1 Alastair Cook
With England bereft of Marcus Trescothick, and Michael Vaughan's dodgy knee reaching Comptonlike seriousness, the Test selectors plundered the A side in West Indies for the young Essex left-hander, Cook. A letter might have arrived quicker, as he took 48 hours over a protracted journey to Nagpur. Two and a bit days later he was compiling an assured 60, and next time round the 21-year-old became the youngest England Test debutant to score a century. He later claimed that his late arrival helped ease the pressure on him, joking that "the jet lag probably helped a bit".
2 Austin Carr
In 1921, a depleted Worcestershire urgently called up the local cricketing headmaster Gilbert Ashton, but being indisposed he summoned Carr, a junior member of staff, from his lessons and ordered him to go to New Road to make up the numbers. Carr protested that he was no good, but in an era of less developed employee rights, he thought it wise to obey. However, batting at No. 8 he caned the Essex bowlers like schoolboys, striking 82 for the highest score of a drawn match.
3 Keith Rigg
The Australia batsman was an emergency call-up in 1936-37 but found out only the night before, at a New Year's Eve party. "What are you doing here?" asked a friend. "You're in the Test!" After Rigg had hotfooted it to Melbourne, England tactically declared at 76 for 9 on a sticky wicket and in the second innings Rigg, coming in at 3 for 2, hit an invaluable 47. His two-hour ordeal enabled Bradman, batting at No. 7, to make 270 on a now much-improved pitch. Australia, 2-0 down, won the match and the series.
4 Lionel Tennyson
'Bulldog Drummond' personified, Tennyson was spending a convivial night with his chums at the Embassy Club on Old Bond Street when, well past midnight, he received a message that he was required for the 1921 Ashes Test at Lord's, starting later that day. Tennyson's response was that if he had heard the good news earlier he would have "knocked off a cigar or two". He then confidently struck a £50 wager that he would crack a half-century. England lost but his swashbuckling undefeated 74 won him the bet and also the captaincy.
5 Nick Cook
In the middle of a county match at Chelmsford in 1983 the Leicestershire spinner was commandeered by England to make his Test debut at Lord's, Phil Edmonds having ricked his back getting out of his car. Cook took five New Zealand wickets in the first innings and finished with match-winning figures of 8 for 125. Edmonds himself was memorably recalled by Middlesex in 1992. Forty-one years old, he had not played a first-class match for nearly five years, but after arriving at Trent Bridge by Rolls Royce, he reprised his old double-act with John Emburey, both spinners taking four wickets.
6 Jonathan Agnew
The former fast bowler was persuaded to abandon the commentary box by his old county Leicestershire, after injury struck before the 1992 NatWest Trophy semi. Fellow writers mockingly wagered on how dreadful his bowling would be, quotes ranging from 40 runs conceded to the high 70s. However, Aggers not only took a wicket but didn't concede a boundary as Nasser Hussain, perhaps concerned about being risibly dismissed by a stand-in bowler, batted with exaggerated defence. Agnew finished with 12-2- 31-1 - bowled straight through lest he seize up - but politely declined the final.
7 Harold Gimblett
With Jack Meyer suffering from malaria and amateurs thin on the ground, Somerset sent an SOS to Gimblett, a village cricketer who had just been sent packing after an unsuccessful county trial. After missing the morning bus, Gimblett had to hitchhike and when he arrived at Frome, Somerset were in dire straits at 107 for 6. Then something straight from the pages of a schoolboy ripping yarn happened. The young farm boy, aged 20 and clad in his Watchet CC sweater, borrowed a bat and slogged the Essex attack, thumping 17 fours and three haymakers for six in a 63-minute hundred, the quickest of the 1935 season. He ended up with 123, with Somerset winning by an innings.
8 Henry Blofeld
The TMS commentator, a Lord's centurion for Cambridge University, had been tipped to play for his country before being hit by one of his beloved buses while at Eton. So when England were stricken by illness before the Bombay Test of 1963-64, Blowers was asked to stand by. By now a journalist, he agreed with Billy Bunter-type cheek: "I don't care if Cowdrey and Parfitt are flying out as replacements. If I make 50 or above in either innings, I'm damned if I'll stand down for Calcutta." However, Cowdrey's future career was saved when at the 11th hour it was decided that Micky Stewart would play despite illness. Stewart appeared on the scorecard as `Absent ill 0.'
9 Peter Smith
In 1933 the Essex leg-break bowler was in a Chelmsford cinema when he was suddenly called outside. There his excited father produced a telegram from the Essex secretary; Smith had been chosen for the next day's Test. He dashed to The Oval next morning but it proved a wild goose chase as his selection had been an elaborate hoax. Two more abortive debuts followed: India 1939-40, when Hitler stopped play, and Old Trafford 1946, when Smith was injured. He was eventually capped later that summer at The Oval, 13 years after the first false start.
10 Graham Gooch
The fifth day of the 1988 Lord's Test against Sri Lanka overlapped with Essex's visit to Surrey, but after the Test novices crashed to 63 for 6 in the first innings, Essex presumptuously picked Gooch anyway. But Sri Lanka wouldn't roll over and the England captain found himself double-booked. When England needed a single for victory shortly before lunch, he clutched his car keys but Tim Robinson played for the break, blocking three successive balls. Meanwhile Essex, only allowed 10 fielders, were being put to the sword, before Gooch finally arrived, appearing on two scorecards in the same day.
11 Phil North
The slow left-armer North had a very modest first-class career, with a bowling average of 42 and one of his greatest sporting achievements listed as machining some disc brakes on Richard Noble's recordbreaking speed car `Thrust II'. So he couldn't believe his luck when, after an eight-year gap, his old club Glamorgan wanted him for a match against Notts in 1997. But calamity struck when his wake-up call never came through. After turning up late, North was told he was no longer required.
This article was first published in the May issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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