Ask The Spider #109

What’s the biggest deficit a team has faced after a match’s second-innings where that team has gone on to save it?

At The Oval in 1987, Pakistan, already one-nil up in the series going into the final match, piled-up 708 all out, then bowled England out for a paltry 232, thus gaining a first-innings lead of 476 and challenging England to bat over four sessions to save the match. England, however, salvaged some measure of pride by doing that, mostly thanks to an extraordinarily gritty last-day stand between captain Mike Gatting and a 31-year-old Ian Botham. The 209-ball 51* was almost certainly the most out-of-character knock of Botham’s career, and also his last significant act as a Test cricketer – thereafter he never scored another half-century and never took more than two wickets in an innings.

Have there been any specialist batsmen who made a pair on Test debut and went on to play 50+ Tests?

Yes, there have been four so far, though their fortunes were all decidedly mixed. Graham Gooch was caught on a “sticky” wicket when he made his debut against Australia at Edgbaston in 1975 and was twice caught behind by Rodney Marsh for zero (rumour abounds that Jeff Thomson, who dismissed Gooch in the second-innings, remarked that he was sure Gooch would go on to great things after nicking that particular ball, which he said he would have expected to beat the edge by a distance). After that chastening experience (followed by 6 and 31 in the next game) he returned in 1978 and for the next decade was a strong presence at the top of England’s order, before going on to still greater things between 1990 and 1993. Ken Rutherford’s experience was possibly more harrowing still – when New Zealand travelled to the Caribbean in 1985 they faced one of the finest teams in history at something like the peak of their powers, and even on the slow pitch at Queen’s Park Oval the 19-year-old Rutherford, thrown to the lions as an opener, found Malcolm Marshall far too hot to handle in the first-innings and was run-out without facing in the second. Moved all around the order, Rutherford averaged a mere 11.20 in his first 13 Tests, and though he did later go on to enjoy some success, a career average of 27.08 from 56 Tests was a massive disappointment, given his prolific form in domestic cricket at home and in South Africa. Saeed Anwar enjoyed a terrific career as a Test opener for Pakistan between 1993/94 and 2001, but for a long time his disastrous debut at the usual “bowler’s graveyard” at Faisalabad in 1990/91 seemed to have led to him being pigeonholed as a ODI specialist – he fell foul of the menacing pair of Curtley Ambrose and Ian Bishop. In a Test played simultaneously between India and Sri Lanka, a young Lankan named Marvan Atapattu – just days past his 20th birthday – made a terrible start in a manner which would go on to haunt him throughout his career. Atapattu played 90 Tests (almost all between 1996/97 and 2005/06), and though he often demonstrated some of the most attractive strokeplay and unflappable immovability ever seen on a cricket field, there were as many occasions where it was impossible to believe it was the same player. Atapattu made 8 scores of 170 or more, and was also dismissed for 10 or less 55 times (including 22 ducks).

And have there been any bowlers who took 0-100 or more and went on to play 50+ Tests?

Yes, and all three number among their country’s finest. The first, Jeff Thomson, was foolish to play the Third Test in 1972/73 – he failed to disclose to the Australian selectors that he was suffering from a broken foot, and was caned by the otherwise downtrodden Pakistanis for 110 runs off 19 eight-ball overs. Thomson would go on to be a terrifying prospect for a few years between 1974/75 and 1977, before joining Kerry Packer (later than the rest of his team-mates) and returning to do a serviceable job between 1979/80 and 1982/83. Equally unconsidered was his decision to return in England in 1985, where he bowled arguably even worse than on debut. But for these ill-advised forays, Thomson would have played just 48 Tests – and his career record would more accurately reflect the job he did. When 21-year-old Michael Holding was taken to Australia in 1975/76 the idea was that he would gain experience from touring and soon become a part of West Indies’ burgeoning side, but instead he played five out of the six Tests – rather prematurely so it turned-out, as he averaged 61.40, including 0-127 in the opener. Holding was not chastened by the experience as some might have been, however – from the very next series, at home to India, he got the hang of Test cricket, and terrified batsmen over the planet over the course of 54 Tests over the next decade. Heath Streak was just 19 when he was picked to tour Pakistan in 1993/94, and the elevation might well have seemed premature when he sent down 39 utterly ineffective overs in the First Test at National Stadium as his side were hammered. Not a bit of it – Streak bounced back in stunning fashion with 8-114 in the Second Test and, before a stunning collapse in the run-chase, looked as though he might have led Zimbabwe to their inaugural Test victory. He would undoubtedly have gone on to play many more than 65 Tests had the country not fallen apart in the early 2000s, and but for a shoulder injury in the late 1990s may conceivably have established himself as a bowler fit to rank with Holding and Thomson. Jerome Taylor, who took 0-116 on debut against Sri Lanka in 2003, has so far played 29 Tests and, not even quite 26 as of this column, may well join the club at some point.


>> At The Oval in 1987, Pakistan, already one-nil up in the series going into the final match, piled-up 708 all out, then bowled England out for a paltry 232, thus gaining a first-innings lead of 476

What about England 849 v West Indies 286 at Kingston, 1929-30 ?

Comment by Tapioca | 12:00am BST 6 June 2010

I was presuming the question meant in finite-length Tests – the famous 1930 Sabina Test (only, of course, a Test retrospectively) was, of course, a timeless match which was only abandoned as a draw because England had to go home. I\’m pretty sure The Oval 1987 was the biggest first-innings deficit where the team saved the game conventionally.

Comment by Rich | 12:00am BST 13 June 2010

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