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.