How did this mediocre international XI play so many Tests?

In my previous article I presented Australia’s mediocre XI, players who played at least 10 Tests without setting the world on fire or doing anything in particular to justify their selection.

To refresh your memory, this proud Australian XI was:

John Dyson (1977-1984)
Marcus Harris (2018-2022)
Jack Worrall (1885-1899)
Ian Craig (1953-1958)
Victor Richardson (1924-1936)
Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay (1956-1963)
Mitchell Marsh (2014-2019)
Peter Nevill (2015-2016)
Ray Bright (1977-1986)
Tim Wall (1929-1934)
Ian Meckiff (1957-1963)

To take on this stellar list of 10-plus-Test veterans, set out below is a world XI selected along similar lines. Lots of Tests, not much impact. Lots and lots of Tests, actually.

Unlike the Australian XI, where the players averaged 21 Tests each, when we widen the field to the other Test-playing nations, the average Tests ‘earned’ by this lot is a tick over 40.

I have to be careful here as countries just starting their Test journey often have whole teams of players who produce relatively poor results compared to the more established sides.

While I will still have a couple of early Test Bangladesh and Zimbabwe representatives whose lack of contribution cannot be ignored, I have managed to find a cross section of very average contributors from most Test nations.

Openers

Alistair Campbell (Zimbabwe) (1992-2002)

Campbell played 60 Tests during his decade-long career, which is remarkably not the most in this team. He averaged a less than stellar 27.21 with a strike rate of 41.76.

Campbell scored just two centuries during this period. He averaged 31 or less against every team that he faced at least four times. The reason for his 60 Tests, apart from depth issues, is that it all started so well, averaging a respectable 40 after 11 Tests.

Campbell did play for a weaker nation, however during exactly the same period Andy Flower averaged 51.5. Other Zimbabwean batsmen who overlapped with Campbell include Dave Houghton (43.05), Murray Goodwin (42.84), Grant Flower (29.54) and Guy Whittall (29.42).

Devon Smith (West Indies) (2003-2018)

Alistair Campbell has nothing on Devon Smith, who managed to get selected 43 times over 15 years with a career average of 23.78. Unlike Campbell, there wasn’t really any suggestion that Smith was going to turn into Matthew Hayden, jagging a pair in his second Test, but he kept getting picked regardless.

At one point in 2005 Smith went out to bat five times against Australia without exceeding eight runs in any innings.

The highlight of Smith’s career was a century, top scoring in the first innings of the 2004 Test against England at Kingston. Only one other player passed 38 against an attack of Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, and Simon Jones that would soon wrest the Ashes from the world champion Australians.

But even then Smith was careless enough to be dismissed by Ashley Giles, who was also on the short list for this side. The home side was also bowled out for 47 in their second innings.

Smith’s career does provide some insight into the West Indies’ struggles during the 21st century. He played under eight different captains in his 43 Tests.

Honourable mentions for openers go to Kieran Powell (West Indies) – 44 Tests averaging 25.76; Lahiru Thirimanne (Sri Lanka) – 44 Tests averaging 26.43; and Darren Ganga (West Indies) – 48 Tests averaging 25.71.

Middle order

Mark Ramprakash (England) (1991-2002)

The man with 114 first class centuries personified English cricket’s soft underbelly in the 1990s. While suffering from confused selections and knee-jerk reactions, the talented Ramprakash still played 52 Tests, the same as Don Bradman.

His average of 27.32 with only two centuries did not quite match the great Australian. There was also a strike rate of 36 to help slow down the game, plus some less than handy bowling that was regularly used despite a return of four wickets for 477 runs.

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The interesting thing is that Ramprakash averaged 42.4 in 12 Tests against Australia, which included half of all his scores over 50. Over that same period (August 1993 to August 2001) only Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Graham Thorpe averaged more against the Australians (minimum 10 Tests).

However, his record versus Australia was comfortable 10 points higher than against anyone else. Ramprakash’s other main opponent happened to be the West Indies, against whom he averaged just 21 over 16 matches.

To be fair Ramprakash did improve as his career went on, given he was averaging 19.5 after 21 Tests. The question is why he reached 21 Tests with that record and why he got another 32 thereafter.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

Mohammad Ashraful (Bangladesh) (2001-2013)

Dear, oh dear. Sixty-one Tests averaging exactly 24.0. The one-time Bangladeshi wonderkid takes the cake as ‘earning’ the most Test caps in this team.

Ashraful scored a century on debut at just 17 years old. He was really good against Sri Lanka, averaging 45.41 and scoring five of his six centuries. He also did well against India. It was just every other nation, both home and away, that caused him problems. His not against India or Sri Lanka record was 82 innings, averaging 15.6.

To be fair, Ahraful was part of a team that struggled, winning just four matches during his career. In those matches he averaged 9.

A terribly inconsistent player, Ashraful scored more centuries than any other player in this team. The problem is he scored under 20 no fewer than 62 per cent of the times he went out to bat.

Oh, and the poor guy couldn’t bowl. Twenty-one wickets at 60.5 is not even deserving of part-time status. The problem was, when he captained himself for 13 Tests, his bowling workload went up by 50 per cent, while still averaging over 50.

Ken Rutherford (New Zealand) (1985-1995)

Ken Rutherford made a pair on debut and averaged 1.7 after four Tests. Unfortunately for him, Rutherford’s first four Tests were against the 1985 vintage West Indies. He was dismissed five times in his first seven innings by Malcolm Marshall.

Given his struggles, it’s no wonder that he also ran himself out for a duck in that series to avoid more punishment. Amazingly, over the course of a decade-long career, Rutherford was given another four Tests against the West Indies, including twice captaining the Kiwis against them.

He never scored more than 22, falling once more to Marshall, Garner and Ambrose and weirdly the might of Rajindra Dhanraj (who took eight career wickets at 74.37).

Rutherford did okay against some other opponents, most notably Australia, where he averaged a very handy indeed 39.8 runs in two Tests against Zimbabwe, adding 1.5 to his career average of only 27.08.

Rutherford’s career average was only pushed over 20 after his 31st Test, by playing Zimbabwe. Thirty Tests averaging under 19 was good enough to get him another 26.

I should also mention his one career wicket for 161 runs.

Honourable mentions for the middle order go to Russell Arnold (Sri Lanka) – 44 Tests averaging 28.01 plus 11 wickets at 54.36; Jeff Crowe (New Zealand) – 39 Tests averaging 26.24; Shai Hope (West Indies) – 38 Tests averaging 25.01; and John Parker (New Zealand) – 36 Tests averaging 24.55.

All-rounder: Roston Chase (West Indies) (2016-2021)

As a batting all rounder I’ve selected Roston Chase.

Chase has managed 43 Tests to date and there may be a few more yet. He started as a specialist batsman which is not a great look for him given career batting average of 26.78. He has over time become something of an all-rounder, often fulfilling the side’s spin bowling duties. Seventy-nine wickets at 42.74 doesn’t scream threat.

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In both batting and bowling Chase can really have his moments. He has scored five centuries and also has taken four five-wicket hauls. In 2016 against India, he did both in the same match, with his second innings 137 not out saving the game for his side.

It’s the in between that is a concern. Chase’s batting is weak everywhere except at home, in India and in Zimbabwe. Do not put any faith in him when pace bowling could be a factor. He is also in decline, with his last three seasons producing batting averages of 4.25, 18.14 and 3.25.

His bowling is solid but nothing special. Two of his five-wicket hauls have been against England, which probably says something about England’s batting.

This includes a remarkable 8 for 50 in Bridgetown in 2019 as Chase spun a hapless England to a 381 loss (I should point out England started the second innings 628 runs in arrears after imploding for 77 in their first innings – good times).

Honourable mention goes to Kumar Dharmasena (Sri Lanka) – 31 Tests, bowling average 42.31. Batting 19.72.

Wicketkeeper: Kamran Akmal (Pakistan) (2002-2010)

There is not a great deal of statistical analysis I can do here, except to say Akmal is about the worst keeper I’ve seen and received 53 Tests to prove it. Akmal could bat quite well for a keeper, averaging over 30, although he could not be relied upon to bat to the conditions, or his team’s needs.

Some masochistic Pakistan supporter somewhere will have worked out just how many catches and stumpings Akmal missed, but he’s probably had to be locked up for his own safety.

Spinner: Nicky Boje (South Africa) (2000-2006)

South Africa had a long period after their reinstatement where they viewed any player who actually spun the ball with extreme levels of suspicion. They relied on pace and more pace, together with about 1000 broad shouldered all-rounders.

They now have a really good spin bowling option in Kheshan Kaharaj, but before him Nicky Boje was the poster boy for reliably ordinary spin bowling.

Boje could bat, averaging 25, and this seems to have been his main cause for retention for 43 Tests. On the bowling front he took 2.3 wickets per match at an average of 42.65 and threatened pretty much nobody. He averaged over 36 against every opponent except, funnily enough, those great players of spin – India.

However, his average of 24 against the Indians is misleading because he took all of his seven wickets in a single Test in Bengalaru in 2000 and went wicketless on three other occasions. This pattern was rather familiar. Against Australia he took four wickets in his debut innings and then only eight in his remaining 10 efforts.

There have been a lot of average spinners in the world. Honourable mentions include: John Embury (England) – 64 Tests averaging 38.4 and Ashley Giles “The King of Spain” (England) – 54 Tests averaging 40.6.

New Zealand have a category all of their own. They love a tremendously average spinner, including Dipak Patel – 37 Tests averaging 42.05; Jeetan Patel – 24 Tests averaging 47.35; Paul Wiseman – 25 Tests averaging 47.59; and Mark Craig 15 Tests averaging 46.52.

Pace bowlers

Mohammad Sami (Pakistan) (2001-2012)

To average 52.74 for the traditional pace bowling powerhouse of Pakistan is quite an effort. To be picked 36 times over a decade while doing it is a miracle.

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How did this happen?

Well, at just 20 years old Sami took eight wickets on debut, including a second innings five-wicket haul, to defeat New Zealand in Auckland in 2001. He did it in a bowling attack that included Waqar Younis, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed. It was at the time the second best debut by a Pakistan bowler in history. That gets you a lot of rope.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, Sami used all that rope. He never produced another five wickets in an innings performance and never again took as many as eight in a match. He took one wicket or fewer in an innings in 41 out of 86 career innings.

Ajit Agarkar (India) (1998-2006)

Up until recent times it’s been a tough gig having to bowl pace for India. It was tougher for some than others.

Across 26 Tests, Agarkar averaged 47.32 and only took a single five-wicket haul, five years after his debut. Agarkar quite liked Australia, averaging just over 35 in seven Tests in the country, but averaged over 50 in every other country where he played more than once.

Not only did Agarkar manage five wickets in an innings only once, he never even managed more than three in any other of his 46 innings.

Agarkar’s lasting record in Tests, a mark that has stood for over two decades, actually relates to his batting. His five consecutive ducks in 1999/2000 against Australia has been equalled twice (by Bob Holland and Mohammadf Asif), but never bettered.

Rubel Hossain (Bangladesh) (2009-2020)

We have a winner, ladies and gentlemen! I’d like to briefly mention a batting average of 9.46 before moving on to the main course. Twenty-seven Tests, 36 wickets (yes, 1.3 wickets per Test), average per wicket 76.77, strike rate 117.3.

Rubel Hossain was not a pace bowling powerhouse and he stood out in a company of struggling seamers for Bangladesh, not just for his rampant mediocrity, but for getting to showcase it for over a decade.

Hossain played against eight different opponents and averaged over 70 against seven of them. He averaged over 100 for his 15 Tests at home.

He was recalled in 2020 after taking one wicket at 304 across his previous four tests. After three wickets on debut Hossain took one single wicket in his next six innings. He once had a run of 27 innings without taking more than two wickets in any of them.

I can only guess that he is a great team man.

There are quite a few honourable mentions for pace bowlers, including Suranga Lakmal (Sri Lanka) – 70 Tests 171 wickets at 36.44; Chris Lewis (England) 32 Tests 93 wickets at 37.52; Mashrafe Bin Mortaza (Bangladesh) – 36 Tests 78 wickets at 41.52; Pramodya Wickramasinghe (Sri Lanka) 40 Tests 85 wickets at 41.87; Madan Lal (India) 39 Tests 71 wickets at 40.08; Darren Powell (West Indies) 37 Tests 85 wickets at 47.85; Shahadat Hossain (Bangladesh) 38 Tests 72 wickets at 51.8.

This international side would not be complete without 12th man and non-playing captain Mike Brearley (England).

The famous England captain played 39 Tests and averaged just 22.88 at a coma-inducing strike rate of 29.79. But he could handle Ian Botham, so apparently that was alright.

Brearley’s captaincy record is traditionally considered brilliant, but in actual fact most of his reputation was built on beating up weakened teams during World Series Cricket, beating Pakistan, India and New Zealand at home and having Ian Botham in his side. In his only away series to a full-strength Australia, Brearley’s team were beaten 3-nil.

So, who would win the Mediocrity Cup? I’m hopeful of a washout.

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