Ask The Spider #120

How many people had scored Test double-centuries for Australia before Don Bradman made his mass of them?

Bradman’s first came, of course, in 1930 in England (it was the knock he always called his finest, where every single shot went exactly where he aimed, at Lord’s in the Second Test); before then, five men had achieved the feat for Australia in Tests: Billy Murdoch (who later played for England) at The Oval in 1884; Syd (SE) Gregory in 1894/95 at The SCG; the famous Victor Trumper (who actually batted at five in the innings in question) against South Africa at Adelaide Oval in 1910/11; Herbie Collins at Old Wanderers in 1922/23; and Jack Ryder against England at Adelaide Oval in 1924/25.

Who were England’s most successful bowlers between the summers of 1967 and 1974?

In what was a pretty successful era for a consistently very solid England side, they had a number of bowlers who enjoyed fair success. The best, almost undoubtedly, was “Deadly Derek” Underwood – for much of this time wickets were still fully uncovered, and even later there was still no covering to the extent enjoyed today, and the fingerspin (at high pace) of the Kent left-armer was in its element. Underwood’s 171 Test wickets at 22.75 was accompanied by John Snow’s 156 at 25.20 – and several others enjoyed less remarkable success: Ken Higgs (20 at 23 – the fact that he did not appear more has long baffled most audiences, at the time and in future generations); Geoff Arnold (94 at 26.11); David Brown (54 at 26.25); Raymond Illingworth (87 at 28.14); Chris Old (60 at 28.85); and Tony Greig (80 at 30.35). Some of those picked as fill-ins (Bob Cottam, John Price, and all-rounders Barry Knight and Richard Hutton). Notably, Mike Hendrick came in late in the piece and showcased his skills (20 at 20.50) and Bob Willis, who would go on to outstrip the deeds of all, struggled in his initial forays (30 at 33.23).

And batsmen?

Kenny Barrington enjoyed a few last successes before retirement (he averaged 67.11 in 14 Tests in the first year), but the dominant figure will surprise no-one: Geoff Boycott, even though he played just 39 of the 62 Tests of the period, scored 3,259 runs at 54.31. Also in the runs were Dennis Amiss (51.47), Greig again (44.27), Tom Graveney (43.86), John Edrich (42.20), Keith Fletcher (41.85), Colin Cowdrey (39.79), the famous migrant Basil D’Oliveira (39.78), and to a slightly lesser extent Brian Luckhurst (38.87) and Mike Denness (36.60). Fill-ins David Lloyd, Colin Milburn and Phil Sharpe too enjoyed success when they appeared, and the wicketkeeper-batsman Alan Knott’s contributions (he averaged 32.57) should not be underestimated.

How many home Test series’ have India ever lost?

They lost their first two (these were as far apart as 1933/34 and 1948/49) against England and West Indies; they also lost three in a row in 1956/57, 1958/59 and 1959/60 (Australia twice and West Indies once in between). In the 50 years since then, they have been beaten just 9 times in home Test series – by the powerful West Indian units of 1966/67 and 1983/84, and also the combination of 1974/75 which were beginning to form into another such thing; by pinpoint Australian campaigns which were blessed with good fortune in 1969/70 and 2004/05; by Pakistan in 1986/87; and (rather unexpectedly so) by England in 1976/77 and 1984/85. Arguably, another defeat to Pakistan (in 1998/99) should be added to the list, but officially the Test which was scheduled to be the Third of that series was removed from the rubber and instead added to the Asian Test Championship – Pakistan won it to, nominally, take the series two-one.

And how many times have they beaten Australia at home?

India lost three of their first four rubbers at home to Australia, drawing the other, but beat the effective Australia A which toured in 1979/80. They then drew 0-0 in 1986/87 at a time when Australia were losing almost everything, and won a one-off Test in 1996/97. The first authentic victory came in 1997/98 and they then won, again, sensationally, in 2000/01. The most recent victory was in 2008/09, and another opportunity comes in a couple of weeks’ time (disappointingly, a series of just two Tests). So, the long and short of it is: officially, four; authentically, three.

Is it true that England were saved from Test defeats by 0*s from tailenders in three home Tests in the mid-1990s?

Well, not really no. In truth this only happened twice – in 1994, against New Zealand at Lord’s, England had to bat out the last day to avoid defeat in the Second Test. They just managed this – opener Alec Stewart’s 119 was the biggest player, but crucial parts were also played by the wicketkeeper Stephen Rhodes (24* off 114 balls) and number-ten Paul Taylor (0* off 24 balls). In 1996, though Alan Mullally finished on 0* as England again pulled-off a rescue act in a Second Test at Lord’s, this time against India, the game had in reality already been saved by the time he came to the crease – midway through the day England were six down and only 85 ahead, but all-rounder Ronnie Irani, wicketkeeper Jack Russell and another all-rounder Chris Lewis pulled them from danger, before number-eleven Mullally scored 0* off 9 balls to close the innings. Very famously, however, in 1998 at Old Trafford against South Africa England needed a near-miracle to save the Third Test after following-on 369 behind with almost two whole days left – but they managed it thanks to first a stand between Michael Atherton and now-captain Stewart, then another between Stewart and Mark Ramprakash, then Ramprakash and Robert Croft, then Croft and Darren Gough, and finally a 13-ball 0* from number-eleven Angus Fraser (who had actually come in at nine ahead of Taylor in the 1994 match).

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