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Opinion

The best nervous 90s Test team

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Roar Guru
15th July, 2020
32

This article isn’t about the players who have been dismissed in the nervous 90s most frequently.

That list is dominated by the top-order batsmen and it would be impossible to form a balanced team from there.

This team consists of players who have a Test score of 90 or more but no Test hundreds. To put it in another way, these players all have a Test highest score from 90 to 99.

I have decided to ignore the current players like Liton Das, Rassie van der Dussen and Mitchell Starc, although in the case of Starc it’s highly unlikely that he would improve his top score of 99.

Since none of my team has a Test hundred, the top order isn’t particularly strong. Also, the selection wasn’t easy given that so many players have fairly similar Test stats.

But, despite the absence of Starc, I have a top-class bowling attack.

Alick Bannerman (Australia)
Eight years senior to his more famous brother, Alick was also an opener – but of a different type. He was an early member of that long list of solid, obdurate, stroke-less opening bats whose main thought was on surviving at the crease and thus frustrating the opposition bowling. Run scoring was considered an occasional luxury.

In his 28 Tests over 14 years, he failed to reach the three figures once. His highest score of 94 came at SCG in 1883, but his most memorable effort came at the same venue nine years alter. His 91 in almost seven and half hours batting eventually led to a famous comeback win for the hosts.

He doesn’t enjoy the same level of fame as his brother; but at least he got his name in a poem, a poet referring to his slow batting once wrote…

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O Bannerman, O Bannerman
We wish you’d change your manner, man
We pay our humble tanner, man
To see a bit of fun

Baggy green

(Photo by Daniel Pockett – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images )

Chetan Chauhan (India)
Despite scoring 16 half centuries in Tests, Chauhan ended his Test career with a Test high of 97. At the Adelaide Oval in early 1981, he looked set for a hundred before Dennis Lillee deceived him with a leg cutter, forcing an edge to the keeper.

But for most Australian viewers at the time, the most lasting memory of his is his attempted walking off at the MCG along with his skipper before the intervention of the team management. Chauhan scored 85 here and the 165-run opening stand started the fight back, which saw India snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Martyn Moxon (England)
The Yorkshire opener was tried unsuccessfully as a middle-order batsman a couple of occasions in his short ten-Test career. He gets his place in this team mainly due to his ownership of one of the most unfortunate 99s in Test history.

At Eden Park, Auckland, in February 1988, he was dismissed for 99 by Ewen Chatfield. But the reality was that early on in his innings, three runs off his bat were wrongly adjudged to be leg byes by the Kiwi umpire.

In the next Test at the Basin Reserve, he ended the third day on 81 not out only to see the remaining two days’ play washed out by the rain. Many experts feel that a hundred during the NZ tour would have come as a big boost to his career.

As things happened, his England career ended in the summer of 1989, as he like most of his teammates looked uncomfortable against Terry Alderman’s late-swinging deliveries.

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Ashok Mankad (India)
Son of a famous father, Ashok was big star in India’s domestic arena. A solid middle-order bat and a shrewd captain, he was a big contributor in Bombay’s total dominance in the Ranji Trophy in the 1960s stretching to the mid ’70s.

But, at the international level, he was a fringe player. He batted in all the positions from one to eight as the selectors struggled to determine his proper role in the Test squad. It was as an opener that he played his finest innings in Test cricket.

In Delhi, during the 1969-70 season, his first innings knock of 97 wasn’t enough to deny the Aussies a lead, but fine bowling the spinners helped India eventually win the match by seven wickets. Quite remarkably, his top four Test scores all came in that series against Bill Lawry’s men.

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At Port of Spain in 1971, Mankad became the first opening partner for his Bombay teammate Sunil Gavaskar. The pair posted half-century stands in both innings as India recorded their first ever Test success in the Caribbean. But while Sunil continued to build on his debut success, Mankad’s career went in the wrong direction.

Converting starts into scores always remained a problem for him in Tests, and in his final tour with India – to Australia in 1977-78 – he scored heavily in the tour matches but struggled when given chances in the Test matches.

His first-class career average is over 50, yet he only averages 25 in Tests.

Asim Kamal (Pakistan)
A record of eight half centuries in just 12 Tests and an average of 37.73 isn’t too bad, but sadly for Asim – the left hander from Karachi – his inability to convert useful knocks into really meaningful ones eventually cost him his place in the side.

He came perilously close to a hundred in his debut innings. In Lahore, in October 2003, he batted patiently for more than four hours, only to be bowled by Andre Nel one shy of his hundred.

Cricket generic

(Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Burn Smith (NZ)
I started the batting line-up with a couple of cautious, solid batsmen. At number six, I have selected a real dasher.

Smith from Canterbury liked to slash, and slash hard in the off side. He once scored a century before lunch in first-class cricket. And at Headingley in June 1949, he took only two hours to smash his highest Test score of 96. He later added 54 not out in the second knock.

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His batting average of 47.40 over four Tests is the best in this team. It certainly was heavily boosted by his Headingley efforts.

Learie Constantine (West Indies)
Contantine from Trinidad is generally considered to be the first great cricketer to come from the Windies. He never quite showed his best in the Test arena; a batting average of 19 and bowling average of 30 is okay without being brilliant. But, still, his place among the legends of West Indies cricket is permanent.

His highest score of 90 came in front of his home fans at the Queen’s Park Oval in January 1935. In fact, he enjoyed a successful match here with both bat and ball as the Windies recorded 217-run victory over England.

Malcolm Marshall (West Indies)
Although he was generally acknowledged as the most fearsome fast bowler of the 1980s, he also took his batting quite seriously. And he always craved a Test hundred. He came close, but not close enough.

At Kanpur, in the autumn of 1983, he shared a 130-run seventh-wicket stand with opener Gordon Greenidge (194). But after Greendige fell to the part-time medium pace of Mohinder Amarnath, wickets started to fall regularly at the other end. And Marshall became the last man out for 92, caught and bowled by the Indian skipper Kapil Dev.

Marshall was adjudged the man of the match after taking eight wickets in the match to ensure a thumping innings victory for the tourists.

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Bob Taylor (England)
Normally in such teams, finding a suitable candidate for the keeper position often becomes the biggest task. But here it wasn’t a problem. Apart from Taylor, Deryck Murray (West Indies) and Saleem Yousuf (Pakistan) came into my consideration.

Yousuf has the best batting average of the group (27), but his keeping wasn’t always of the highest standards. Taylor, on the other hand, didn’t possess any great reputation as a batsman and ended his Test career with an average of 16. But his keeping was world class and it was only the presence of Alan Knott – and Knott’s batting ability – that denied him the chance to play more than 57 Tests.

While his batting record is not brilliant, he once played the decisive innings to settle an Ashes match. He came out to bat in the middle of the third day of the fifth Test at Adelaide in January 1979 with the match evenly balanced. The Poms were 6-132 in their second innings, a lead of 137.

But Taylor and all-rounder Geoff Miller shared a 135-run stand to wrest the initiative. But he was denied a hundred as Rodney Hogg had him caught behind on the fourth morning for 97. England easily won the match at the end as the inexperienced Australia batting collapsed badly on the final morning.

Shane Warne (Australia)
Here is another story of tragedy on 99.

At the WACA in 2001, facing left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, he attempted a slog sweep and was caught at the deep. To make matters worse, it was later revealed in the videos that it was actually a no ball.

Apart from taking more than 700 Test wickets, Warne also contributed more than 3000 runs for Australia. But that combination of his rush of blood and a mistake by the umpire denied him his biggest moment with the willow.

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Shane Warne pulls out a sweep shot

(GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Harold Larwood (England)
During the infamous Bodyline series of 1932-33, Larwood not only created panic among the Aussie batsmen with his bowling, he also finished the series in style by scoring a career-best 98 with the bat in the final Test at the SCG.

He came in to bat at number four as the night-watchman after Bill O’Reilly dismissed Herbert Sutcliffe late on the second day. Not only did he survive the final overs, he batted in a carefree manner the next morning. He took little more than two hours to score 98 with ten fours and one six. But South Australian Philip Lee, in his second and final Test, denied him his hundred, dismissing him for 98.

Earlier Larwood had taken 4-98 in the Australia first innings. But for once he remained away from the spotlight during the Australian second innings, as Hedley Verity took 5-33, his first ever Test five-for as Douglas Jardine’s men headed for another comprehensive success.

12th man: David Capel (England)
One of about half a dozen ‘new Ian Bothams’ to appear in English cricket starting from the mid 1980s, Capel made a promising start with the bat but then faded away badly.

In his debut Test at Headingley, in 1987, he showed excellent technique against the moving ball while facing the hostile Pakistan pace attack led by Imran Khan and Wasim Akram. Later, in Karachi in December, he scored 98, showing his ability against the quality spinners on turning tracks.

But there wasn’t much after this and he finished his 15-match Test career with a batting average of 15 and a bowling average of 50.