By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published January 16, 2017, in the Western Mirror.
A purely statistical look at the batsmen who were the hardest and easiest to dismiss in Test cricket.
Three weeks ago, a few of my friends engaged me in a debate about batsmen who were a menace for teams in Test cricket. This were players who once they walked from the pavilion to the middle, teams knew that it would require extreme luck and/or enormous skill to make them return – and even sometimes, with all that, nothing seemed to work. These were players who displayed yogic powers of concentration at the crease and treasured their wickets above all else.
The intense discussions had several cricket lovers nominating their favourite yeoman-like players and describing their invaluable service to their respective teams. Names bandied about include retired players such as Australia’s Steve Waugh and Allan Border, West Indies’ Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Jimmy Adams, India’s Rahul “The Wall” Dravid and Sunil Gavaskar, South Africa’s Jacques Kallis, and the England’s Geoffrey Boycott. In addition to those retired, players of current vintage were also mentioned, including South Africa’s Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla and Pakistan’s Younus Khan.
However, this also got me thinking about the small or not-so-great walls of Test cricket and the answer to the question of who were the easiest scalps in Test cricket. In all likelihood, these players would be tailenders or specialist bowlers who paid more attention to getting wickets with the ball than getting runs with the bat.
Swiftly, several of my friends who are West Indian fans of 1990s cricket quickly nominated one of the most stylish or eyesore tailenders – depending on how you look at it – in Test cricket, Courtney Walsh. Walsh earned several records at the end of his career with the ball. However, those records garnered with the bat were the ones seared in the minds of my friends when we had this discussion. Walsh’s ‘comical incompetence’ with the willow -as described by Simon Briggs – is what brought both laughter and fear to many of West Indian hearts in the 1990s. However, was his wicket the easiest to fleece in Test cricket?
An investigation of this magnitude would be best served if the number of balls faced by every batsman during every innings in Test cricket history was available. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Several legends of the game, particularly gifted in mind-numbing concentration, had a few innings in their careers where the number of balls they faced in an inning was not recorded. This is highly popular among a few players who started their careers prior to 1990/91. As such, for this analysis, only the players who we have the complete number of balls faced during their careers are included in the analysis.
Regrettably, legends such as Sir Donald Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar, and many others had to be excluded. Nevertheless, from the available data of the players whose ever ball in Test cricket was recorded, who were cricket’s greatest and smallest walls in Test cricket? Let us have a look at the numbers of the players who have played at minimum 40 Test matches in their careers.
Rahul Dravid is one of the greatest batsmen the game has ever seen. For his career in Test cricket, Dravid has amassed over 13,000 runs at an average of 52.31 runs per dismissal. On 99 occasions in 164 matches, he has scored 50 runs or more in an inning, which including 36 centuries. Dravid is not the best of all-time in any of those categories mentioned, however, in terms of the average balls faced per dismissal, Dravid tops all with 123 balls per dismissal. In layman terms, it took, on average 20 and a half overs being bowled by a team solely to Dravid for him to be dismissed. Astounding! Henceforth, it is unsurprising why he was nicknamed “The Wall” as he stood in the way of many teams cartwheeling India in Test matches.
Mister Class himself, Jacques Kallis is number two on the list with an average of 120 balls faced per dismissal. Telford Vice described Kallis as a batsman whose “looming presence inspired calm in some and dread in others.” Indeed, for teams seeing Kallis walk to the crease after South Africa had lost two early wickets would know that the job was far from complete. Kallis is one of the greatest batsmen and one of the greatest all-rounders of all time, with no equal but Sir Garfield Sobers. Kallis’s career also saw him score over 13,000 runs at an average of 55.37 runs per dismissal with over 103 scores of 50 plus, including 45 centuries in 166 matches.
The Tiger from Guyana, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, rounds off a colossal top-3 of stalwarts that prized their wickets above all else. Chanderpaul, the sole line of defence during his career against teams walking through the inept batting line-ups for the West Indies, averaged 118 balls per dismissal. During his career, he accumulated over 11,000 runs, including 96 scores of 50 or more with an average of 51.37 runs per dismissal in 164 matches.
The top-10 great walls of Test cricket is completed by Andy Flower, Azhar Ali, Jimmy Adams, David Boon, Kumar Sangakkara, Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor.
Table 1. The Hardest Batsmen to Dismiss in Test cricket (Minimum 40 Test matches)
|Rank||Batsman||Balls per dismissal|
|1||Rahul Dravid (INDIA)||123|
|2||Jacques Kallis (SA)||120|
|3||Shivnarine Chanderpaul (WI)||119|
|4||Andy Flower (ZIM)||114|
|5||Azhar Ali (PAK)*||112|
|6||Jimmy Adams (WI)||110|
|7||David Boon (AUS)||107|
|8||Kumar Sangakkara (SL)||106|
|9||Steve Waugh (AUS)||105|
|10||Mark Taylor (AUS)||105|
*Pakistan’s Azhar Ali is the only active player to make this top-10 list.
Surprising for some, but not for me, Chris Martin, was the easiest scalp in Test cricket. He required on average just fewer than 12 balls for him to return to the pavilion. Brydon Coverdale describes Martin’s batting as “outrageously feeble” and “comically inept” while Steven Lynch summarises it as “endearingly useless”. In 71 Tests, spanning 102 innings, Martin reached double figures only once, and that was in his 36th Test, which brought a “riotous applause” from the Bangladeshi spectators.
Equally maladroit with willow in hand was Jamaican-born English cricketer, Devon Malcolm. Malcolm, who was a bowler of raw pace, had a cult status in world cricket. However, his cult-like following was not for his bouncers or pace beating the bat, but for his “court-jester standard” in batting and fielding which was a sight or an embarrassment for sore eyes. In Test cricket, he faced on average only 13 balls between him putting on his pads in the pavilion and him taking them off on his return.
Pakistan’s Danish Kaneria, Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan and England’s Monty Panesar round up the top-5 smallest walls. Interestingly, of players to play 40 or more Test matches, Walsh is the sixth-smallest overall and the smallest West Indian with the bat during his career. On one hand, the six-foot-five-inch Walsh was one of the smallest walls in Test cricket, but on the bright side I guess, he wasn’t the smallest of them all.
Table 2. Easiest Batsmen to Dismiss in Test cricket (Minimum 40 Test matches)
|Rank||Batsman||Balls per dismissal|
|1||Chris Martin (NZ)||12|
|2||Devon Malcolm (ENG)||13|
|3||Danish Kaneria (PAK)||15|
|4||Muttiah Muralitharan (SL)||17|
|5||Monty Panesar (ENG)||17|
|6||Courtney Walsh (WI)||17|
|7||Glenn McGrath (AUS)||18|
|8||Pramodya Wickramasinghe (SL)||19|
|9||Tim Southee (NZ)*||19|
|10||Stuart MacGill (AUS)||20|
*Tim Southee is the only active player to make the list.
Until next time…
WRITER’S NOTE: All data for this article was obtained from ESPN Cricinfo Database prior on January 12, 2017.
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter. In two innings during a tournament at the Lucaya Cricket Club in The Bahamas in 1997, he was thankfully dismissed in fewer than half the balls it took to dismiss Courtney Walsh or Chris Martin on average in Test cricket.
Zaheer’s articles have been published by ESPN Cricinfo, The Western Mirror, The Jamaica Observer, Trinidad Express, Essentially Sports and many others.
This blog article was first published in the Western Mirror on January 16, 2017. A corrected version was reprinted on January 30, 2017.