Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Players who have made great impressions in their first few Tests

Ajantha Mendis has been making all the headlines in the recent Tests in Sri Lanka. In his first Test series, he took an incredible 26 wickets – a record for a debut three-match series – and now stands thirtieth in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for bowlers with 515 points.

Throughout Test history, numerous players have made great impressions in their first few Tests and cashed in on their novelty value, but how does Mendis’ first few Tests compare with others who have burst upon the scene? And – furthermore – which of these players have managed to sustain their initial excellence over the course of a long career rather than being flashes in the pan?

1871 men have played three or more Tests and there is a surprising name at the top of the list of highest Ratings achieved after three Tests. In 1975, a bespectacled, grey-haired middle order batsman was picked for England to face Lillee and Thomson at their fiercest. David Steele promptly lived up to his name and scored four fifties to achieve a Rating of 550 – good enough for 26th place.

He is the only batsman to break the 550 point barrier after three Tests – the next two best hark back to cricket’s ‘Golden Age’. The Indian Prince Ranji made two scores of more than 150 in his first three Tests for England to achieve 548 points. Also level on 548 points is Australian Frank Iredale, who opposed Ranji in nine Tests in the 1890s. Further down the top ten come Michael Clarke (546), Sunil Gavaskar (541) and George Headley (535). Javed Miandad – who scored a record 504 runs in his first three Tests rated at 519.

Three classic one-series wonders feature in the top ranks of the leading bowlers after three Tests. Top of the pile is the mercurial leg-spinner Narendra Hirwani, who took 31 wickets in his first three Tests, but only another thirty-five in his last fourteen. However, his Rating of 564 is the highest ever so early in a career. Rodney Hogg burst upon the scene with 27 English wickets in December 1978 to reach 549 points, and fellow Australian Bob Massie reached 484 points in 1972 helped by his tour de force at Lord’s.

Two all-time greats who have both held the Test wicket record started as they meant to carry on. Alec Bedser who retired with 236 wickets, took 24 in his first three Tests for a Rating of 511, but nudging just ahead was fellow Englishman Fred Trueman. His first three Tests saw him take 24 wickets of his own, but his Rating reached 513.

So – how does Mendis compare? With a Reliance Mobile ICC Player Ranking of 515, he is currently the fifth highest-rated bowler after three Tests. He will be hoping for a better prospect than the other man who also took 26 wickets in his first three matches – Herbert Hordern of Australia. He only played another four Tests and ended his career with 46 wickets.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The greatest innings of all-time

As soon as the ink was dry on last week’s column extolling the virtues of Virender Sehwag, he not only played another astonishing innings, but one that rated higher than his other two mentioned last week. And so, to answer all the requests, here is the definitive list of the top ten innings of all time - in reverse order - as rated by the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings computer.

10 - Virender Sehwag, IND, 319 v SA, Chennai, 26/03/2008

The second triple-century of his career, this may have come on a featherbed Chennai pitch, but it was against the same attack who bowled South Africa to a series win over England this summer - Steyn, Ntini, Morkel, Kallis and Harris

9 - Len Hutton, ENG, 364 v AUS, The Oval, 20/08/1938

He broke Bradman’s Ashes record of 334 and Walter Hammond’s Test record of 336 not out, while leading England to victory by an innings and 579 runs. He also had to face 85 overs from the bowler the Don rated the greatest - Bill O’Reilly.

8 - Virender Sehwag, IND, 306 v PAK, Multan, 28/03/2004

Pressure? What pressure! Batting against his side’s fiercest rivals, he brought up India’s first Test triple-century with a six, and the match was won by an innings.

7 - Brian Lara, WI, 213 v AUS, Kingston, 13/03/1999

The first of two mind-blowing innings in the same series from Lara as he lifted his side to a first-innings lead and eventual ten-wicket victory against the might of the Australians and McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and MacGill at the peak of their powers.

6 - Len Hutton, ENG, 202* v WI, The Oval, 12/08/1950

Until last week, England’s first-innings total of 344 was the lowest in Test to include an individual double-century. Hutton carried his bat right through it, but was powerless to prevent an innings defeat as those two little pals of mine - Ramadhin and Valentine caused havoc.

5 - Bill Ponsford, AUS, 266 v ENG, The Oval, 18/08/1934

It was not a bad effort to outscore Bradman, but that is what Ponsford did - if only by 22 runs in an Ashes-clinching partnership of 451. Australia piled up 701 for a mammoth 562-run triumph and England wouldn’t see The Ashes for another nineteen years.

4 - Don Bradman, AUS, 270 v ENG, Melbourne, 01/01/1937

Caught on a vicious "sticky" wicket, Bradman opened the batting with his tail-enders and batted at number seven. Coming in at 97 for five, his innings is still the highest-ever at that position. O’Reilly and Fleetwood-Smith did the rest.

3 - Virender Sehwag, IND, 201* v SL, Galle, 31/07/2008

Where to start? He carried his bat, scoring over 60% of his side’s runs against two men with more than a thousand Test wickets, not to mention wonderkid Ajantha Mendis. Only two other batsmen reached double figures as his innings was the difference between the sides.

2 - Don Bradman, AUS, 299* v SA, Adelaide, 29/01/1932

Ian Bell was gutted to have been dismissed on 199, but how would Bradman have felt to have been stranded on 299 when last man Pud Thurlow was run out? He added over two hundred runs for the last five wickets which helped Australia to a ten-wicket triumph.

1 - Garry Sobers, WI, 365* v PAK, Kingston, 26/02/1958

I know what you’re saying. 'What about Gooch?", "What about Botham?", "What about Laxman?". Well - how about setting a World Test record against two of the top ten Rated bowlers at the time and leading your team to an innings victory? All that at the age of 21.

Apologies to Messrs Gooch, Laxman and Botham, who didn’t quite make it, but now all that remains to be said is "let the debates begin".