'Tis the season of XIs, with the pick of the lot being Andy Zaltzman’s list of an attractive but useless XI, which you can have a chuckle over here . With a bit more time on my hands now that I’ve quit my job, I’ve put some thought into an XI of random cricketers who grabbed my attention but ultimately ended up being, at best, footnotes in the glorious game’s history. You may argue that a few on this list don’t even deserve a footnote tag, but this was done primarily through the veil of nostalgia of a time lapsed by. And who doesn’t like reminiscing?

So, here we go …

1. Ali Naqvi I was in my junior year of high school and following the first Test between Pakistan and South Africa in Rawalpindi through the daily reports in the newspaper. The reports of a 20-year-old debutant batsman, Ali Naqvi, were very promising. This was the first batsman to score a Test century on debut that I had the opportunity to follow from the start, and I read up whatever I could on Naqvi. This was 1997 and the Internet had yet to properly arrive at school in Mussoorie, mind you. The reports in the papers, and later Sportstar, described a technically correct batsman who played nice and straight, and who stood up to South Africa’s pace attack where others failed. He batted 353 minutes for his 115, apparently playing mainly off the front foot and with a range of handsome strokes. I was happy for the guy, especially because he’d hardly played any first-class cricket. But then he failed to cross 30 in eight innings and was never turned to again. Last heard, Naqvi was enjoying himself in the obscurity of Thatcham Town in the Thames Valley League.

2. Gagan Khoda You just had to feel sorry for Khoda. Heaps of runs at junior level; a century on Ranji Trophy debut; loads of runs on the domestic scene. Then he was called up as replacement for an injured Tendulkar during a tri-series at home in 1998, scored 89 against Kenya, picked up the Man-of-the-Match award, and was promptly dropped. I watched that entire 89 and it wasn’t a flashy innings. But it was composed and he handled pace and spin well, so there was evidence to suggest he had it in him to succeed. But nope, that was the last we saw of Khoda in blue.

3. Mathew Sinclair When I logged onto Cricinfo a couple days after Christmas 1999, the main story was of a debutant New Zealand batsman who had taken a double century off West Indies. I didn’t get a glimpse of this phenomenon called Mathew Sinclair (dull name, keeping with New Zealand tradition) until he had collected another double ton and a 150 in his first 12 Tests. He wasn’t nearly as commanding or fluent as I had imagined he would be, perhaps because at this stage he was creaking from the burden of expectation, and he was a walking wicket against Australia in 2001. Thirty-three Tests over ten and a half years say a lot. 

4. Rob Key More than a cricketer, especially a top-order batsman, Key looked like that fat kid from fifth grade that nicked your tuck and was always hanging around at the baker’s stall. But there was also something endearing about a rosy-cheeked, roly-poly batsman who didn’t emote much at the crease. I watched his debut series against India and then followed his career over the winter when he was part of the Ashes tour. He didn’t do much at home or in Australia, but there was a sparky 47 in another lost cause that forced Steve Waugh to comment: "He doesn't give a shit about much and is real relaxed. I like that in a bloke; it stops him getting overawed." When I next saw Key he was biffing West Indies all over Lord’s for a pretty sweet double-century, but six Tests later he was gone.  And with it the last portly batsman of the modern era.

5. HD Ackerman Long before he moved to Grace Road and began churning out runs in county cricket, Ackerman debuted for South Africa against Pakistan in Durban in February 1998. Son of the former Northamptonshire batsman of the same name, he plodded forward efficiently for much of his debut innings of 57 from 155 deliveries from No 4. I watched most of that innings on a tiny TV in the Himalayas, interspersed with a few eight-over tennis ball matches outside, and what I remember most is how at ease Ackerman looked just keeping bat and pad together in monotony. There was the odd square-drive off Mushtaq Ahmed, but overall it was a resourceful innings of patience and grit where Ackerman didn’t offer a stroke. Facing Muttiah Muralitharan turned out to be an altogether tougher situation, however, and Ackerman’s international career was over three weeks later.

6. Gavin Hamilton Who doesn't have a soft spot for the underdog? Having rooted for Hamilton's Scotland during the 1999 World Cup, I was happy to hear that he'd been included in England's Test squad to tour South Africa. This was a major achievement for an Associate player, and I was very interested to see if Hamilton would be picked for one of the Tests. Sure enough, he got his debut. And it was a horrible one. Hamilton bagged a pair and was never even remotely considered for England selection. Not even remotely.

7. Chris Read Has one freak dismissal ever haunted a man more? Sitting in Mussoorie, I watched Read duck into a slow yorker from Chris Cairns and get bowled, and shook my head in disbelief. Countless replays later I still wondered what the guy had been thinking, and to this day Read probably does too. He came into the England team with a lot of respect for his wicketkeeping but somehow never convinced with the bat. Read’s glovework really was, and still is from whatever I see of him in county cricket, smooth and at times brilliant to watch. It all seemed so easy when he was behind the stumps. Singled out by Duncan Fletcher as a flawed ‘keeper – after no less than Rodney Marsh rated Read as the best English stumper he had seen since Alan Knott - Read has barely warranted a mention since his last Test, in 2007.

8. Niroshan Bandaratilleke His name, Mapa Rallalage Chandima Niroshan Bandaratilleke, was enough to get me taking a good look at this slow left-arm spinner when he made his debut. New Zealand were touring Sri Lanka and I was discovering the joys of ball-by-ball commentary on the Internet. MRCN Bandaratilleke had the Kiwis in a fix in just his second Test, spinning out nine wickets. His picture appeared in the Hindu during one of those five days and I saw a scrawny little chap celebrating a wicket with much gusto. I didn’t hear much more of him thereafter, except that he was the middle wicket of a Wasim Akram hat-trick during a Test in Pakistan the following year. Not much was heard of MRCN later.

9. Franklyn Rose I won’t forget Rose decimating India at Sabina Park. He was raw alright, but he was quick and mean. At that time it took some skill to clean up Tendulkar, but Rose did it during his 6 for 100 on debut, which earned him the Man-of-the-Match award, and backed that up with seven wickets in the third Test. This was when Ian Bishop was dwindling through injury and so it was genuinely believed that Rose was the man to take over from Walsh and Ambrose. But alas, that was not the case. His dip started soon after his feats against India, in the form of a fine by the WICB over an outstanding hotel bill, and by 2000 Rose was forgotten.

10. Dean Headley Sharing a birthday has nothing to do with my interest in Dean Warren Headley. This Headley, son of Ronald Headley and grandson of West Indian legend George Headley, came into prominence at around the time I took to following England seriously. He had the height (6’5”) and decent pace, and after a remarkable eight wickets on Test debut it seemed England were onto something. This was, after all, the decade in which England’s assembly line of fast bowlers included Neil Mallender, Mark Ilott, Peter Martin, Steve Watkin, Paul Jarvis, Martin McCague, Joey Benjamin, Tim Munton, Alan Igglesden, Paul Taylor, Neil Williams, Mike Smith, Neil Foster, Simon Brown, Phil Newport and David Lawrence. Sitting in Dhaka of all places, I watched Headley decimate a strong Australian line-up in the fourth Test of the 1998 Ashes, and it was truly an astonishing display. He was almost unplayable, and just seemed so perfect in that role. Given his talent, it is a surprise that he did not play more than 15 Tests (60 wickets, strike-rate 50.4) for England. But full marks for trying.

11. Anthony StuartAnthony Kaun Hai?’ wasn’t about this man, but it would be an apt name for a film if ever it were to be made. I spent many a winter’s morning waking up to watch cricket relayed from Australian summers, and of the many Carlton & United Series matches I watched, the most abiding memory is of a beanpole Anthony Mark Stuart taking a hat-trick against Pakistan at the MCG. And then I never saw him again. His run-up was smooth, the release almost mechanical, and on this particular day his pace and bounce did for Ijaz Ahmed, Moin Khan and Mohammad Wasim. The Wisden verdict: “As a teenager, he was a wicket-keeper, but found his niche in bowling history when Moin Khan edged a perfectly pitched leg-cutter to slip, and he finished with five for 26.” They forgot to add that Stuart never played for Australia again, and that within 12 months was released by his state side.


Unknown said…
Nice. You've brought up a few memories of my childhood as well-I remember watching HD Ackerman's innings, Hamilton's and Rose' test debuts and Anthony Stuart's hat-trick. And of course Chris Read's dismissal. That was in the middle of a great spell from Chris Cairns.
Jamie Alter said…
yeah man, that was just another time. that stuart hat-trick was during winter break from school and cairns' spell during the sprint semester I think. I always associate certain matches with certain places and situations.
Brian Carpenter said…
Yes, some good stuff.

Headley's early decline was just due to injury. If he'd stayed fit he would have played a lot more Tests.

I first saw Chris Read play when he was 16, for Devon. He was, and remains a superb (if slightly over-rated) keeper but his batting was never going to cut it at the very top level. Also Fletcher never really liked him and in the end was only willing to play him because Geraint Jones's form had declined so spectacularly.

One of the truly great county cricketers of his generation, though.

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