ESPNcricinfo XI

Go figure

A look at some of cricket's more improbable bowling analyses

Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Hedley Verity tosses the ball, 1940

Hedley Verity: sent down a spell to write home about in 1932  •  Getty Images

The spell that inspired this week's selection came last week during the Asia Cup in Mirpur. Pakistan's experienced slow left-armer Abdur Rehman came on for the 11th over of the match against Bangladesh - and bowled three high full tosses. One was smashed for four, and another was caught... but it didn't count as a wicket, as all three were ruled no-balls on height. After the third one, the umpires suspended Rehman from bowling, and Fawad Alam had to complete (or, really, start) the over. Until then, the weirdest bowling figures in international cricket probably belonged to England's David Gower who, with the scores level, playfully threw the last ball of the second Test against New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 1986. The umpire called it a no-ball, Martin Crowe smashed it to the boundary... and Gower came off with figures of 0-0-4-0.
The 1963-64 India-England series would be near the bottom of the list of exciting encounters: all five Tests were drawn, and in the first one, in Madras, England - who had several regular players injured or ill - crawled to 317 from 190.4 overs. Of those, 32 were sent down by the left-arm spinner Bapu Nadkarni, at a cost of just five runs: his spell included 131 successive dot balls, and he was apparently furious when this sequence was broken by a misfield.
10 for 10
The best bowling analysis in first-class history was recorded back in July 1932 by the Yorkshire left-arm spinner Hedley Verity against Nottinghamshire at Headingley. Verity's full figures were 19.4-16-10-10. Notts were 38 for 0 at lunch on the third day, but then lost all ten wickets for 29 on a drying pitch. Verity's spell is the subject of a book, out later this year, by Fred Trueman's recent biographer Chris Waters.
4 for 362
The most expensive bowling figures in first-class history were recorded by the whimsical Australian legspinner Arthur Mailey, whose 64 eight-ball overs for New South Wales in Melbourne in December 1926 - while Victoria were amassing the record total of 1107 - brought him 4 for 362. Mailey consoled himself with the thought that his figures would have been much better but for three dropped catches - "two by a man in the pavilion wearing a bowler hat".
It's perhaps not a great surprise that the most economical ten-over figures in a one-day international belong to a West Indian from the 1990s. But it wasn't Courtney Walsh (who did once take 5 for 1 in 4.3 overs against Sri Lanka in Sharjah in 1986), or even the frugal Curtly Ambrose (who had figures of 10-5-5-1 against Sri Lanka in Sharjah in 1999). The scroogiest figures of all belong to a man of more modest pace than those two: Phil Simmons hurtled through his ten overs for just three runs in Sydney in December 1992. "Pakistan fell apart against Simmons's medium-pace swing," sniffed Wisden.
19 for 90
Still unapproached after 58 years, Jim Laker's match figures in the Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 1956 still defy belief: 9 for 37 in the first innings was followed by 10 for 53 in the second. Yes, it was a helpful pitch... but it didn't seem to help Laker's combative spinning partner Tony Lock much: he toiled away at the other end for 1 for 106 from 69 overs in the match.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: several bowlers suffered in the famous one-day international in Johannesburg in March 2006 in which South Africa overhauled Australia's 434 with one ball to spare. In all, 872 runs were scored that day - and 113 of them came off the bowling of the unfortunate Mick Lewis, a seamer from Victoria. It was Lewis' seventh one-day international... and his last.
The Somerset offspinner Brian Langford recorded an unbeatable bowling analysis in the first season of England's 40-over Sunday League. In Yeovil in 1969, Langford's eight overs were all maidens, after Essex's opener Brian Ward decided Langford was the danger man and decided to see him off. Essex still lost - the young Greg Chappell later took three wickets for Somerset, then top-scored with 36.
5 for 2
The cheapest - and quickest - five-for in Tests came the way of the versatile Australian left-armer Ernie Toshack. On a sticky pitch in Brisbane in 1947-48 he needed only 19 balls (2.3 eight-ball overs) to wrap up India's innings, and finished with 5 for 2. Some 90 years earlier, in Launceston in 1857-58, a Victorian bowler called Gideon Elliott had demolished Tasmania for 33, finishing with first-class cricket's cheapest nine-for - he ended up with 19-17-2-9.
0 for 259
In the innings in Kingston in 1957-58 best remembered for Garry Sobers' 365 not out, it's kinder not to look at the bowling figures: injuries left Pakistan with only two fully fit regular bowlers. One of them, Fazal Mahmood, toiled through 85.2 overs, conceding 247 runs - but at least he had the satisfaction of two of the wickets as West Indies ran up 790 for 3. Fazal's fast-bowling partner Khan Mohammad was not so lucky: after 54 overs he had 0 for 259, the most expensive wicketless analysis in all first-class cricket. "People always ask me about the 0 for 259," Khan lamented in later life. "They never ask about the time I got Len Hutton out for 0 at Lord's!"
In a County Championship match against Surrey at Grace Road in May 1955, Leicestershire's captain Charles Palmer gave his gentle medium-pacers an airing to enable his spinners to change ends to take an advantage of a wet patch on the pitch. But it was Palmer who hit the spot: he took a wicket in his first over, so he stayed on. He claimed another in his second, and after about an hour had the amazing figures of 8 for 0 from 12 overs. A bit of last-wicket swishing dented his figures slightly, but they were still remarkable: "I found my offcutters turning about two inches, but the Surrey batsmen kept playing down the wrong line," he remembered modestly. "In fact, I bowled down the Metropolitan Line and they played down the Bakerloo."

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