Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taking their sweaters at the top of the tree

By contrast to the mere two batsmen who have taken their leave from the Test arena at the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings pile, a total of sixteen bowlers have managed it. Most of them achieved the feat in the early years of Test cricket when a variety of factors led to them not playing again. For example, the First World War curtailed the career of Sydney Barnes at the age of forty when he had reached the highest-ever Rating of 932 following his fourteen wickets at Durban.

Another of the early all-time greats also ended his career on top. Frederick Spofforth – now immortalised as the ‘Demon’ - was arguably the finest Australian bowler of the nineteenth century and took 94 wickets from just eighteen matches. Ironically his Test career ended when he moved to England in 1888 and subsequently made his fortune as a tea merchant at a time when there wasn’t a great deal of money to be made, even as the finest bowler in the world.

Dale Steyn is currently just three balls per wicket worse than George Lohmann’s Test record strike rate of 34, but no-one will ever better the Surrey man’s extraordinary bowling average of just 10.75. However, after ending the Lord’s Test of 1896 with 928 points, his demand for twice the 10-pound-per-match match fee was rejected. This pay dispute and his deteriorating health meant that he never played for England again, and he died of tuberculosis just five years later.

In the past forty years there have only been two names added to this list. The first was Sir Richard Hadlee who brought his career to an end in England in 1990 with a knighthood and a wicket with his final delivery in Test cricket – trapping Devon Malcolm leg before wicket at Edgbaston to complete his 36th five-wicket hall. Hadlee’s feat emulated Australian Hugh Trumble, who not only took a wicket with his final ball as a Test cricketer, but also a hat-trick to bowl Australia to victory over England at the M.C.G. in March 1904, to also end his career on the top of the tree.

Malcolm Marshall first topped the Bowling Rankings at the end of 1984 and he traded places with Hadlee for the top spot for the next seven years. When he finally called time on his own career at the end of another dominating West Indian performance in England, he was able to hand over the number one spot to a worthy successor – team-mate Curtly Ambrose.

However, perhaps the most remarkable coincidence concerns two Australians whose careers ran parallel for so many years – Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly. Both ended their careers top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers with an identical 901 points.