Cricket Diary: Why Aftab is a W G boy and Tudor is Lillywhite

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WHAT HAVE Aftab Habib and Chris Read in common with the likes of W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Douglas Jardine, Tom Graveney, Fred Trueman, Ian Botham, David Gower, Father Marriott and Joey Benjamin? It is a feature that they will never share with James Lillywhite, Patsy Hendren, Colin Cowdrey, Brian Statham, Graham Gooch, Mike Gatting, Tony Pigott and Alex Tudor.

The answer is that they, like the others on the former list, appeared in winning England teams in their maiden (and in two cases, only) Test matches, unlike those on the latter list. There was much comment about Nasser Hussain being the first captain since Bob Willis in 1982 to win his first game in charge, so it seemed only reasonable to check on the fortunes of the debutant players.

There are more winners than you might suppose. Of the 595 men who have represented England, some 243 appeared on winning sides immediately. Some, such as Grace, Hobbs etc, went on to have auspicious careers, others, such as Marriott (11 for 96 against West Indies at The Oval in 1933) and Benjamin, never played again. This means that 40 per cent of players picked are likely to enjoy victory first time out, which is seven per cent more than the proportion of matches England have won - now 256 from 758. The figure holds up astonishingly well in the Nineties, when most would say that the side began to be hammered regularly.

True, of the 101 Test matches England have played this decade they have won only 26, or 25 per cent. Yet of the 51 players (yes 51, or nearly six a year) who have made debuts in that time, no fewer than 25, or 50 per cent, have tasted victory champagne first time out. These figures suggest that the selectors, far from going along with this new-fangled theory of continuity should change the team as often as possible, preferably every match. New players, whatever their individual performance, seem to increase the chances.

Habib and Read merely followed the recent likes of Warren Hegg, Andrew Flintoff, Mark Butcher, Min Patel, Alan Mullally, Ronnie Irani, Mike Watkinson, Nick Knight, Dominic Cork and Benjamin. Some might have already slipped back to obscurity but it is the initial effect which counts here. Last week meant that seven of the eleven in the team had won on their first appearance.

Not, it should be mentioned, that losing or winning in a maiden Test necessarily has much influence on what happens subsequently. The largest margin of defeat by runs alone in a Test match remains the 675 by which England outstripped Australia in 1928. A chap making his debut became the most successful batsman of all and retired 20 years later leading one of the greatest teams who were known as The Invincibles. Name of Don Bradman.

EIGHT ENGLAND captains since Bob Willis have failed to win their first Test match in charge. Three of them, Allan Lamb (three matches), John Emburey (two) and Chris Cowdrey (one) lost the lot.

It was a similar story before Willis. His immediate seven predecessors all failed to win their first Test as captain. It was much better before that run began in the early Seventies with Mike Denness. Beginning with Len Hutton in 1952 and ending with Tony Lewis in 1972-73 nine out of 10 captains won their first match. The exception was Tom Graveney who drew his only Test at the helm.

IF YOU were asked the last place on earth where you might expect to see a picturesque and traditional cricket ground, Milton Keynes might not be your first choice but it would not be your last either.

Campbell Park, where the New Zealanders, strangely, played Sri Lanka A on Wednesday, turns out to be a wondrous sight in the city of a thousand roundabouts. The ground has a modern but not wholly unattractive pavilion and, more importantly, is a proper open space bordered by trees and with a tiered, grassy bank round the boundary. One wonders which of the 16 Campbells to have played first-class cricket in England it might have been named after. Could it have been Donald, the Australian who played for Cheshire who died of paralysis or Thomas, the Edinburgh-born South African who died in a railway accident in 1924 having survived falling from a train eight years previously?


"In English league cricket, a number of these young players may learn more about enjoying a pint of beer and having a few laughs... don't get me wrong English club cricket is a brilliant way to enjoy our great game but I don't believe it is the best way for young players to develop into serious contenders." Justin Langer in his eminently readable diary From Outback To Outfield on a weakness even now being addressed.


THE THEN England coach warned that Ian Austin would surprise a few people. David Lloyd, annoyed that the Australians referred to the sturdy, wholehearted seamer, as a village bowler, said he was crucial to England's World Cup chances. He was dropped after two matches. On Friday he reminded us what might have been with a career-best 6 for 43 against Sri Lanka A. And they said he could only do it in early-season conditions.