Today we welcome back James Wilson, author of Court and Bowled: Tales of Cricket and the Law. He recalls some of the more interesting Test debuts experienced by cricketers over the years. Enjoy …
The vast majority of cricketing followers, myself included, needless to say, will never come close to playing first class cricket, let alone test cricket. We can only imagine what it feels like to walk out to face the ultimate examination of one’s cricketing ability and character. We will never feel the ultimate buzz of anticipation, hear the hush of the crowd as we take guard, sense the opposition fielders sizing us up, or the tightening of nerves as the bowler steams in towards us.
The experience of debutants over the years has obviously varied enormously. Some players have made first ball ducks or found their bowling belted around the ground mercilessly. Others have made double centuries or taken as many as eight wickets in an innings. Some faced the best players in the world in front of crowds of 100,000 or more, with millions more watching on television. Others faced more modest opposition in front of barely two men and a dog in the stands, with the television crew probably outnumbering the viewers.
This XI comprises some of the more memorable first test appearances, chosen for a variety of reasons. There is no unifying theme beyond the simple fact of an interesting debut, but if there is a wider conclusion to be drawn, it is the rather jejune observation that first tests often provide no guide to a player’s future career.
1. Charles Bannerman (Aus). ‘Start at the beginning, go on until you reach the end, then stop’ advises the King in Alice in Wonderland. Following that advice, we begin at the very dawn of test cricket, when Charles Bannerman took guard against Alfred Shaw in Melbourne in 1877 and faced the first ball ever bowled in test cricket. Bannerman was therefore assured of cricketing immortality regardless of how he played – not that he would have realised it at the time, since it was only later that the concept of test cricket was formalised, and the match in 1877 was retrospectively deemed the first ‘proper’ test.
Bannerman, thus untroubled by the weight of history, went on to score the very first test century, and eventually retired hurt on 165. His innings was the highest score in test cricket for 16 matches, when it was passed by Billy Murdoch’s 211. Extraordinarily, it remains to this day a record in two respects, even though more than 2,000 matches have been played since. First, it constitutes the highest individual share of a completed team innings in Test history (67.35%). Second, it is the highest score by a player who retired hurt and did not later resume his innings. Gambling was enormously popular in Victorian sport; I wonder what odds anyone would have obtained for their descendants had they bet on those two records standing for over 140 years.
2. Andy Ganteaume (WI). Andy Ganteaume is the first of two players here whose first test covered the full spectrum of cricketing emotions, since he made a century but was dropped after the match and never played again. He had been on the fringe of selection for a while, before gaining his chance when Jeff Stollmeyer was injured during the Windies’ home series against England in 1947/48. Ganteaume scored a patient 112 in the first innings, though the captain asked for the scoring rate to be increased and promoted others ahead of him in the second innings as time was running short.
Ganteaume was dropped for the next match, even though Stollmeyer was still injured, because the inter-island politics of the day demanded a ‘home captain’ in each test. The woefully out of form John Goddard was brought in to lead the side, and managed a total of four runs. Ganteaume was excluded from all subsequent series until finally being recalled for the 1957 England tour, in which he enjoyed only moderate form in the tour matches and never seriously challenged for a test place. Thereafter he faded from the cricketing scene.
The consensus seems to be that Ganteaume’s exclusion was due as much to the fact that he showed little deference towards the Caribbean cricket establishment (still white-dominated in those days). He died in 2016, still holding technically the highest test batting average in history.
3. Don Bradman (Aus) What is remarkable about the debut of Donald George Bradman is that it was unremarkable, unlike virtually every other match he ever played. His performance was in fact so unremarkable that he was dropped – the Australian selectors’ equivalent of Decca Records declining to sign the Beatles (‘Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein’).
The match in question was the first test of England’s 1928/9 tour of Australia, played at Brisbane. Bradman scored just 18 and 1 as Australia went down to a crushing defeat. He was recalled for the third test, in which he scored 79 and 112, and never looked back.
I suppose no one could have known what the Beatles were going to be at the time they were rejected by Decca. With Bradman, on the other hand, his first class record before his debut clearly showed how much ability he had. Then again, more than a few first class run machines over the years have turned out to be made of flakier stuff at test level, and if a team loses by an innings as Australia did in Bradman’s first test it is hard for selectors to resist making changes. There is, accordingly, some mitigation for the Australian decision, along with the fact they recalled Bradman for the third test and did not make the same mistake again.
4. To provide some company for Andy Ganteume, we have chosen at number four Rodney Redmond (NZ), the only other player to have scored a century in his solitary test match. Redmond’s opportunity came in the third test of Pakistan’s tour of New Zealand in 1972/3, in which he scored an imperious 107 off 145 balls and followed up with 56 off 84 in the second innings as the game finished in a draw. He was chosen for the subsequent tour of England, but struggled with his new contact lenses and did not score enough to be considered for test selection, although he played two limited overs internationals.
There were other reasons for him fading from cricketing view thereafter, chiefly the fact that New Zealand cricket in the 1970s was a very amateur affair. Glenn Turner, Richard Hadlee, John Wright and Geoff Howarth obtained English county contracts, but for everyone else day jobs necessarily took precedence. That was especially so once they had families, as Redmond did soon after the England tour, when his wife fell pregnant. Their son Aaron went on to play for New Zealand, for more tests but with less success than Rodney. But Rodney remains the holder of the proud record of an aggregate of 163, still the record for a single test at the time of writing.
5. Reginald Erskine ‘Tip’ Foster (Eng). R E ‘Tip’ Foster found his way into many of the record books over a century ago, and remains in some of them even today. Most notably, he made what is still the highest individual score on debut, no less than 287 against Australia at Sydney in 1903.
Foster’s debut came after a number of years in which he had only made limited first class appearances, but had excelled in most of them. He represented Worcestershire in 1899 and set another record when he and his brother Wilfred both scored hundreds in both innings of the same match (in total, seven Foster brothers played for the county). The next year he captained Oxford and scored the highest individual innings in the Varsity Match (171) and became the first person to score two centuries in a match in the Gentleman v Players contests. He was chosen by Wisden as a cricketer of the year in 1901. But his work commitments prevented him from turning out anything like as often as his form justified, until England’s winter tour in 1903.
His epic score of 287 stood as the all-time test record until 1930, the highest score against Australia until 1938, and the highest score by any visiting player in Australia until Ross Taylor of New Zealand eclipsed him with 290 as recently as 2015. Unfortunately for England, Foster’s business commitments still restricted his playing opportunities despite that incredible debut. In total he appeared in only eight tests, managing one other fifty and an overall average of 41.
Away from cricket, Foster set another sporting record certain never to fall, when he became the first and only person to captain England in both cricket and football. But there was a sad ending: Foster died from complications from diabetes when just 36 years of age.
6. Lee Germon (w/k, c) (NZ). The New Zealand cricket board arranged a number of fixtures to mark its centenary in 1994, but it turned out to be anything other than a celebration. The team was murdered regularly on the field and was usually in headlines for the wrong reasons off it, with allegations of marijuana use and other petty crimes. It could have been no great surprise when the season finished that the selectors looked for a new captain as well as various new players. Lee Germon was highly regarded as Canterbury’s leader and had played respectably as a keeper at first class level, so found himself parachuted into the side as captain on his test debut. Two of the surviving senior players, Martin Crowe and Ken Rutherford, were not amused: Crowe later called the decision a ‘joke’, while Rutherford retired in sadness and pique and went to play provincial cricket in South Africa.
It would be some years and more selectorial brooms before New Zealand once again became a competitive international side, under a new captain/keeper Brendon McCullum. Still, Germon had a few moments of success, including on his debut, when he top scored in both innings with 48 and 41, albeit in a resounding loss to India. He lasted less than two years as captain, winning only one test, though it was a notable achievement in that it was the first win for New Zealand in Pakistan for 26 years. He was also captain when New Zealand won a limited overs international in the West Indies for the first time. And he could point to a special record as international keeper, in that he managed more dismissals (29) than he conceded byes (24).
7. William Ewart Astill (Eng). Some of the players on this team practically walked into test cricket. Astill, on the other hand, earned his stripes like no player before or since. His first class debut was in August 1906, but he had to play another 423 matches over 21 years before finally earning selection to play for England (against South Africa in December 1927). He managed nine tests in total over the next few years. Clearly his love for the game never diminished, since in total he played no fewer than 733 first-class matches over 33 years, despite losing nearly a decade of playing time when serving as an Army officer in the two world wars. His first class record was outstanding, taking 2,431 wickets at 23.76 and scoring 22,731 runs at 22.55.
Away from his contrasting duties in flannelled whites and khaki, he was a leading billiards player and a versatile and talented musician. I wonder if there is a similarly multi-talented county professional somewhere today who is busily chalking up the decades in the same quietly impressive fashion as Astill.
8. Chosen as statistical cheese to Astill’s chalk, Emile McMaster (Eng) holds a unique place in cricket history in that his only first-class appearance came in a test match, in South Africa in 1888/89. As with Bannerman’s match, it was only retrospectively classified as a test. Unlike Bannerman, however, McMaster made no impact on the match whatever. He batted at number nine, was dismissed without scoring, and was not asked to bowl. The match was over in less than two days. One can only wonder what he might otherwise have achieved.
Although McMaster is unique in having his only first class appearance in a test, there have been 32 other cricketers who made their first class debuts in a Test match. Not surprisingly, 28 of them were in the nineteenth century, when the definition of a test match was still being roughed out and cricket in general was less organised and competitive than in the present day.
9. Tony Pigott (Eng). Pigott lived the dream of every club cricketer when he received a shock call-up to a beleaguered international touring side. The scene was England’s tour of New Zealand in 1983/4. Pigott had played county cricket since the late 1970s without ever coming near international honours. He happened to be in New Zealand playing club cricket over the English winter. England had lost some players through injury after the drawn first test, and Pigott was the closest player they could find with first class experience. When asked if he was free on the weekend, Pigott replied that he was in fact getting married, but he dutifully postponed his nuptials to answer his country’s call.
The selector’s phone call might have been a dream come true, but the match turned out to be a fiasco for both Pigott and the team, as England crashed to one of their worst-ever defeats. They bowled first and bowled rubbish, sending down far too many short pitched deliveries (New Zealand tracks rarely reward anyone pitching the ball in their own half). Richard Hadlee slashed 99 off 81 deliveries as the Kiwis reached 307. Hadlee then took the ball and gave England a brutal lesson in how to bowl medium fast in New Zealand conditions, while the English batsmen played into his hands (or those of his fielders) by playing back foot shots to pitched-up outswingers. England were dismissed twice for under 100 and lost by an innings. As with McMaster’s debut all those years earlier, the match was over inside two days of playing time.
Pigott went back to club cricket and never came close to international consideration again. Ironically, the speed of England’s defeat meant he could have gone ahead with his wedding on schedule after all.
10. If Pigott did not expect to be chosen for test cricket, Darren Pattinson (Eng) went one better. Not only would he not have had many hopes to play at the highest level (being a journeyman pace bowler), he would never have expected to turn out for the country who chose him. On the morning of his test debut for England in 2008, Cricinfo was still listing him as an Australian, reflecting where he had lived and played for most of his life. He was born in England, though his accent betrayed his more substantive origins. When asked if it was his dream to earn an English cap, he replied with disarming honesty ‘not really’.
At the time of his call-up, replacing the injured first choice players, Pattinson was in the middle of his first season for Nottinghamshire, but was looking forward to a weekend off and taking his children to Alton Towers. The England captain Michael Vaughan complained that he preferred to lead players he had actually heard of, so he would have an idea who to bowl and when. The official explanation given was that Pattinson was suited to the conditions, given the decent first class season he had been enjoying (though his entire career to that point had consisted of just 11 matches). Conspiracy theorists speculated that he was chosen to ensure Australia could not pick him for a forthcoming Ashes tour. Either way, he bowled his heart out, had modest success, and never played again. His brother James, on the other hand, went on to have a longer test career – for Australia.
11. Charles Marriot (Eng). There are several candidates for the bowlers’ equivalent of Andy Ganteaume and Rodney Redmond – the true one test wonders. I have opted for Charles Marriott, a leg spinner whose formidable first class bowling record of 711 wickets in 159 games (between 1919 and 1937) was matched only by the haplessness of his batting record of just 574 runs at 4.41, making him the quintessential number eleven. His solitary test match, for England against West Indies in 1933 at the perennial spinners’ paradise of the Oval, recorded figures of a piece with that record – an astonishing 11 for 96 with the ball, and out for nought in his only innings with the bat (England won by an innings).
Marriott’s Wisden obituary gives little clue as to why he was perpetually overlooked before and after that match. He did tour South Africa and India with MCC, and even took a hat trick in a first class match in the latter country, but for some reason the selectors always preferred someone else when it came to test matches. Possible reasons include the strength of English cricket during his career, his complete lack of ability with the bat, and whether (though not recorded in Wisden) he was simply unavailable much of the time, though that last reason seems unlikely given the number of first class matches in which he appeared.
12. Peter Taylor (Aus) (12th man) For our final selection, I have chosen the player who – perhaps unfairly – was considered the accidental or mistaken debut. During England’s successful Ashes tour in 1986/7, with the series already lost, Australia opted for a wildcard for the final test in Sydney by choosing the offspinner and useful late order batsman Peter Taylor. His career to that point had been sufficiently obscure that conspiracy theorists assumed the selectors had the wrong Taylor, and that they had meant to choose the future captain Mark (there was still another Taylor of note around the same time, Mick, who had joined the rebel tours of South Africa, one important factor in Australia’s struggles at the time).
Their suspicion was not wholly unwarranted given that Taylor to that point had played only six first class matches, and only one that season. Wisden, however, was having none of it. ‘There was no substance to the allegations’, it declared, then continued:
and in a saga that developed along the lines of a story in Boy’s Own, the unassuming Taylor gloriously vindicated the selectors’ judgement, not to say courage, with a performance of such merit that he was named player of the match. Figures of six for 78 in England’s first innings and two for 76 in the second revealed him as a thoughtful bowler with more than average powers of spin. But well as he did in his specialist department, it was his batting – angular, left-handed and blessed with common sense – that made possible Australia’s win. Going in at No. 9, he batted for 244 minutes in both innings while 142 runs were scored, enabling Jones to add 111 with his last three partners in the first innings and sharing a stand of 98 with Waugh in the second when Australia’s needs were even greater.
Taylor’s 2 for 76 in the second innings included Botham first ball. Sadly, he never really went on from there in test cricket, playing a total of 13 tests without coming close to the same level of success, although he was a fixture of Australian one day sides for much longer. Then, after retiring from his playing days, he became a selector for a while – doubtless looking out for some more surprising players for more surprising debuts.
© James Wilson
 One notable incident from Germon’s first class career was being at the crease in a Shell Trophy match when his opponents, Wellington, tried a farcical manipulation of the match by ordering a non-bowler, Bert Vance, to send down no-balls and wides to bring the score close enough to entice Canterbury to risk going for a win. The over went for 77 runs, amidst much confusion from the umpires and scorers since it happened in such a short time. The tactic failed as the match was still drawn, though it was only in the aftermath that Wellington realised they had nearly gone too far in conceding runs. Generally the over is consigned to a footnote in cricket records rather than being considered a genuine score; accordingly, it is consigned to a footnote here as well.