Ask Steven

What is the biggest difference between player numbers in the same Test team?

And which bowler has taken the last wicket most often to win a Test or an ODI?

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
The England players pose with the trophy after wrapping up the series 2-1, England vs South Africa, 3rd Test, 5th day, The Oval, September 12, 2022

There was a difference of 94 Test caps between Jimmy Anderson (second from left) and Harry Brook (extreme right), who debuted in at The Oval against South Africa  •  Getty Images

I was wondering about the biggest difference between player numbers in the same Test team. I wondered about Jimmy Anderson, then remembered Brian Close! Is he the record-holder? asked Brian King from England
In the final Test against South Africa at The Oval last week, Jimmy Anderson (who was cap No. 613 in 2003) played alongside debutant Harry Brook, England's No. 707. That's a difference of 94 (including the special cap No. 696 given to Glamorgan's Alan Jones, 50 years on from his appearance against the Rest of the World in 1970).
I was surprised to discover that there are actually 73 combinations from all countries that equal or beat 94, including a difference of 122 between Brian Close (England's No. 344 in 1949) and Mike Selvey (466 in 1976). But top of the list is the Yorkshire and England allrounder Wilfred Rhodes, who was cap No. 121 when he made his Test debut in 1899. During his final series, in the West Indies in 1929-30, the 52-year-old Rhodes played alongside Leslie Townsend (No. 254), a difference of 133. He also played with Bill Voce (253), Freddie Calthorpe (252) and Les Ames (244), so occupies the first four places on this particular table.
The record for a side other than England is a difference of 98, between Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies cap No. 204) and Shai Hope (302), against Englandin Bridgetown in May 2015. It was Hope's first Test, and Chanderpaul's 164th and last.
How many Test matches have been shorter, in terms of balls bowled, than the one that's just finished at The Oval? asked Michael Templeton, and many others
The third Test between England and South Africa at The Oval last week was over in just 909 balls, the shortest Test with a positive result anywhere since February 2021, when India needed only 842 deliveries to polish England off in Ahmedabad.
It was the shortest completed Test in England since 1912, when the match against South Africa at The Oval lasted only 815 deliveries. The shortest anywhere was the match between Australia and South Africa on a rain-affected pitch in Melbourne in 1931-32, which was done and dusted in 656 balls.
For the full list, which also includes drawn Tests (look down the fifth column to see when there was a winner), click here.
Which bowler has taken the last wicket most often to win a Test, or an ODI? asked Ahson Atif from India
There's a tie at the top of this list for Tests, as two bowlers have taken the match-winning (final) wicket on 22 occasions: R Ashwin for India, and Australia's Shane Warne. Test cricket's leading wicket-taker Muthiah Muralidaran comes next with 18, ahead of his compatriot Rangana Herath with 14, and Waqar Younis on 13.
Things are more clear-cut in one-day internationals: Wasim Akram took the last wicket to win a match no fewer than 27 times, well clear of Murali and Glenn McGrath (21). Waqar, Lasith Malinga and Shahid Afridi all did it on 20 occasions.
When was England's batting in a Test opened by a football and a rugby international? asked George Clarke from England
This unusual double happened in the third Test against New Zealand at Headingley in 1958, when Mike Smith faced the new ball with Arthur Milton, who went on to score a century on his debut.
Even though he wore spectacles, Smith had played one rugby union international for England, against Wales (who won 8-3) at Twickenham in 1956. "I played as an outside centre during my final year at Oxford," he said. "But I had a poor game and was not selected again." Milton - a nippy winger for Arsenal, and later Bristol City - won one England football cap, in a 2-2 draw against Austria at Wembley in 1951. "The attack was spoiled by the relative failure of Milton on the right," concluded the Times. "The occasion and the tension generally were too much for him."
I noticed that Yuzi Chahal batted only once in his first 13 T20Is. Has anyone batted less often? asked Arun Nissar from India
You're right that the Indian legspinner Yuzvendra Chahal batted only once in his first 13 T20 internationals - but there is someone who didn't bat at all in his first 13: the Afghanistan seamer Fareed Ahmad, who didn't bat until his 14th such match, in which he made 24 not out. Despite that promising start, he's batted only once more in six further matches.
Chahal has now played 66 T20Is, and got to the crease only four times. That's easily the fewest innings by anyone who played so often - next comes another legspinner, New Zealand's Ish Sodhi, who batted 12 times in his first 66 T20Is. At the other end of the scale, David Warner has played 91 T20Is so far, and batted in all of them.
Shiva Jayaraman of ESPNcricinfo's stats team helped with some of the above answers.
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Steven Lynch is the editor of the updated edition of Wisden on the Ashes