Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer
IND-W in SL (1)
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Vitality Blast (8)
Tino Best's batting average when he strode to the wicket at Sogbaston last Sunday for his 24th Test innings.
A couple of hours of outlandishly brilliant batsmanship and one history-shattering slogswipe later, Best's average stood proudly at 13.85, after perhaps the most startlingly unexpected innings of all time, an innings of panache, style and, perhaps most surprisingly control, that left cricket's collective flabber well and truly gasted.
What the hell happened? Had Tino drunk a pint of strawberry milkshake laced with the DNA of George Headley? Had he borrowed Gordon Greenidge's central nervous system for the day? Was this the first time he had ever batted without distracting himself worrying about whether the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva might prompt the instant destruction of the planet? Or was he hallucinating, and finally responding to Freddie Flintoff's famous "Mind the windows, Tino" goad at Lord's eight years ago, by trying to repeatedly smash a window he thought he had seen at ground level on the extra-cover boundary? Who knows. Actually, Who probably does not know. It is beyond the understanding of humanity.
Best's innings, regardless of the match situation or the relative placidity of the pitch, was a staggering, glorious performance, a beacon of hope to tailenders the world over. He fell annoyingly five runs short of a century and cricketing immortality. I was very excited at the imminent prospect of seeing a No. 11 score a hundred in a Test match. It had taken 135 years of Test cricket for any No. 11 even to come close to it. If it takes another 135 years for it to happen again, I probably will not be around to see it.
If Andrew Strauss had been thinking of the legacy to the sport-watching world, instead of his professional responsibility as an international cricketer, he would have contrived to "accidentally" trip over and head the ball for six.
Instead, he wrote himself into the Encyclopaedia of Great Sporting Killjoys, alongside the likes of Stewart Cink, the prosaic American golfer who snatched the 2009 Open from 59-year-old legend of the game Tom Watson, thus scuppering what would have the most remarkable story of superannuated sporting success in human history; and the Italian 1982 World Cup football team, who so rudely and needlessly knocked out a ludicrously exciting and supernaturally stylish Brazil side, when, for the good of football, sport, humanity, and all that is good and beautiful in the universe, they should have had the decency and honour to knock in a couple of late own goals. I am sure their manager and fans would have understood.
Best's would unquestionably have been the most unanticipated Test century of all time. More so than Ajit Agarkar's thunderbolt from the bluest possible shade of blue at Lord's in 2002. Agarkar began with a Test average well below Tino's 9.8 - a dismal 7.47 ‒ but his first-class record suggested this was a case of significant underachievement, as The Bombay Botham had registered a first-class century and averaged in the mid-20s. More so than Jason Gillespie's Chittagong double-hundred, as he had posted a couple of Test half-centuries, four more 40-plus scores, and a four-hour blockathon against Kumble and Harbhajan in Chennai. And he was playing against Bangladesh. And more so than Jerome Taylor (previous average 13.6, highest score 31) smashing New Zealand for a sparkling hundred in Dunedin in December 2008, because Taylor was batting eight and had at least put together a run of useful 20s in Tests over the previous year.
(Incidentally, Taylor also painted his unexpected tail-end masterpiece on the fourth day of a rain-affected match, and the universe was so flabbergasted that it promptly sent a deluge to wash out the fifth day. Which suggests that West Indian tailenders clobbering brilliant innings against the statistical odds could solve all future droughts. I look forward to Devendra Bishoo being deployed by the United Nations to sub-Saharan Africa with a squad of club bowlers under strict instructions to feed him wide half-volleys.)
Best's innings trumps all of these. Not only had Tino never passed the nervous 20s before in Tests, but also he had averaged 8 in first-class cricket over the previous two years, had a first-class highest score of 51, had effectively been out of Test cricket for seven years (if you exclude his two appearances in the dispute-ravaged pseudo-West-Indies team's series with Bangladesh in 2009), and was facing a high-class England attack of proven internationals.
If Tino Best had scored a Test century, it would have stood high in the list of Most Extraordinary Sporting Achievements, alongside Beryl the Three-Legged Donkey winning the 1936 Grand National, Carry On actress Hattie Jacques' driving a Ford Cortina to victory in the 1973 Monaco Grand Prix, and Ravindra Jadeja's tax return. He scored 95, the highest by a No. 11, the highest by any West Indian batting 9, 10 or 11.
(Honourable mentions for other unexpected batting successes: Glenn McGrath [average 6.5] taking 61 off New Zealand at the Gabba in November 2004, an experience so soul-crushingly embarrassing and psychologically ruinous that New Zealand were promptly bowled out for 76; and Kiwi paceman Bob Blair [career average 4.2, one previous double-figure score in 25 Test innings, out of Test cricket for four years, eight years after the second of his two previous first-class half-centuries] coming in at 96 for 7 in Wellington in 1962-63 and spanking 64 undefeated runs off a Freddie-Trueman-spearheaded England attack.
And one bowling startler: Allan Border - previously 16 wickets at 47 in 100 Tests, including 1 for 242 over his previous 49 Tests in six years ‒ taking 7 for 46 and 4 for 50 at the SCG in January 1989, against West Indies [that's West Indies of 1989, not West Indies of 2012 transplanted back to 1989].)
9.8 is also: Jimmy Anderson's average in opening spells in his last five Tests.
In the third Test against Pakistan, the two games in Sri Lanka, and the first two Tests of this summer before he was consigned to the exercise bike by the selectors, Anderson took 15 wickets for 148 runs in 64 overs in his opening spells. In the remainder of those five matches, he took seven wickets in 162 overs at an average of 53.7. Conclusion: Anderson is only effective with the new ball.
Objection, your honour. I wish to present Exhibit B to the court. In Anderson's previous six Tests (the India series last summer and the first two against Pakistan in the UAE), he took just four wickets at 50.5 in his opening spells, but 22 wickets at 22.7 in the remainder of those matches. Conclusion: Anderson is only effective with the old ball. Or the second new ball.
Objection sustained. Verdict: if you are approached by a friendly-looking stat in the street, be wary of it. It might not mean what it says. Or know what it means.
9.8 is also: Denesh Ramdin's score on the Scrantworthy-Humberscule Scale (the internationally accepted calibration of the silliness of gestures) for his four-word scribbled micro-rant in response to Viv Richards' statistically justified criticism of his performance for the West Indies.
Ramdin (averaging 22 in Tests before his excellent if Tino-Best-and-himself-overshadowed century at Edgaston) would have been excused his questionable use of an innocent sheet of A4 paper if, after the many innings in which he has not scored an excellent century for the West Indies, he had trudged back to the pavilion brandishing a handwritten note towards the TV cameras and press box, reading: "Yup, you've got a point. Oops."