Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The worst Test opening batsmen

I spent yesterday afternoon looking for inept batsmen who had nevertheless opened the batting for their country in Test cricket. Here's some of what I found. Some of it is boring but most of it's pretty interesting.

20. Howard Francis (South Africa). First-class average: 12.90.

Francis is one of the luckiest players to have ever played Test cricket, luckier even than Nathan Hauritz. A very occasional wicket-keeper, he was picked as a specialist batsman by South Africa for their two Tests against England in 1898/9. Why he was picked is not clear to me - he had made a score of 38 in the previous season for Western Province, but the only half-century (55) of his career had come whilst in England nearly five years earlier. He batted at 3 in both innings of the first Test, making 29 in the second innings. He was promoted to open the innings in the second Test but got out for 1. Dropped down to number five for the second innings, his score of 2 was actually not that bad in an innings where South Africa were skittled for 35.

He played only one more first-class match, against the touring Australians in 1902/3.

19. John Hartley (England). First-class average: 12.89.

Picked as a legspinner for England in two Tests against South Africa in 1906, he opened the batting in the second innings of his debut Test when Plum Warner partially reversed the batting order.

18. Harry Butt (England). First-class average: 12.83.

A wicket-keeper in the days when they weren't expected to bat, he was number eleven in three of his four Test innings. He opened the batting in the second innings of his debut Test as a nightwatchman. He was dismissed off the last ball of the day for a duck. South Africa were bowled out for 30 in their second innings.

Why George Lohmann opened the batting for England in their first innings is a mystery to me.

17. Goofy Lawrence (South Africa). First-class average: 12.63.

For no obvious reason, he was promoted from his usual spot of number nine to open the batting in the first innings of what proved to be his last Test, against New Zealand in 1961/2. He did well, top scoring with 43, before being banished back to number eight for the second innings.

16. Alfred Shaw (England). First-class average: 12.44.

Shaw was one of England's opening bowlers in the first Test series. In the second Test, he was promoted to open in what looks like a measure to protect the batsmen from a sticky. He was dismissed, along with regular opener Jupp, before stumps on day 1, to leave England 2/7.

15. Arthur Mailey (Australia). First-class average: 12.33.

Mailey is best remembered as Australia's best legspinner in the 1920's. All of his innings for Australia were at either number ten or number eleven, except in this match. With South Africa taking two innings to match Australia's first innings score, Herbie Collins sent out Mailey and wicket-keeper Sammy Collins to knock off the run. Mailey did so off his first ball.

14. Edwin Evans (Australia). First-class average: 12.26.

England made 434 in their first innings in the third Test in 1886. But perhaps then it started to rain? Whatever the cause, Australia were all out for a boring 68 in 60.2 four-ball overs in reply. Following on, Evans was sent in to open the batting as a nightwatchman. He and McIlwraith batted out the day, but Australia lost by an innings and 217 anyway.

13. Ciss Parkin (England). First-class average: 11.77.

England had forty minutes to bat out on the last day of this dull draw in the 1921 Ashes series. Parkin got to open, where he feasted on the non-regular bowlers, scoring 23 in 27 minutes.

12. Azeem Hafeez (Pakistan). First-class average: 11.39.

Another case of teams having fun to end a drawn match. Against such bowlers as Dilip Vengsarkar, Azeem scored 18.

11. Ian Meckiff (Australia). First-class average: 11.27.

Same deal. This time the draw was against India.

10. Danny Morrison (New Zealand). First-class average: 10.94.

Having been set a target of 2, John Wright sent out his number ten (Martin Snedden) and number eleven (Morrison) to open. They each scored a single.

9. Bert Strudwick (England). First-class average: 10.88.

England's wicket-keeper was sent out to open the batting as a nightwatchman in the third Test against South Africa in 1909/10. He saw out the day and even made five runs on day five. England reached their target of 221 with three wickets in hand.

8. Percy Hornibrook (Australia). First-class average: 10.77.

The fifth Test of the 1928/9 Ashes series was a dead rubber, England having won the previous four. On a flat track, England eventually set Australia a target of 286. Australia started their innings late on day five, and Jack Ryder sent out Bert Oldfield and Hornibrook (on debut) as nightwatchmen. They saw out the day and a good deal of day six, as they put on 51 runs in 97 minutes. Ryder and a young Don Bradman saw Australia through to victory, on day eight, by five wickets.

7. Harry Boyle (Australia). First-class average: 10.24.

In the Test in England in 1880, England batted first and, led by WG Grace's 152, they made 420. In reply, Australia's batsmen either got out early or couldn't go on after making a start. Boyle, batting at number eight, top-scored with an unbeaten 36 in a total of 149. England enforced the follow-on, and it looks like Billy Murdoch told Boyle to keep the pads on. Unfortunately, Boyle lasted only seven balls in the second innings, making 3.

Australia were headed for a big innings defeat before the ninth and tenth wicket partnerships, which yielded 52 and 88 runs respectively. England lost five wickets on their way to the target of 57.

6. Albert Powell (South Africa). First-class average: 9.86.

Albert Powell's only Test was the same one in which Howard Francis opened the batting (see above). That two batsmen of such ineptness opened the batting in one match makes this Test pretty special. But let's not be too harsh on Powell - his 11 was the highest score in South Africa's 35.

Powell also bowled sometimes, which makes his selection a little bit more fathomable than Francis's.

5. Johnny Hayes (New Zealand). First-class average: 9.54.

Another tame draw. Hayes plundered the likes of Denis Compton and Cyril Washbrook for 19 at better than one a ball.

4. Allen Hill (England). First-class average: 8.94.

In the first Test, Hill batted at 9 in the first innings, scoring a quick 35 not out. In the second innings, Lillywhite jumbled the batting order, letting Hill open the innings. He made a second ball duck. But a 49 in the second Test helped his Test average to 50.5, well above his first-class average.

3. Ken Farnes (England). First-class average: 8.32.

The first Test against the West Indies in 1934/5 was played on a sticky. George Headley's 44 led the West Indies to 102 in their first innings. England replied with a fairly quick 7dec/81, led by Wally Hammond's 43. The Windies made it tit-for-tat declarations as they declared at 6/51, setting England a target of 73.

Bob Wyatt then ordered Farnes and Jim Smith (another tailender) to open the batting for the run chase. Errol Holmes, a competent lower-order bat, batted at 3. One can't say for sure whether the tactic was effective, but England won, scoring the required runs at four and a half per over.

2. Albert Rose-Innes (South Africa). First-class average: 7.77.

Rose-Innes played his two Tests in the series against England in 1888/9. Charles Davis describes the second Test as being the match the least worthy of Test status of all matches now regarded as Tests. Apparently Rose-Innes could bat well at club level, but he averaged just 3.5 in his four innings opening for South Africa, and less than eight in his seven first-class matches.

1. Chuck Fleetwood-Smith (Australia). First-class average: 7.34.

This match has gone into folklore in Australia, but perhaps there are some of you unfamiliar with it.

Australia batted first and made 9dec/200. The innings finished on day two; England were caught on a sticky and made 9dec/76, the declaration coming just before stumps. Bradman sent Bill O'Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith to open. O'Reilly got out caught and bowled to Voce first ball. Frank Ward was sent in as nightwatchman, and he and Fleetwood-Smith survived the rest of the day.

The next day was a rest day, and a day of dry weather was good for the pitch. Fleetwood-Smith promptly got out when play resumed on Monday, and then the regular batsmen went in. Bradman batted at seven and made 270, a record for a number seven which still stands. He added 346 for the sixth wicket with Jack Fingleton, another record that still stands.

Chasing an unlikely 689 for victory, England made only 323.

And for those of you who prefer big-dataset statistical analyses rather than anecdotes, I'll get around to it.

This comment has been removed by the author.

I thought most NZ openers qualified.:)
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