The useless XI

If you live in a cricket-loving household like ours, a regular Friday night conversation after a couple of pints is ‘So what would be your all-time _____ XI?’ which is followed by much headscratching about whether or not you can really leave Len Hutton or Geoffrey Boycott out of an England greatest hits team. So in a moment of inspiration we decided to turn the tables and put together an XI of ineptitude – eleven players with records they really wouldn’t want. Now we’re going to have to go largely on statistics because, as early twenty-somethings, we’ve hardly seen first-hand the vast majority of Test history. That said, there are some fairly spectacularly inept statistics to go on. So here we go:

1. Lowest batting average (career, min. 20 innings) – Pommie Mbangwa – 2.00: We did think about upping the minimum, thereby giving this to Chris Martin, just… well because. No one has sustained such total awfulness in batting as Martin, who through 67 Tests has 33 ducks and an average of 2.38. However, for as long as we’ve been watching Martin bat (which is never very long in one go), his dismal record has always been qualified by commentators who say that he’s not as bad as Pommie Mbangwa was. This is some achievement, so let’s have a look at the numbers. In 15 Tests and 25 innings, Mbangwa scored 9 ducks and only scored more than 5 once (making 8). He only ever scored 3 boundaries, and we’re prepared to bet that none of them were off the middle of the bat. In his last five Tests, he made scores of 0, 0, 0, 0*, 0, 0, 4 (!) and 0, before finishing his career on a high with a magnificent 2. We’ve struggled to find much footage of his prowess, save for this one (very short) innings in an ODI against Pakistan. If that’s anything to go by, we surprised he managed to drag his average up to 2. Just look at that backlift!

2. Lowest career strike rate (by a batsman – average min. 20) – Trevor Franklin – 26.44 runs per 100 balls: Some might argue that this isn’t a stat that should count against a player – slow batting does admittedly have its place. It’s also difficult to quantify this given that records for balls faced have only reliably been kept since the late seventies. But the leading contenders in this category took slow batting to a new level and continued it across their career and therefore deserve recognition. Take Chris Tavare, who infamously scored 35 off 240 balls against India in 1982 – that’s just counterproductive. Also high on this list is none other than Mike Brearley, perhaps England’s finest post-war captain, but almost certainly England’s slowest, scoring at 29.79. The outright winner of this very very slow race is New Zealand’s Trevor Franklin, who became something of a cult hero (the things that get New Zealanders excited…) in his 21 Tests. His career strike rate was a funereal 26.44 and only once in 37 innings did he score more than a run every 2 balls (50+ SR). His lone Test hundred at Lord’s took him 310 balls and over seven hours. He spent 45 minutes on 98. Apparently when he finally got there, he was cheered to the rafters, rather as you might cheer that kid who comes in five minutes after everyone else in the 1500 metres at school sports day. However, unlike the rest of us, he does have a Lord’s hundred, and most of us would probably bat for seven hours if it meant we got one.

3. Worst batting average (by a batsman – min. 20 innings) – Lawrie Miller – 13.84: Pommie Mbangwa may be the clear winner in terms of rubbish batting average, but he was hardly expected to go out and score lots of runs. So who was the worst of the ones who were? This excludes wicketkeepers, who back in black-and-white days weren’t expected to get runs either. The worst of the worst statistically and recipient of the highly coveted TGECF Worst Batsman award is New Zealand’s Lawrie Miller. The thing is that most batsmen usually get ditched after 5 or 6 matches if it’s clear they’re not cut out for it. Miller went on to play 13 before the selectors gave him the boot. Of course, this was in the early days of NZ Test cricket, when they probably didn’t have a lot of choice, however, Miller’s record didn’t exactly inspire confidence that he was going to cut the mustard. In 25 innings he didn’t once pass 50, only twice passed 40 and scored 5 ducks (including 4 in a row, which put him in contention for Ajit Agarkar’s record, see below), finishing with just 346 runs at 13.84. He was bounced around the batting order, starting up in the middle order before being pushed up to opener, presumably in the vain hope that it might shock some life into his Test career. It didn’t.

4. Longest duck streak – Ajit Agarkar – 5: There are actually three finalists for this award, all of whom once scored a record five consecutive Test ducks. However, of the three, Bob Holland and Mohammad Asif (currently living it up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure) are genuine bowlers who can be forgiven for a certain level of ineptitude. The other nominee, by contrast, has a Test century and also has the rare distinction of appearing on both this list and the Topsy-turvy XI we published a while back. Yes, Ajit Agarkar’s back again. Even if this spot had been open to all and sundry, Agarkar would have topped the list in any case, as four of the five (in a row) were golden ducks, which is incompetence of a totally different level. Special mention should also be made of the fact that his duck streak against Australia at one stage was a biblical seven in a row. It does slightly beg the question as to how he ever managed to get a Test century (and at Lord’s to boot). Maybe he’s just a very slow starter.

5. The Rob Jones / Lars Boyde Memorial Thanks-For-Coming (TFC) Lifetime Achievement Award – Jack MacBryan: We considered making the three South African batsmen who scored pairs and didn’t bowl or take a catch in their only Test eligible for this award, however we thought their performances were far too prominent by virtue of the fact that they actually got to the crease and batted. Twice. The TFC is an award reserved for only the most anonymous of performances and with that in mind there is only one contender statistically. The Test career of Jack MacBryan entirely consisted of one very rain-affected Test for England against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1924. Let’s summarise his statistics: Tests:1 (well that’s a good start), Innings batted: 0, Balls bowled: 0, Catches: 0. Yes, MacBryan did precisely nothing of note in Test cricket, and never played again. In his favour, he did play a Test match, which is more than 99.9% of the cricketers out there, and he does have an Olympic gold medal for hockey. So that’s something. But the TFC is all yours, Jack, and we tip our hat to you for that.

6. Worst all-rounder (min. 2 innings batted, min. 10 overs bowled) – Gavin Hamilton: We thought there should be a place for someone picked for both batting and bowling prowess, but who turned out to draw a total blank in both. Like some others on this list, our winner in this category only played one Test. There are two contenders, both of whom in their only Test got a pair, didn’t take a wicket (notwithstanding their best efforts) and didn’t take a catch. However, Len Butterfield, who comes a close second, did at least bowl tidily by all accounts, with his 13 overs only going for 24. The outright winner, therefore, is Scotland’s own Gavin Hamilton, who played just the one Test for England in South Africa in 1999 before being kicked into the long savannah grass, never to be seen again, as was the style of the England management in the nineties (although he did play 38 ODIs for Scotland). His magnificent pair in that match lasted all of nine balls, his 15 overs disappeared at 4.2 an over and he didn’t even take a catch. An outstanding performance, fully deserving of a place in this side.

7. Highest percentage of an innings in byes (by a designated keeper, min. 20 byes in innings) Godfrey Evans – 15.87% : It’s not such an easy task to choose a keeper for this team. Most keepers at international level are pretty good (except Umar Akmal, obviously) and it’s often difficult to say with certainty that a bad performance wasn’t due to a difficult pitch or erratic bowling. We could have landed a cheap shot and put in Matt Prior or Dinesh Karthik, who hold the joint record for most byes conceded in an innings (35) by a keeper, but both of those were in scores of over 500. So we decided to go with a combination of the highest percentage of byes in an innings and at least 20 byes conceded, which shows sustained uncoordination through an innings. And the winner is therefore Godfrey Evans, a great keeper, just not (it seems) this one time. Against New Zealand in 1951, he conceded a hefty 30 byes in a total of only 189, or 15.87% of the total, albeit on a wicket that was apparently wet in parts and dry in others (not fun). Even so, that’s the sort of percentage where you start putting a longstop in. Special mention must go to Tiger Smith, who kept for England before WWI, and who once conceded 18 byes (thus missing out on qualification) in a total of 93, which is very nearly 20%. However, by all accounts he was standing up against Sydney Barnes and Frank Foster who were pretty sharpish and jagging the ball around, plus he’d taken a ‘severe blow’ in the mouth from Barnes while keeping in the first innings, requiring stitches. Without our 20-bye qualifier, though, the statistically worst keeping performance in an innings comes from Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim against India in 2010 – with two needed to win, Rahim missed a low ball outside off stump and the batsmen ran two. Rahim thereby became the only keeper to have conceded 100% of a side’s total in byes. Oops.

8. Most expensive bowling (career, min. 10 overs bowled) – Bryce McGain – 8.27 rpo: It’s the pinnacle of your career – after whiling away your youth as an IT manager, you suddenly, aged 36, get a call-up to the Australian Test team for the 3rd Test against South Africa. Getting handed the baggy green is the stuff (Australian) dreams are made of, right? Well in McGain’s case, that dream turned into something worse than can possibly have been in his worst nightmare. It wasn’t pretty. After he bowled 18 overs, he would have looked up at his figures on the scoreboard hoping to see something along the lines of perhaps 2-45? Maybe two wickets is a bit presumptuous – after all it’s your debut and the Saffer batting lineup isn’t bad – let’s call it 1-45. Yes, he’d probably have been fairly happy with that. However, he might have needed a calculator to fully understand what the scoreboard actually read after his 18 overs. 18-2-149-0. Ouch. At 8.27 rpo, it was the second most expensive innings economy rate in Test history (after Shahadat Hossain’s 12-0-101-0 against England at Lord’s in 2005). And there were two maidens, so the other 16 overs went at 9.31. Cripes. You know when even the opposition are feeling sorry for you, you’re probably not cut out for this international lark. McGain never bowled again in Tests (to date), thereby making him by nearly two rpo the most expensive bowler in Test history. We reckon, even now, each night when he closes his eyes he sees AB de Villiers carting him for yet another six… (the full, sordid text commentary of his bowling can be found here)

9. Highest bowling average & strike rate (all-rounder / specialist bowler – min. 5 wickets) – Asoka de Silva – 129.00: If you remove the qualification of being an actual bowler, the worst average of all time (min. 5 wickets) is currently none other than our own Kevin Pietersen (146.2). However, we thought it a bit harsh to lump him with this stat, what with the fact that he averages almost 50 with the bat, so we restricted it further to bowlers / genuine all-rounders only. This dredges up Asoka de Silva, sometime international umpire, who played for Sri Lanka in the late eighties and early nineties. A legspinner, de Silva’s overall first class record was pretty good, averaging under 25. However, his weight of wickets, even in that arena, was somewhat lacking, and in 10 Test matches, he never took more than 2 wickets in an innings and finished with 8 career wickets at a Whopper-with-Cheese average of 129. When you add to that the fact that it took him nearly 50 overs to take each of those wickets (SR 291.0 – also the highest for anyone taking at least 5 wickets), we’re clearly looking at someone pretty special. De Silva therefore gets the coveted TGECF medal as statistically the worst bowler of all-time. Congratulations. You’ve really earnt it, Asoka.

10. Most balls without taking a wicket (match) – Maurice Tate – 600: Being a bowler can be a rotten deal sometimes. Flat tracks can make bowling a fearful toil and nowhere is this better displayed than Tate’s fruitless efforts in the timeless 5th Test at Melbourne in 1928/9. Now Tate was a very fine bowler, finishing his career with 155 Test wickets. So he just had a bad match, then? Yep, worse than any other bowler has ever had. In Australia’s first innings, England’s bowlers sent down 271.3 overs as the Aussies made 491. Tate bowled 62 of them without taking a wicket. He only went for 102 runs though, which we doubt was very much consolation to a grumpy fast bowler who had just spent three days banging his head against a metaphorical brick wall. The second innings didn’t go any better. Tate bowled another 38 overs for 76 runs and, you guessed it, didn’t take a wicket. His 600 balls (100 overs) without a wicket in the match is by some distance the most in Test history. We suspect he needed a very long soak in the bath after that.

11. Most balls without taking a wicket (career) – JL Hopwood – 462: Maurice Tate had one bad match. For Len Hopwood, his entire career must have rivalled Tate’s sense of helplessness in that Melbourne Test. Plenty of people have never taken a Test wicket, (of those who bowled at least 10 overs, there are 315) but no one has bowled more balls than Hopwood without taking one. He only played two Tests, but didn’t take a single wicket in 77 overs. For something that is your raison d’etre, that’s a pretty bad state of affairs (technically Hopwood was an all-rounder, but he wasn’t much good at that either, only scoring 12 runs in 3 innings). He did have the substantial misfortune of bowling at Bradman on his way to 304 at Headingley in 1934 but sadly, Len, the figures don’t lie. Console yourself that you’ve won a place on this list – you’ve joined a much more select group.

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1 Comment

  1. The Batsman in Chris Martin will be very happy to see this list! 😛 He usually makes it to every such list. 😀


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