February 2005

The XI over-achievers

Daniel Brigham hails those who have made it to the top against odds of ability or fate

Daniel Brigham hails those who have made it to the top against odds of ability or fate

Geoff Boycott celebrates his hundred in 1980's Centenary Test © Getty Images
1 Geoff Boycott
Born into a mining village where life was unsympathetic, Boycott was obsessively determined to play for Yorkshire and England. Wearing NHS specs made necessary by poor eyesight, those who saw his solid but resolutely defensive technique on display for Barnsley gave him little hope of fulfilling his desire. He refused to play outside his limitations and, as a result, he finished his career with 22 Test centuries - a joint English record with Colin Cowdrey and Walter Hammond.

2 Andy Flower
Ryan Giggs playing for Wales, Michael Caine appearing in Jaws: The Revenge - individual quality tends to take a dip when surrounded by collective mediocrity. Flower is different. He played 63 Tests for Zimbabwe and only seven were won. Yet this run of misery never affected his temperament or technique and he finished his Test career with an average of 51.54 - better than Viv Richards, Denis Compton and Steve Waugh.

3 David Steele
Steele's call-up by England in 1975 to face the Australians was met by sniggers in the media and `who he?' by the opposition. At 33 the bespectacled Steele had scored only 16 Championship centuries in 12 seasons for unfashionable Northamptonshire. But, despite getting lost on his way out to bat on his debut at Lord's, he maximised his main asset - concentration - to score 50 and 45 against Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee. He scored three more 50s in the series and became one of only three cricketers voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Steele finished with an average of 42.06 from eight Tests, nearly 10 runs more than his county average.

4 Nasser Hussain
With two fingers to the press box and two ways of playing his cricket - tough and stubbornly - Hussain squeezed every ounce of his ability out of his persistently broken fingers. In the early days of Hussain's career the idea that this young firebrand would ever lead England with acumen and intelligence and turn them into a competitive, professional team would have been as likely as, well, England producing a competitive, professional team.

5 Andy Ganteaume
With no formal coaching Ganteaume, an opening batsmen, was a decent cricketer for his native Trinidad. After impressing in practice matches against England in 1947-48, Ganteaume, then 27, was called up for the second Test at Port-of-Spain. He struck 112 in his only innings but, due to more talented players returning from injury, was never picked again. He did, however, finish with a higher Test average than Don Bradman.

JWHT - 'Johnny Won't Hit Today' - Douglas © Getty Images
6 Johnny Douglas
Ian Botham, Keith Miller and Imran Khan emptied bars; Douglas could cause an exodus from the stands. More dour than dashing with the bat and more solid than sparkling with the ball, Douglas captained England to an away Ashes victory in 1911-12. A hero in Essex, Douglas managed the double - 100 wickets and 1,000 runs in a season - five times without the innate talent of the aforementioned allrounders.

7 John Emburey
Although Emburey finished with a less than flattering bowling average of 38.40, his Test career lasted 17 years. His bowling got flatter and faster and he went on two rebel tours. But still England kept going back to good old Embers. And then there was his batting. which progressed from looking like Phil Tufnell's ugly sister to a bizarre concoction of no footwork but plenty of improvisation; he finished with a healthy Test average of 22.53.

8 Wasim Bari
As a keeper Bari was very safe but did not indulge in the kind of dives that made Jeff Dujon, Rod Marsh and Alan Knott great. With the bat he averaged only 15.88 and made 19 Test match ducks. However, his enthusiasm and his obsessive Jonny Wilkinson-esque practising ensured he was Pakistan's first choice behind the stumps for more than 15 years.

9 Frank Chester
A First World War injury ended Chester's hugely promising career; he lost his right arm just below the elbow. Undeterred, Chester put on the white coat and started his distinguished career as an umpire in 1922. In his obituary Wisden wrote that he "will be remembered as the man who raised umpiring to a higher level than had ever been known in the history of cricket".

10 Courtney Walsh
Walsh lacked the eye-popping brutality of Ambrose, the prodigious swing of Marshall and the sheer pace of Patterson but, in terms of wicket-taking, he remains the most successful quick bowler of all time. He did not get his hands on the new ball until around eight years after his Test debut, and it was his unerring length and his endurance, rather than any extravagant movement, that brought him 519 wickets. Implausibly for a fast bowler, he played 132 Tests. Only three players - all batsmen - have played more.

11 Steve Waugh
Couldn't hook, couldn't pull, couldn't go anywhere without his baggy green. It was Waugh's love of winning, rather than his fine but unspectacular talent, that turned him from a good player into one of the greats. As Ian Chappell told Tony Greig: "You've just said he was the finest allrounder in the southern hemisphere. I'm not sure if he's the finest allrounder in his own family." Not bad, then, that he went on to average 51.06 from 168 Tests and captain Australia to 41 Test victories.

This article was first published in the February issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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