Michael Bevan, Mohammad Asif, Vinod Kambli, Mohammad Amir, Nirendra Hirwani, Stuart Law and Saqlain Mushtaq. They are all phenomenal cricketers who, for a variety of reasons, never achieved close to what they could have at Test level.
I have limited the scope of this article to the past two decades or so – in other words, to players I have actually watched live.
Outside of these seven, who would you pick Roarers?
Saqlain Mushtaq (Pakistan) – Tests: 49 matches, 208 wickets at 30. ODIs: 169 matches, 288 wickets at 22
Saqlain at 37 is just 10 months older than the best spinner currently playing cricket, fellow Pakistani Saeed Ajmal.
Yet he has not played for his country in almost a decade.
How is that possible when you consider these two facts:
– He claimed more than 470 international wickets by the time he was 27 years old.
– His average of 21.78 is the best among the top 50 wicket takers in ODI history.
For most of his career, which started as an 18-year-old in 1995, Saqlain was second only to Muttiah Muralitharan as the world’s best finger spinner.
Credited with inventing the doosra, he is undoubtedly the best ODI spinner of all time after Muralitharan.
Saqlain suffered a serious knee injury in 2004 and was bizarrely consigned to the scrap heap by the ever-confounding Pakistan Cricket Board.
If not for that injury and his subsequent poor treatment from the PCB, he may well have finished his international career with more than 1000 wickets.
Stuart Law (Australia) – Tests: One match, 54 runs at no average. ODIs: 54 matches, 1237 runs at 27
The former Queensland stalwart does not even own a Test average.
On his sole Test, against Sri Lanka in 1995, he compiled 54 not out as he was overshadowed by the debut of precocious strokemaker Ricky Ponting, who carved 96.
Law continued to pile up runs season after season in the Sheffield Shield and county competitions, finishing with more than 27,000 at 51.
But he was unlucky to have played during the strongest era in Australia’s Test cricketing history.
Law was granted generous opportunities in the shorter form of the game but could not grasp them.
Narendra Hirwani (India) – 17 Tests, 66 wickets at 30
Taking 16 wickets on Test debut is something which seemingly deserves to exist only in the realm of dreams.
In 1988, 20-year-old Narendra Hirwani joined Aussie swing bowler Bob Massie in this truly elite club.
The bespectacled spinner’s astonishing debut prompted predictions he would dominate Test cricket for the next 15 years.
Across the following eight years, he could manage just a further 16 Tests, returning only 50 wickets at 37.
The emergence of Anil Kumble meant his Test days were finished aged just 28, when many tweakers are yet to reach their peak.
Mohammad Amir (Pakistan) – 14 Tests, 51 wickets at 29
“This kid is going to be one of the greatest-ever bowlers”.
That was my opinion of the prodigiously-gifted 17-year-old quick Amir after watching him scythe through Australia’s Test batting line-up in the Boxing Day Test four years ago.
Not content with claiming his maiden five-wicket haul in that match – including the dismissals of Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North and Brad Haddin – he again tormented Australia the following year, taking 11 wickets at 22 in their two-Test series in England.
Few left arm bowlers in history have been able to swing the ball both ways at 150kmh.
To have such an ability at his age was utterly ludicrous.
Unfortunately, his five-year ban stemming from the spot fixing scandal means we may never get to see him realise his limitless potential.
Vinod Kambli (India) – 17 Tests, 1084 runs at 54
The cavalier Indian strokemaker is perhaps the biggest “what if?” Test player of all time.
Kambli famously grabbed the attention of the Indian cricket scene by putting on an unbeaten partnership of 664 with the legendary Sachin Tendulkar in a school game.
The softly-spoken Tendulkar went on to have arguably the second-greatest cricketing career in history behind Sir Donald Bradman.
Kambli’s bombastic personality saw him he regularly ran afoul of the conservative Indian cricketing authorities who ensured his international career was painfully stilted.
Despite averaging 60 in his 129 first-class matches, he played his last Test in 1995, aged just 23.
However, before he was shunted out of India’s Test line-up Kambli did manage to cane Shane Warne for 22 runs off an over.
That achievement was perhaps equal to any in his controversial career.
Michael Bevan (Australia) – 18 Tests, 785 runs at 29
In recent years, a first-class average in the high-30s has been suffice to earn a Test berth as a specialist batsman for Australia.
Michael Bevan’s career average of 57 is no less than 20 runs higher than that of Australia’s most recent number six, George Bailey.
In fact, Bevan has the 20th highest first-class average in history (from a minimum 30 matches).
The brevity of Bevan’s Test career is commonly attributed to his weakness against the short ball.
Yet over his 17-year Shield career, he displayed no such vulnerability as he averaged 61 while facing a bevy of Test-standard quicks on hard decks.
His Test failings will forever remain a mystery.
Mohammad Asif (Pakistan) – 23 Tests, 106 wickets at 24
Asif was the world’s number-two ranked Test bowler when he last played Test cricket more than three years ago.
He has since admitted to his complicity in spot fixing within that series in England.
Possessed of an uncanny capacity to make the ball swerve through the air or jag off the seam, Asif was a nightmare to face with either the new or old ball.
Together with his youthful offsider Amir, he threatened to create one of the greatest new-ball pairings in Test history.
Instead both will forever be linked to the darkest aspect of the game.