As the famous adage goes, ‘well begun is half done’. Upon toiling long and hard in those formative years, a cricketer’s dream comes true whe he receives his maiden Test cap and steps into the field with the incomparable feeling of representing his country at the highest level of the game. When the debut does not go down well, not only are the emotions shattered but the belief within begins to dissipate too.
Fret not, there have been numerous players who managed to overcome poor Test debuts and went on forge indelible careers. In this segment, we revisit the not-so-memorable starting points of some of England cricket’s exalted names.
#5 – Graeme Swann (Chennai, 2008)
Graeme Swann’s name in this exclusive list could raise a few eyebrows – Did he do enough to be tagged as a ‘legendary cricketer’ and was his debut poor enough to be slotted into the ‘forgettable’ category?
Apart from being the second highest wicket-taker among all England spinners, he also played a key role in helping them secure historic away series victories in challenging places like Australia (2010/11) and India (2012).
Considering the fact he possessed almost ten years of County debut at the time of his Test debut and what was to follow in its aftermath, Swann’s entry was below par by all means. On a rank turner in Chennai, the off-spinner failed to prevent India from hunting down a massive fourth-innings target of 387 which remains the highest ever chase on Asian soil.
Performance on Test debut – 2/42 from 10 overs & 2/103 from 28.3 overs
Overall career – 255 wickets from 60 matches at an average of 29.96 with 17 five-wicket hauls and 3 ten-wicket hauls
#4 – Graham Gooch (Edgbaston, 1975)
A stellar career spanning across three decades got underway in the most underwhelming way possible. Up against a motivated pace attack comprising of Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and the underrated Max Walker, Graham Gooch became the 17th batsman in Test history to bag a pair on debut.
With the opposition team led by the tactically shrewd Ian Chappell, there was no hiding place for the nervous newcomer. From both innings combined, Gooch faced ten deliveries and nor once did he come close to scoring his maiden Test run. However, when he finally rode off into the sunset, the right-hander had amassed close to 9000 runs and earned a glowing reputation as one of England’s finest.
Performance on Test debut – 0 from 3 balls & 0 from 7 balls
Overall career – 8900 runs from 118 matches at average of 42.58 with 20 centuries and 46 fifties
#3 – Derek Underwood (Trent Bridge, 1966)
Often unplayable on pitches with even a hint of dampness, Derek Underwood remains England’s most successful spinner of all time. Just short of 300 wickets at an average slightly over 25, the left-armer was a force to reckoned with in the late 60s and 70s.
However, his debut Test did not offer him anything apart from the experience of bowling to an imposing West Indies lineup featuring the likes of Sir Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Seymour Nurse among others. Even though he kept things tight by going at only two runs per over, as many as 45 overs across both innings were not enough to pick that elusive maiden wicket.
Performance on Test debut – 0/5 from 2 overs & 0/86 from 43 overs
Overall career – 297 wickets from 86 matches at an average of 25.83 with 17 five-wicket hauls and 6 ten-wicket hauls
#2 – Ken Barrington (Trent Bridge, 1955)
Over the course of the game’s long and illustrious history, there were very few harder batsmen to dismiss than Ken Barrington. Before he sapped bowlers’ wills with his obdurate defence and stubborn temperament, he was a cavalier thrill-a-minute shot maker.
Barrington‘s maiden appearance at the international level was quite brief. Coming in to bat towards the end of the opening day of the home series against South Africa, the right-hander lasted all of three minutes at the crease. Due to the ineptness of the visitors, he could not get to bat in the second innings.
Upon realising that his adventurous batting was not going to take him anywhere, he turned into a stonewaller and eventually finished with an astounding Test average of 58.67.
Performance on Test debut – 0 from 5 balls & DNB
Overall career – 6806 runs from 82 matches at average of 58.67 with 20 centuries and 35 fifties
#1 – Sir Len Hutton (Lord’s, 1937)
Heralded by the likes of Herbert Sutcliffe as the one to watch out for, Len Hutton had an unceremonious entry into Test cricket. On a fresh batting surface at Lord’s, England won a handsome toss against the visiting New Zealand side. However, Hutton had no answer to Jack Cowie’s deceptive pace and cut from a short run-up.
Interestingly, the bowler was also making his Test debut. Upon gaining a handy lead, England began their second innings determined to throw caution to the wind in order to force a result inside the three allocated days. Although he managed to score his first Test run, Hutton soon perished to Cowie once again.
Thankfully, 6970 more runs and a knighthood awaited the technically proficient Yorkshireman.
Performance on Test debut – 0 & 1
Overall career – 6971 runs from 79 matches at average of 56.67 with 19 centuries and 33 fifties