Sunday, July 18, 2010

Teenage Kicks

One of the bright spots for Pakistan in their first Test defeat to Australia at Lord’s was the bowling of 18-year-ol left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir. He took four wickets in Australia’s first innings taking him to 25 in his nine-Test career to date. Having only turned eighteen as recently as April, he has plenty of time to try to break Daniel Vettori’s record of 54 Test wickets taken as a teenager. His haul moved him up to 52nd in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test bowlers with 296 points, with the potential for further gains in the second Test at Headingley.

Test cricket has been littered with teenage cricketers – especially from Asia. A total of 190 men have represented their country while still teenagers, of whom 112 have been from the Asian continent. Indeed Australia and England have boasted just one player each taking the field in a Test Match at such a young age over the past forty years – Craig McDermott and Ben Hollioake respectively.

Commendable as his current tally of 296 points is – especially so early in his career – it ranks only 22nd on the list of highest Test bowling ratings of teenage bowlers – albeit sandwiched between two greats of the game – Garry Sobers on 300 and Javed Miandad (he started his career as a reasonable bowler) on 293.

Vettori is unsurprisingly the only non-Asian in the top seven points-wise with Amir’s team-mate Umar Gul coming in at number 4. He reached 463 points after his 5-31 in India’s first innings at Lahore in May 2004 helped hasten them to a nine wicket defeat. At Lord’s he became the fourteenth Pakistani to take 100 Test wickets.

Up one place with 472 points is someone who participated in 130 Tests – 57 as a player and a further 73 as an umpire – the man universally known as Venkat. Debuting at just 18 in February 1965 his career-best bowling came in just his fourth Test. Facing New Zealand at Delhi the following month, he tore through the tourist’s first innings with figures of 8-72 – becoming the first teenager to take eight in a Test innings. Not content with that, he followed up with four more wickets in the second innings as India triumphed by seven wickets.

Vettori is in second place having reached the giddy heights of 549 points while still a teenager. He was fortunate enough to play sixteen tests before turning twenty (Sachin Tendulkar holds the record with 25) and peaked in June 1998 after taking six Sri Lankan wickets in their second innings at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in Colombo. That wasn’t enough to help New Zealand win as they folded to the twin spin threat of Murali and Niroshan Bandaratilleke second time around.

However, the man who tops the pile having reached 553 points is a remarkable player who was born in one country but played for another, and managed to open the batting and also bat in every position from number 3 to number 11.

Nasim-ul-Ghani was born in Delhi in 1941 and made his Test debut for Pakistan against the West Indies at Bridgetown in January 1958, becoming at the time the youngest-ever Test cricketer. It was a chastening experience to begin with as Pakistan were forced to follow-on 473 runs behind. However, Hanif Mohammad proceeded to bat for more than sixteen hours scoring 337 to ensure a drawn match. Primarily a left-arm spinner, in the fourth Test of the series he became the youngest player to take a 5 wicket haul at the age of just 16 years 303 days, and he followed up with 6-67 in the final match. His peak Rating came after his ninth Test by which time he had taken 33 wickets at just 23.87 each. However, his form tailed away after that and his last 20 Tests brought him just 19 further wickets at an average of 61.63 despite becoming the first night-watchman to score a Test century when he made 101 at Lord’s in 1962.

With Pakistan due to play England in a four-Test series after their battle with Australia, there is every chance that Amir could move up this list and even challenge his countryman at the top.