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Ask the Spider: Ask The Spider #134
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Q: With a break in the Test schedule as the World Cup takes place, I was wondering what the current Test Championship looks like using the original, straightforward system which the ICC adopted from Wisden when they begun the Test Championship.

A :Currently, if one excludes series' against Zimbabwe (who have barely played, rightly so, for the last 7 years) and Bangladesh (who have still lost every Test series they have played except the one against West Indies' second-team in 2009 and against Zimbabwe's rabble in 2004/05) entirely, standings read thus:
India 21
= Australia 19
= South Africa 19
= England 14
= Pakistan 14
= Sri Lanka 14
New Zealand 5
West Indies 4

This emphasises just how level a playing-field Test cricket currently is. Only 15 of the 56 current series' are more than 4 years old (and one-third of these are Pakistan home series' which have been impossible for a while now).
Q: How many players played official Test matches for the Australia A team that turned-out in Tests between 1977/78 and 1979/80 without ever appearing for a full-strength Australian team?

A: Out of the 31 players who turned-out in Packer-afflicted Tests, there were 13 who never played for the real first-team: Wayne Clark, Paul Hibbert, Tony Mann, David Ogilvie, "Sam" Gannon, Ian Callen, Rick Darling, Trevor Laughlin, John Maclean, Phil Carlson, Kevin Wright, Dav Whatmore and John Moss. Alan Hurst also played just a single Test outside the schism, in 1973/74 as a replacement for the injured Max Walker. Two others, Andrew Hilditch and Steve Rixon, did appear again after it but not until 5 years later. The most surprising turn-out, however, was almost certainly Bobby Simpson - who had retired from Test cricket a whole decade previously.
Q: And how many of those who appeared during it had played before?

A: Not many. Aside from the eye-popping return of Simpson, there was only one player who turned-out in official Tests during the WSC era who had any real prior pedigree, that being Jeff Thomson - who initially turned Packer down before accepting in WSC's second season. There was also Gary Cosier, a middle-order batsman who had appeared with some success in 1975/76 and 1976/77. Hurst, as mentioned, had played a one-off in 1973/74; Geoff Dymock appeared 3 times that season as he competed with Gary Gilmour to fill the boots of Dennis Lillee, who missed that whole season with serious back trouble, and also once in 1974/75 as a replacement for the injured Thomson. The only others were Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop - Yallop had played 3 times (with some success) in 1975/76 before being left-out the following season, and Hughes had played the last Test of the pre-Packer era (a dead one, with The Ashes already lost), specifically on the grounds that he was one of the players who would form the immediate future.
Q: Finally, how many would appear again after, and how many would enjoy any success?

A: Peter Toohey, who enjoyed some success in official Tests during the schism, appeared twice at the start of the home season of 1979/80 after David Hookes was injured, before being replaced by Ian Chappell (who had only come out of retirement due to Packer). Thomson would return with the rest of the top players, and would do a serviceable, bit-part job between 1979/80 and his retirement at the end of 1982/83 (the outcome of his coming out of retirement briefly in 1985 is best not discussed). John Dyson, who appeared in just 3 wholly unsuccessful Tests during the schism, would enjoy some success between 1980/81 and 1982/83. Hughes and Yallop would be two of Australia's best players between 1979/80 and 1983/84 before electing for Rebel tours at a time when they were in the prime of their careers. Graeme Wood enjoyed some success during the schism and was a solid performer between 1980 and 1982/83, before a couple of less successful periods later at a time where Australia struggled badly. Rodney Hogg, who was easily the Packer-gutted Australia's best bowler (outdoing even Thomson), was a useful backup player between 1979/80 and 1983/84 before he, too, elected for Rebel tours (unlike Hughes and Yallop he was unlikely to have lost much - he was 34 by then). Jim Higgs and Bruce Yardley, two serviceable spinners during Packer, enjoyed brief times in the sun afterward (Higgs in 1980/81, Yardley in 1981/82) but both were getting on in years by that time having spent years in the queue behind Kerry O'Keeffe and Ashley Mallett beforehand. Hilditch and Rixon, as mentioned, reappeared briefly a while later: Hilditch enjoyed a modicum of success in 1984/85, 1985 and 1985/86 but rapidly became a standing joke for his compulsive hooking; Rixon played a triplet of utterly unsuccessful Tests in 1984/85 as a replacement for the injured Wayne Phillips before he, like Hughes, Yallop and Hogg, elected for Rebel tours. Dymock, 34 by the time the schism was repaired, played 8 of the 9 Tests in 1979/80 for highly credible results. Peter Sleep played once in Pakistan in 1982/83 as a replacement for the injured Yardley, appeared 8 times in the late 1980s without any real success, and a couple of times at the start of the 1990s after things had begun to look up. But pride of place must go to Allan Border, who appeared in 11 Tests during the schism, averaged 49.63, and then the next 145 thereafter.

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