Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dual table toppers

Aubrey Faulkner may be the only man to date to have topped both Test Match batting and bowling Ratings tables, but two players have achieved the feat in One Day International matches – one man and one woman.

The man in question is Keith Stackpole. He made his Test debut for Australia against England at the Adelaide Oval in 1966 and was a good-enough batsman to play in 43 Test Matches in total, scoring 2807 runs at an average of 37.42. He was even able to topple Garry Sobers from the top spot in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen for two matches in the summer of 1972 after a match-winning innings of 79 against England at The Oval.

His ODI career was far shorter, extending to just six matches, which included the first ever staged – a hastily-arranged match at Melbourne on 5 January 1971 after the fifth Test of the Ashes series was washed out. However, over 46,000 spectators turned up to watch the spectacle, and cricket was never the same again. Stackpole took three for 40 in eight overs with his leg-breaks to help restrict England to just 190, which Australia successfully chased down with more than five overs to spare. The result of this victory was to see Stackpole top of the bowling charts with 141 points. That was as good at it got for him, as he only bowled another thirteen ODI deliveries and Ashley Mallett took over as number one.

However, Stackpole had his batting to fall back on. Successive half-centuries at Lord’s and Edgbaston over the course of three days in late August 1972 enabled him to move above Ian Chappell into the batting lead and become the first man ever to top both Test and ODI batting trees at the same time. But once England’s Dennis Amiss scored a second century in his first four matches in July 1973, the Australian’s moment in the sun had come to an end.

The other player to have reached the top spot with both bat and ball in hand is the remarkable Enid Bakewell. Arguably the finest all-rounder that the English women’s game has ever produced, she scored three Test centuries in her first five matches and signed off from the longer form of the game with a century and ten wickets against the West Indies. She continued to play for East Midlands into her fifties and in club cricket well into her sixties.

Her One Day International career started in similar fashion – scoring an unbeaten 101 for England against the International XI in the very first Women’s ODI of all on 23 June 1973. However, her opening partner, Lynne Thomas scored 134 and kept Bakewell out of the top spot. Her innings of 118 and bowling figures of two for 28 in twelve overs were instrumental in England’s victory over Australia to win the inaugural Women’s World Cup the same year. However, three years later she managed to reach the pinnacle thanks to a half-century against Australia at Lord’s and an innings of 32 four days later at Trent Bridge, both leading to England victories. Her stay at the top was relatively short – extending to just five matches – before Thomas and Rachael Heyhoe-Flint made the number one position their own personal battle for the next four years.

She continued to bowl her left-arm spin with incredible accuracy and ended her career with an economy rate of just 2.41 runs per over from her 23 matches. It was during the 1982 World Cup in New Zealand that she reached top spot after she took three for 13 against India at Wanganui and then three for 29 against the International XI at Wellington. What made the achievement all the more remarkable was the fact that she was aged 41 for the duration of the tournament and she retired from international cricket soon afterwards.

Monday, April 13, 2009

100 Years Ago - a Unique Cricketer

Since the very first Test Match of all was played in March 1877, a total of sixty-five different men have found their way to the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for batsmen. Furthermore, there have been 73 players who have topped the bowling charts. However, only one man’s name appears on both lists – and it will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the all-rounder Rankings of late to discover that he is a South African.

However, the identity of this player is somewhat harder to guess. The first obvious candidate is Jacques Kallis, who has spent the majority of the past eight years at the top of the all-rounder tree, but he has never reached higher than number six with the ball. His long-time team-mate Shaun Pollock never reached higher than number 37 with the bat, and Brian McMillan – whilst topping the all-rounder charts – never reached higher than number eight with the bat. In fact, the only man to achieve this feat was just establishing himself in the South African team exactly one hundred years ago and his name was Aubrey Faulkner.

He was born in 1881 and made his Test debut at the age of twenty-four against the touring English team at Johannesburg in January 1906. He started well, taking six wickets, and it was his bowling that kept him in the team as he failed to pass fifty with the bat in any of his first eight Test Matches. However, the turn of the decade saw a sharp upturn in his batting fortunes as he scored 545 runs and took 29 wickets in the five-Test series against England and even held seven catches for good measure.

His startling run of form continued the following winter as the Australians were put to the sword to the tune of 732 runs in the five Tests in Australia, including a career-best innings of 204 in the second Test at Melbourne. It was during this series that he reached the top of the batting tree and he spent pretty much the whole of 1911 in top spot. His series aggregate was a Test record which stood for fourteen years until England’s Herbert Sutcliffe sneaked past it by a mere two runs in the 1924/25 Ashes series in Australia.

Despite starting the 1912 Triangular Test Series in England with an undefeated century against Australia at Old Trafford which took his batting Rating to 879, by that time Jack Hobbs had started his almost-unbroken run of sixteen years as number one. Faulkner’s form with the bat fell away, and in his last seven Tests he didn’t manage to pass 25.

His seven for 84 in England’s first innings at The Oval in August 1912 helped him to rise to number two in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers at the start of the First World War – albeit a massive 348 points behind leader Sydney Barnes of England. Enlisting in the British Army, he served on the Western Front and in Macedonia, Egypt and Palestine. His bravery earned him the ‘Distinguished Service Order’ and the ‘Order of the Nile’ despite contracting malaria.

Upon the resumption of international cricket when the hostilities had ended, Barnes was now aged 47 and considered too old for Test cricket, despite continuing to pick up wickets for Staffordshire at an alarming rate. This had the effect of lifting Faulkner to the number one spot by default, a position he held for a mere six months before being overtaken by the Australian leggie Arthur Mailey.

Faulkner was recalled to play for South Africa in response to an injury crisis on their 1924 tour of England, but he was past his best and after one disappointing performance at Lord’s, he retired for good to start up a cricket school in London – the first of its type in the world. Alas, the Aubrey Faulkner story has a tragic ending, as he suffered from prolonged bouts of depression and ended up taking his own life in September 1930.

However, nearly one hundred years after he started his ascent to greatness, he remains the only member of this most exclusive of Test Match Ratings clubs. Next time, it is the turn of the two players who have achieved this feat in the shorter format of the game, and they are two very surprising names indeed.