Monday, February 8, 2010

The four decaders

Sachin Tendulkar joined an elite group of Test players when he took the field against Bangladesh last month. He became just the fifth person to play Test cricket in four different decades having made his debut as a sixteen-year-old against Pakistan at Karachi in November 1989. Let’s have a look at the players he emulated and how they performed in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings.

The first man to achieve this most remarkable of feats is also unique in that he participated in Tests in five different decades. That man is Wilfred Rhodes, who started his career as a specialist left-arm spinner in the 1890s who didn’t bat any higher than tenth in any of his first nine Tests. However, by 1912 he had graduated to opening the batting with Jack Hobbs and that pair still holds England’s first wicket record partnership in Ashes Tests with the 323 they added at Melbourne in February 1912. Rhodes also holds England’s record partnership for the tenth wicket too, and by the time he was recalled for his final appearances in 1930 he was back to number 10 playing as a spinner.

Batting-wise, he achieved 646 points and fourth place in December 1913 after he scored 152 against South Africa at Johannesburg in the match that Sydney Barnes took seventeen wickets. However it was with his bowling that he really hit the heights. He spent a total of twelve Tests at the top of the bowling tree between 1904 and 1907 peaking at 823 points. He was unfortunate that despite ending his first-class career just 31 runs short of the 40,000 run / 4,000 wicket double, he never topped the Test all-rounder table thanks to South African Aubrey Faulkner who reached his peak around the same time Rhodes did.

Jack Hobbs made his Test debut in 1908 and ‘The Master’ was only toppled from his lofty perch at the top of the Batting Ratings for one match in the entire period from 1912 to 1928 (by South African Herbie Taylor in 1923). He peaked at 942 at the end of 1912 which is the third-highest points tally ever achieved. His opening partnership with Herbert Sutcliffe was legendary and he spent more than a quarter of his Test career with a Rating of over 900 points. His career records of 61,760 first-class runs with 199 centuries will never be beaten and no-one else has ever scored a Test century at the age of 46. Even when he finally ended his international career after the 1930 Ashes series he was still ranked as high as number six.

Frank Woolley made his England debut the year after Hobbs and indeed only Hobbs scored more first-class runs than Woolley. However the Kent left-hander also managed to take more than two thousand wickets and over a thousand catches. Both his batting and bowling were good enough on their own to take him into the top three for each skill at various points of his career peaking at 701 with the bat and 557 with the ball. He finally reached the top spot for all-rounders at the age of 42 after taking nine wickets at Wellington during England’s tour of New Zealand in 1930. He ended his career in somewhat bizarre circumstances as stand-in wicket-keeper for an injured Les Ames against Australia at The Oval in 1934 and let through a Test-record 37 byes.

Brian Close became England’s youngest-ever Test cricketer when he made his debut against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949, and became the youngest player to achieve the “double” of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in an English summer the same year. Despite a first-class career spanning 37 years, he never quite hit the heights in the Test game. His highest Batting Rating of 469 and position of 28th were both achieved in 1963 after some consistent scoring in the series with the West Indies and he never made it into the top thirty of the world’s bowlers despite taking more than a thousand wickets in first-class cricket. He is perhaps best remembered for his return to England colours as a 45-year-old against the all-conquering West Indians in 1976.

And so to Tendulkar. He became the youngest player to ever top the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen at the age of 21 in November 1994 and subsequently spent a total of 125 Tests at the top of the pile – the fourth-most of any player. His highest points tally came in 2002 when he reached 898 and he recently re-entered the world’s top ten after centuries in consecutive Tests against Bangladesh. In the shorter format of the game he has spent a further 112 matches as the world’s number one batsman peaking at 887 points in 1998.