The Top Five Underachievers in Test Cricket
One of the greatest aspects of Test cricket is fast bowling.
Test cricket has seen innumerable fast bowlers who have caught the imagination of the millions of cricket fans across the world. The '70s produced some amazing quicks, especially in the Caribbean that catapulted West Indies to dizzying heights.
In the last two decades, some outstanding and remarkable pacers came into the Test scene. Some of them like Wasim Akram and have gone on to become legends.
Sadly, some have not despite having the potential to do much more than their inadequate records suggest.
Here's my top five "underachievers" in the pace bowling department in (contemporary) Test cricket.
This is just my take on this. Let me know what you think and do give me your picks for the most underachieving Test fast bowlers - past and present.
5. Simon Jones - Mr. Injury
Going into Ashes 2002-03 in Australia, Jones was touted as the “next big thing” in English seam bowling history after an impressive debut against India at home.
However, that Ashes series will best be remembered for the horrific knee injury he sustained while sliding to stop a boundary in the first test at the Gabba.
Over a year later, Jones worked his way back into the Test arena with 15 wickets in the four-match series. He was completely fit for the South Africa series in 2004-'05.
His inspired bowling helped England defeat SA at Port Elizabeth.
His rise to top form coincided with England reclaiming the Ashes 2005 in which he played an instrumental role by picking up 18 wickets. That he had complete mastery over the art of reverse swing was best exemplified by the delivery that Michael Clarke tried leaving alone only to get castled.
However, he sustained ankle injuries that made him miss the tours to Pakistan and India in March 2006. Since then, repeated injuries and consequent treatments have kept him out of action.
His career has been one of the most frustrating to follow because despite his obvious talent, he has played too few matches to showcase his art. And the wait for his next game seems like a never-ending proposition.
At 30, he still may fancy his chances, his fitness willing. But after debuting nearly seven years ago, he has managed to play only 18 matches taking 59 wickets at a decent average of 28 and an awesome strike rate of 48.
He was definitely capable of much more.
4. Shane Bond - Flattered to Decieve
The policeman from Canterbury made his Test debut Australia at Hobart in 2001. He was one of the fastest bowlers at that time with a lethal inswinger.
In his short career of 17 Test matches that spanned six years, Bond produced 79 wickets a fantastic average of 22 runs per wicket and a phenomenal strike rate of 39 balls.
In fact, Bond ranks fourth in the all-time of best strike rate in Test cricket. He was also the quickest to 50 wickets (in his 12th match) in Tests amongst NZ bowlers.
Despite a promising start, a great bowling action and seemingly great fitness, Bond couldn’t maintain the fitness levels that are required for a modern international cricketer.
He suffered frequent stress fractures in his back as well as injuries to his knees and feet.
He joined the “rebel” league – the Indian Cricket League in 2008 and has since not played for NZ.
Bond promised a lot; flattered only to deceive. He is one of the biggest underachievers of the sport: an immeasurable loss to the cricketing fraternity.
3. Jason Gillespie - The Unsung Hero
Australia’s fifth most successful bowler figures in this list because I believe that with his enormous talent, he should have reached the same heights as his more illustrious colleague Glenn McGrath.
One of the best fast bowlers on sub-continental pitches, “Dizzy” had the ability to move the ball both ways, get the ball to deviate off the pitch (on the deadest of wickets) and most importantly he had a big heart.
He’d probably figure in the list of bowlers who have beaten the bat most.
Starting off as a tearaway quick in the mid nineties, his career never really took off as he met with many stress injuries. He reinvented himself through the years, adding more and more weapons to his repertoire every season.
During the first half of this decade, he had become Australia’s most consistent fast bowler along with McGrath.
His was dropped during Ashes 2005 and subsequently called it a day in 2008.
He constantly performed under the shadow of McGrath. Many a time, his outstanding ability to move the ball both ways off the deck resulted in batsmen falling at the other end.
He played 71 Tests, took 259 wickets at an impressive average of 26.13 and 54.19 strike rate. If it were not for his periodic stress fractures, ailments and other injuries, he might well have played at least 25 Tests more and bagged a few dozen more wickets.
Blame it on his luck that he had to play in the same era as McGrath. Blame it on his fitness problems that he played fewer matches than he could have. Blame it on the selectors who dropped him without giving him his due.
But the fact remains Jason Gillespie could have done a lot better. It could have made him an all-time great that he could not become.
2. Steve Harmison - The Enigma
The lanky fast bowler from Durham debuted against India at home in 2002. After a few promising albeit undramatic seasons, he finally appeared to have "arrived" in the Test scene with a 7/12 against Windies at Sabina Park, to decimate them to 47 all out.
A lot was expected of him since then. And the expectations are far from being fulfilled.
His first delivery at the Gabba during Ashes 2006 went directly to Flintoff at second slip—that pretty much sums up Harmison's career.
No one, not even the man himself, knows which “Harmy” is going to take the field on any given day. Fans just have to pray that he recreates the Kingston magic.
And if “that” Harmy does wake up, he is down with fitness issues.
And if that is not enough to torture a fan’s mind, he’s one of the worst travellers in the sport. His reaction to his omission from the England side during the New Zealand tour in 2008 is wonderfully described by Andrew Miller wonderfully his Cricinfo piece “What a Waste.” (http://content-ind.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/342115.html),
“Disappointment? Indifference? Blessed relief? Or perhaps an incoherent blend of all three.”
Sixty-one matches in his career have produced 221 wickets at a 32 run average and a strike rate of 59 balls. Not bad by any means but certainly not as great as the expectations the Kingston demolisher had generated in the cricket world.
Seven years into his career, some think he’s still arriving; many think he’s actually drifting away from the game; no one can tell for sure – he is one of the game’s biggest enigmas indeed.
1. Shoaib Akhtar - The Prodigal Son
The “Rawalpindi Express” burst into the Test scene when he castled Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar off successive deliveries in Calcutta, 1999. He took eight wickets in the match and won the match for Pakistan in front of empty stands.
In the 46 Tests that he has played, he has picked up 178 wickets at a good average of 26 and an outstanding strike rate of 46.
Akhtar’s bowling talents have been “bettered” by his abilities to get into controversies and injuries. He has been accused, among others, of the following: throwing, ball tampering, wrong attitude, feigning injuries and drug abuse.
He once even physically assaulted a fellow Pakistani player.
Add to this list, his superstar image, his lack of maturity to handle it and his remarkably poor physical fitness, you have a perfect recipe for a disaster.
He manages to be in the news whether he’s playing or not. The public, especially in the subcontinent, adore this man. Whether he performs on the field is irrelevant. Love him or hate him–you just can’t ignore him.
Though his career is not officially over, at 33, one cannot help doubting if he has it in him to give Test cricket one final shot. That Pakistan is in cricketing wilderness doesn’t help either.
Akhtar will be remembered as the prodigal son of Pakistan who made the news more for his off-field controversies than his lightning fast in-swinging yorkers.