There were significant moments aplenty at Brisbane. James Pattinson’s five-for, Michael Clarke’s century. But not everyone gets their plaudits. In the final session, Chris Martin’s 31st Test duck passed most people by.
Granted, the 31 itself was not especially significant, though it does mean that ducks now make up more than a third of Martin’s 92 Test innings. Rather, just as the approach to Tendulkar’s 100th international century has had India tensely waiting, it’s the anticipation of what is yet to come.
In Martin’s next few Tests, he could leapfrog Muttiah Muralitharan (33 ducks), Shane Warne (34), and Glenn McGrath (35), to sit in clear second place in the all-time duck-scorers championship, trailing only Courtney Walsh’s lofty 43.
The holy triumvirate of great millennium bowlers could be passed in a dreamy blur. There are not many other cricketing respects in which Martin could hope to exceed them.
And he deserves to. He has long held a reputation as a hopeless, hapless, helpless figure with a bat in his hands. He has been sporting about it, answering the endless repeats of the same questions in good humour, and appearing self-deprecatingly in the ‘Bat Like Chris Martin’ video on YouTube.
It probably grates, just as I grit my teeth and smile grimly when some wit thinks it will be truly refreshing to come up with a gag about lemons. That’s a new one! I say. Never heard that before. Ha.
Let’s be clear – none of this is to mock Martin. It is to salute him as a bringer of smiles, and a man determined to keep striving in the face of the most modest talent. In facing the best Test bowlers in the world, I’ll happily admit that Martin has done better than I would be likely to.
It is also to acknowledge the approach of something historical. If Martin’s mediocrity is to reach the levels of grandness – say, becoming officially the worst batsman in Test history – it’s a part of his identity he could fully embrace.
‘Worst’, you might say, is difficult to define. There are those yet ahead of him on the duck list. Nor are ducks the definitive way to measure batsmanship.
But consider this. Martin has now played 63 Tests for his 31 ducks. That’s almost one every second match. Murali took over twice that many matches – 133 – to register two more zeroes. Warne’s 34 ducks came from 145 matches. McGrath’s 35 from 124, and even Walsh’s 43 from 132 Tests.
There’s also the matter of runs when the ducks stayed in the pond. Warne was by far the best of that group, with his 12 half-centuries and his average of 17.32. Murali averaged 11.67, Walsh 7.54, and McGrath 7.36.
Nothing to write home about, sure. But compare that to Martin’s career mark of 2.39, and suddenly Pigeon is starting to look positively top-order.
Oh, and Martin’s average is despite a whopping 46 not outs – exactly half of his 92 innings. Hard to say whether that’s the effect of batting with a New Zealand No. 10, or whether whoever is at the other end starts playing panic shots as soon as Chris strides to the wicket.
Of course, he doesn’t play to bat. Martin has been a determined bowler for a country with modest resources – 12 more wickets will see him pass Chris Cairns to take third place on New Zealand’s all-time wicket-takers list, behind only Daniel Vettori and Sir Richard Hadlee.
But while contributing results with the ball, he has contributed great entertainment with the bat. Martin is not only one of the few players in history with more Test wickets than he has runs, but has secured the stat by a considerable distance. He recently took his 200th wicket in Zimbabwe, and now sits on 206. The same career has yielded just 110 runs.
Of course, one quick half-century could narrow that gap, but that’s about as likely as me missing an opportunity for a forced simile.
Perhaps ‘worst’ can never be definitively applied. What I can say is that Martin has the most spectacularly and extensively poor record, utterly unblemished by any incidental success. Most tailenders have their day when they bash a lucky 30. Martin, though, has been the definition of consistency.
39 of his 46 dismissals have been for 1 or 0. And aside from his 31 ducks, including six pairs, he has 25 scores of 0 not out, meaning 61 percent of his Test innings have ended scoreless. It’s impressive.
It all started so well for Martin. His career began with scores of 7, 0 not out, and 5 not out, giving him a never-to-be-repeated Test average of 12. Sadly, it was downhill from there, as he notched seven ducks punctuated by two scoreless not-outs. That first score of 7 remained his highest score for eight more years.
His longest innings was the 34-ball stand he conjured against England at Lord’s in 2004, as the home of cricket inspired him to equal that 7 runs in a partnership of 26 with Daryl Tuffey.
And then there was his day of glory.
91 of Martin’s 92 innings have ended in single figures. One can only imagine the joy when he took advantage of a shellshocked Bangladesh, slamming two boundaries (one to the cover fence, one over his own stumps) in 20 balls to storm into double figures for the first time, stunning the Dunedin crowd with 12 mighty runs.
The innings was cruelly cut short by the dismissal of his partner Iain O’Brien, and Martin was left undefeated, only able to wonder at what more might have been.
But that’s as far as it has gone.
Of other batsmen high up on the duck-shoot, there are only two who can better Martin’s duck-per-innings ratio of 0.336. Compatriot Danny Morrison pips him, with 24 from 78 innings working out to 0.338, while West Indies paceman Mervyn Dillon leads the way with 26 ducks from 68 innings (0.382).
But Morrison had his odd day with the bat, notching five scores in the 20s and a day-in-the-sun 42, while Dillon was comparatively Bradmanesque with eight 20s, two 30s, and a high score against India of 43. Their batting averages were both a tick under 8.5, more than three and a half times Martin’s.
So let us pay tribute to Chris Martin: a great entertainer, and a guy with the balls to walk out there against the world’s best fast bowlers in the full knowledge that he lacks the slightest ability to combat them. If that’s not courage, I don’t know what is.
A few more duck eggs to get him past the giants of recent bowling history, and soon, in all categories, we could proudly anoint the Worst Test Batsman of All Time.
For the endurance, determination, and good cheer it implies, it’s a title of which Chris Martin should be proud.
Follow Geoff on Twitter: @GeoffLemonSport