Jack Iverson bowls ahead of his Test debut, October 23, 1950
Jack Iverson took 21 wickets in the 1950-51 Ashes and then packed up © Getty Images
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Jack Iverson
Possibly the unlikeliest Test player of all - and, according to his biographer, Gideon Haigh, probably the worst all-round cricketer to do so, as he could hardly bat or field - Iverson didn't play first-class cricket until he was well past 30, and made his Test debut at 35. He was an immediate sensation, taking 21 wickets at 15 in the 1950-51 Ashes... and almost immediately disappeared again. He had developed an unusual method of flicking the ball out of the front of his huge hand with his middle finger, and confounded several high-class batsmen with his "mystery spin". Some good judges thought Iverson would have won Australia the series in England in 1953 - but he couldn't be persuaded, and England reclaimed the Ashes after 19 years.

Rowley Pope
Dr Roland Pope was an early camp follower of Australian teams, assisting around a dozen tours as a sort of medical adviser/general factotum. He had been a useful club batsman, who played a few matches for New South Wales with a highest score of 47: and in 1884-85, when a dispute over payments arose, Pope was one of 11 enforced changes in the Australian side for the second Test against England in Melbourne. He made 0 and 3, and disappeared back to his medical studies.

Brandon Bess
As the final preparations for West Indies' third Test against South Africa in Bridgetown in June 2010 got under way, Bess, a promising paceman from Guyana, was going about his business at the West Indies Board's High Performance Centre a few miles down the road. But then fast bowler Nelon Pascal injured his neck in the pre-match warm-up, and an SOS went out to the academy: Bess was soon on his way. Sadly there the fairytale ended. Bess' first over went for 13, he ended up with one wicket (nightwatchman Paul Harris) for 92 in 13 overs in the match, and West Indies lost heavily. He hasn't played another Test, and didn't appear for Guyana last season.

Emile McMaster
Irishman McMaster was one of several amateur players who took part in a privately raised English tour of South Africa in 1888-89. Among their many matches were two against a South African XI that much later were given Test status. McMaster played in the second of these representative games but was out first ball and didn't bowl. It remained his only first-class match.

Yasir Ali
After Pakistan won the first two matches of their home series against Bangladesh in 2003, they called up three debutants for the third Test, in Multan. One of them was 17-year-old fast bowler Yasir, who hadn't even played a first-class match before. He had an exciting time, taking two wickets, pulling off a run-out, and keeping his end up as Inzamam-ul-Haq inched his side to a blush-sparing one-wicket victory. Yasir's reward? To be confined to domestic cricket ever since, where some respectable bowling returns - and a first-class century - haven't been enough for a second summons from the selectors.

Ken Burn
After some sterling innings for Tasmania - not then a power in the land - Burn was selected for Australia's 1890 tour of England, primarily as reserve wicketkeeper. It was only after the ship departed for the Old Country that Burn admitted he'd never kept wicket in his life. Still, he played in the Tests at Lord's and The Oval as a batsman, although his highest score was just 19.

Baqa Jilani
The first man to take a hat-trick in the Ranji Trophy, allrounder Jilani was part of the large and disjointed Indian touring party in England in 1936. He played his only Test at The Oval, apparently earning his place from his approving captain, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, after insulting CK Nayudu (seen by "Vizzy" as a rival) over the breakfast table a day or two before the final Test.

Trevor Meale
Meale, a batsman, played a few matches for Wellington in the early 1950s before trying his luck in England. He played without huge distinction for the Ealing club, and also tried - unsuccessfully - to qualify for Kent. It was therefore rather a surprise when he was selected for New Zealand's 1958 tour of England, even though skipper John Reid argued against his inclusion. Predictably Meale struggled, scoring only 21 runs in his two Tests, the last of which - at The Oval - was also his farewell first-class appearance.

Bert Ironmonger
You don't get many 46-year-old Test debutants, especially ones who have mangled their hands during an argument with some farm machinery. But slow left-armer Ironmonger had had a lot of success in club and state cricket, and was called up by Australia in 1928-29; one of his fellow debutants was the young Don Bradman. Ironmonger, who spun the ball off the remains of his injured finger, went on to take 74 wickets in 14 Tests, including 11 South Africans for just 24 runs on a Melbourne "sticky dog" in February 1932. The following season he played in the Bodyline series, aged 50.


Brandon Bess gets his West Indies Test cap, West Indies v South Africa, 3rd Test, Barbados, 1st day, June 26, 2010
Brandon Bess gets his West Indies cap © Digicel
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John Watkins
A legspinner from upcountry New South Wales, Watkins had played only five first-class matches when he was called up to face Pakistan in Sydney in January 1973. His six overs contained several deliveries that caused the square-leg umpire more bother than they did the batsman, and he failed to take a wicket (although he did make an important 36 with the bat, which ultimately helped Australia win). Watkins never played another Test, although he did tour the Caribbean shortly afterwards, with similarly poor results. Keith Stackpole, Australia's vice-captain at the time, thought "Wokka" was probably the luckiest man ever to get an Australian cap.

Tony Pigott
An enthusiastic fast bowler who did well for Sussex, Pigott was nonetheless rarely spoken of as a Test prospect. Until, that is, England ran into injury problems in New Zealand early in 1984. Pigott, who was coaching nearby, was whistled up for the second Test, in Christchurch. He postponed his wedding - arranged for the fourth day - to win an England cap... but needn't have, as England were bundled out for 82 (Richard Hadlee 3 for 16) and 93 (Hadlee 5 for 28) after New Zealand made 307 (Hadlee 99). It was all over on the third day, leaving Pigott (who did take a couple of wickets) nothing to do on the big day. He played on till 1995, but never played for England again.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013

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Posted by   on (October 4, 2013, 19:11 GMT)

Saying Iverson was the worst all-round cricketer to play in tests seems unfounded. He had a first class batting average of 14 (albeit with lots of not-outs).

As for Hopkins, he could be proud that his innings (at number 9) was vital in the context of the game, and though he took no wickets he could hardly be blamed as he as only asked to bowl 6 (8-ball) overs. He only conceded 21 runs, so he couldn't be THAT bad.

Posted by Raveey_ on (October 4, 2013, 17:58 GMT)

Well lets just hope Pravin Tambe gets an Indian cap and makes it to the list :)..

Posted by smudgeon on (October 3, 2013, 4:49 GMT)

Michael Beer's selection I always though quite unlikely and baffling. On the basis of Shane Warne saying Beer should know the WACA surface well, despite having played there...er...once? Twice? At all?

Posted by YashMarathe on (October 2, 2013, 16:56 GMT)

Perhaps not unlikely given his stature as royalty and the circumstances at the time, but Vizzy certainly should never have played Test cricket. To call his first class record modest would be giving it too much credit. Hubris led him to captaining the team on a disastrous tour of England. Thankfully, he didn't represent the country after that.

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (October 2, 2013, 9:03 GMT)

Can still remember watching that Johnny Watkins match on tv as a 10yo. My first thought was feeling sorry for him as he struggled to find the cut surface .... my second thought was to think that MY Test chances were very much alive with a few wickets for the U11's at the weekend

Posted by   on (October 2, 2013, 6:36 GMT)

Mike Whitney's debut is worth a look here.

Posted by   on (October 1, 2013, 18:28 GMT)

any thoughts about Rakesh Shukla and Robin Singh!!! Many more certainly.

Posted by   on (October 1, 2013, 11:39 GMT)

Where is Darren Pattinson in the list? Without him, this list would not be complete.

Posted by   on (October 1, 2013, 6:13 GMT)

dejfrith's comments about John Warr are not the whole story. At that time England were looking for fast bowlers and they tried many. Then Trueman, Statham, Tyson etc. came along. By then Warr had developed into a very good medium pacer, but by that time England had numerous quality pacemen, so there was no place for Warr. I saw Warr at Lord's get his best bowling figures of 9 for whatever, 14 wickets in the game (for Middlesex against Kent). He became a much better bowler in the mid- and late 50s than he was in 1950/51.

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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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