September 30, 2013

Who, me?

Some of the unlikeliest men to play Test cricket
32

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.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dejfrith on September 30, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    We ought not to forget the gallant fast bowler John Warr, whose two Tests for England in Australia in 1950-51 brought him one wicket for 281 runs. And even that solitary wicket came from a slightly dubious caught behind. If anybody should feel that the present England team is not the best available to the selectors they should look at some of the inexplicable selections (and exclusions, eg Laker and Edrich) for that 1950-51 tour.

  • 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.

  • Raveey_ on October 4, 2013, 17:58 GMT

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • on October 2, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    Mike Whitney's debut is worth a look here.

  • on October 1, 2013, 18:28 GMT

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

  • on October 1, 2013, 11:39 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • dejfrith on September 30, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    We ought not to forget the gallant fast bowler John Warr, whose two Tests for England in Australia in 1950-51 brought him one wicket for 281 runs. And even that solitary wicket came from a slightly dubious caught behind. If anybody should feel that the present England team is not the best available to the selectors they should look at some of the inexplicable selections (and exclusions, eg Laker and Edrich) for that 1950-51 tour.

  • 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.

  • Raveey_ on October 4, 2013, 17:58 GMT

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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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

  • on October 2, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    Mike Whitney's debut is worth a look here.

  • on October 1, 2013, 18:28 GMT

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

  • on October 1, 2013, 11:39 GMT

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

  • 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.

  • on October 1, 2013, 5:57 GMT

    I dont think we can include Vijay Bharadwaj, Amay Khurasia, Saba karim as they have performed well, but unlucky to be affected by injuries at wrong time.

  • ghost_of_len_hutton on October 1, 2013, 4:43 GMT

    The couple of contributers who mention Colin "Funky" Miller are gilding the lily if they're saying he was lucky to be selected in Australian sides in the late 90s and early 2000s. Bowling medium fast and off spin, he was one of the leading Sheffield Shield performers for a number of years at a time when that competition actually meant something and absolutely justified his selection with his 69 wickets at 26 in 19 tests. Why are people so harsh? He was certainly no Johnny Watkins.

  • jjtanwar on September 30, 2013, 21:34 GMT

    Add to list from India - Ashish Kapoor and Sarandeep Singh - the off spinners who played test cricket in late nineties :)

  • YashMarathe on September 30, 2013, 19:12 GMT

    Kulkarni, Vijay Bharadwaj, Jacob Martin, Noel David and Khurasia, like most of the names mentioned above (below?) too were big name Ranji players when they were picked, although they failed to make a similar impact on the international stage.

    Salil Ankola looks like a dubious selection in hindsight given his preference for modeling and acting over cricket. However in the late 80s/early 90s, he was a serviceable quick bowler considering India's dearth of talent in that department.

  • YashMarathe on September 30, 2013, 19:07 GMT

    @corporaterock, of the players you mentioned, Ratra, Dighe, MSK Prasad and Saba Karim were all wicketkeepers with domestic experience who were tried out and subsequently discarded (or in Saba Karim's case, forced to retire through a freak eye injury) following Nayan Mongia's departure from the Indian setup. Parthiv Patel, another of those picked, was only 17 when he made his debut, but has had a steady if unremarkable career since and doesn't seem as unlikely a selection as he looked back then.

    Robertson, Miller and Krejza all had decent domestic careers to merit Test caps. Beer's selection was rather baffling, yet given Australia's willingness to overlook Nathan Lyon and lack of any other notable spin talent, is understandable. Bryce McGain sticks out though, called up to make his debut a week shy of his 37th birthday. He was mercilessly flayed to all parts of Newlands by AB de Villiers and co. and never seen again.

  • Guruprasad.S on September 30, 2013, 16:21 GMT

    @corporaterock: Of the many names you have mentioned, two players took part in an all-time great test series between India and Australia in 2001. These are Samir Dighe and Collin Miller. John Wright said that Dighe effectively won India the series. Reason: Dighe saw India home in a tricky and nerve-wrackingly tense chase in the fourth innings of the final test of the series at Chennai. And Collin Miller did his bet to win the test for Australia, although Miller bowled a few short and wide ones that Dighe duly dispatched to boundary.

  • YashMarathe on September 30, 2013, 13:29 GMT

    @Steve Back, only Agar from that list could be called an unlikely Test player given his experience at the First Class level. But Rob Quiney and three England players mentioned (Habib, Saj Mahmood and Amjad Khan) all had decent FC records but were found to be not up to Test match standard (to put it lightly in Quiney's case). The same would go for Simon Kerrigan, who has been quite productive at the domestic level, but was woefully inept in the 8 Test overs he bowled. Based on their domestic records, they've all merited selection in Tests, it's just that they haven't been able to replicate the same form (read Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick for exaggerated examples).

  • corporaterock on September 30, 2013, 13:12 GMT

    An entire team can be made out from India specifically WKs and Aus Spinners. Noel David, Amay Khurasia, Jacob Martin, Nilesh Kulkarni, Salil Ankola, Ajay Ratra, Vijay Bharadwaj, Samir Dighe, Saba Karim, MSK Prasad, Gavin Robertson, Jason Kreijza, Michael Beer, Colin Miller, most of them however might not have the best of stats behind them.

  • on September 30, 2013, 13:03 GMT

    Ravij Zimbabwe produced many useful cricketers. Strang considered by some to be worlds best leggie when Warne was injured had an 8 for 100 odd against Aussies 9on a beningn track).Also averaged 27 with the bat and a superb fielder. Whitall and G Flower had double centuries and Dave Houghton ,considered a better kepper than Flower initially despite only starting in his twilight years averaged 42 with the bat.I think Gilchrest was the only keeper batting better at the time

  • on September 30, 2013, 12:24 GMT

    What about Rob Quiney? Aftab Habib? Sajid Mahmood? Amjad Khan? Ashton Agar?

  • Jonathan_E on September 30, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    However, Kerrigan wasn't "lucky" or "unlikely" to be picked, even though he had a bad game: he had earned his way into the Test team by weight of wickets, being by a considerable distance the most productive spinner in county cricket this year (given that Swann, obviously our best spin bowler, did not play much county cricket, Panesar was badly out of form and out of temper, and few other spinners were making an impact.) He was the obvious choice for a second spinner, and there is still a strong argument for including him ahead of Panesar in the touring party.

    His chance will come again, I hope.

  • on September 30, 2013, 10:55 GMT

    @landl47 A pretty weird comparison - Warne wasn't a backup spinner and actually bowled through long innings in matches that lasted the distance. In others words he got those figures from bowling 68 overs. To Kerrigan's 8. I'm not saying he can't get better, but is definitely a terrible, terrible start. (And it looks the selectors aren't giving him another chance)

    @Rooto As an Australian supporter I have NO IDEA what's going on with our spinners. It's an ever-changing pick and mix. I suspect Ahmed is next in line after Lyon, with Agar after that.. but after his treatment in England I don't know if Lyon is still first pick. So I assumed Michael Beer is on the fourth rung down and will be fighting it out with O'Keefe, Doherty and possibly Hauritz and Krezja if they discard the experimental kids.

  • calcu on September 30, 2013, 10:38 GMT

    What about ashton agar?

  • on September 30, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    @ Frazer Hockley; @ landl47; What about Jason Krejza from Australia? He took 12 wickets in his first match against the hopeless players of spin that formed the Indian team then (8/215 & 4/143).

    He was dropped for the next two tests, against that powerhouse New Zealand.

    He was then brought back at the spinner's heaven that is the WACA ground vs. South Africa (1/102 & 0/102).

    And on the basis of these two test matches has never been seen again. *Career Stats of 13 wickets @ an average of 43.23*

  • on September 30, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    The same applies to every Zimbabwean and Bangladesh Test player (except A. Flower, and Streak). And in terms of ODIs, Hong Kong! That team would not be able to beat a village side.I have seen them play, village 2nd team standard.

  • Rooto on September 30, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    What's Michael Beer up to nowadays? How far down the pecking order has he slipped?

  • Rowayton on September 30, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    Wok (John Watkins) was a pretty good club bowler and that was about it really. While he didn't play many first-class games, he was around the fringes of the NSW team for a number of years - can't imagine why they picked him to play for Oz though. Mind you, around the same time they picked Ken Eastwood ahead of Bill Lawry for an Ashes deciding test, and WA batsman Jock Irvine ahead of Greg Chappell for a tour of India/South Africa. And people complain about Australian selectors nowadays.

  • on September 30, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    Add Darren Pattinson from England here.

  • landl47 on September 30, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    Coming at this from a slightly different angle, it's amazing to think that Derek Pringle played 30 tests for England. He averaged 15.10 with the bat, with only one 50, and 35.97 with the ball, taking just 70 wickets. He's the classic case of a player who wasn't good enough either with the bat or ball to play test cricket, but won 30 caps because he could do a little bit of both.

    @Frazer Hockley: If you're going to include Kerrigan, better include Shane Warne as well. In his first two tests he took 1-228. Makes Kerrigan's 0-53 look positively frugal.

  • J751 on September 30, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    Tausif Ahmed,who made his Test debut against Australia in 1979-80 taking seven wickets.Totally unknown,he was at the ground and given the chance to bowl in the nets.The Pakistan coach Mushtaq Mohammad was impressed and included him in the team.

  • on September 30, 2013, 4:10 GMT

    Might as well add simon kerrigan to the list haha

  • on September 30, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    Add imran farhat,imran Tahir and fawad Alam to this list please

  • on September 30, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    Add imran farhat,imran Tahir and fawad Alam to this list please

  • on September 30, 2013, 4:10 GMT

    Might as well add simon kerrigan to the list haha

  • J751 on September 30, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    Tausif Ahmed,who made his Test debut against Australia in 1979-80 taking seven wickets.Totally unknown,he was at the ground and given the chance to bowl in the nets.The Pakistan coach Mushtaq Mohammad was impressed and included him in the team.

  • landl47 on September 30, 2013, 5:56 GMT

    Coming at this from a slightly different angle, it's amazing to think that Derek Pringle played 30 tests for England. He averaged 15.10 with the bat, with only one 50, and 35.97 with the ball, taking just 70 wickets. He's the classic case of a player who wasn't good enough either with the bat or ball to play test cricket, but won 30 caps because he could do a little bit of both.

    @Frazer Hockley: If you're going to include Kerrigan, better include Shane Warne as well. In his first two tests he took 1-228. Makes Kerrigan's 0-53 look positively frugal.

  • on September 30, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    Add Darren Pattinson from England here.

  • Rowayton on September 30, 2013, 6:36 GMT

    Wok (John Watkins) was a pretty good club bowler and that was about it really. While he didn't play many first-class games, he was around the fringes of the NSW team for a number of years - can't imagine why they picked him to play for Oz though. Mind you, around the same time they picked Ken Eastwood ahead of Bill Lawry for an Ashes deciding test, and WA batsman Jock Irvine ahead of Greg Chappell for a tour of India/South Africa. And people complain about Australian selectors nowadays.

  • Rooto on September 30, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    What's Michael Beer up to nowadays? How far down the pecking order has he slipped?

  • on September 30, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    The same applies to every Zimbabwean and Bangladesh Test player (except A. Flower, and Streak). And in terms of ODIs, Hong Kong! That team would not be able to beat a village side.I have seen them play, village 2nd team standard.

  • on September 30, 2013, 10:30 GMT

    @ Frazer Hockley; @ landl47; What about Jason Krejza from Australia? He took 12 wickets in his first match against the hopeless players of spin that formed the Indian team then (8/215 & 4/143).

    He was dropped for the next two tests, against that powerhouse New Zealand.

    He was then brought back at the spinner's heaven that is the WACA ground vs. South Africa (1/102 & 0/102).

    And on the basis of these two test matches has never been seen again. *Career Stats of 13 wickets @ an average of 43.23*

  • calcu on September 30, 2013, 10:38 GMT

    What about ashton agar?