Cricket: Men who would not be batsmen: Rob Steen hails the players with the edge in the competitive art of batting failure

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The Independent Online
DUFFERS of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your wicket. To some, batting is a trial of ability, a test of nerve, the end- of-season averages the ultimate judge. To the duffers, those to whom failure is so familiar that it no longer holds any fears, the race to avoid propping up that table is equally competitive.

Entering this week's final lap, Steve Barwick of Glamorgan trails the field, his 28 runs coming at an average of 2.54. By-passing Mark Abington of Cambridge University (2.85) on the grounds that his supposed superiors rarely do that much better, Barwick's partner in pace, Steve Bastien, comes next with 3, followed, inevitably, by the Yorkshire left-arm seamer Mark Robinson (4.17).

Robinson earned himself the accolade of the duffer's duffer in 1990 when he established a world record with 11 successive ducks for Northamptonshire. 'I'm paid to bowl, not bat,' he says. 'Whenever I've had a good season with the ball, the attention has still been on my batting, so the club don't like me talking about it.'

Not that life in the warren is all bad. While Barwick and Bastien have confounded their previous productivity levels (7.78 and 10.07 respectively), Robinson's 1992 average is more than double his career mark of 1.97. Since he is enjoying his best season as a bowler, has his success in delivering the ball influenced his efforts in repelling it? 'The only difference has been that when I tickle one to fine leg now, I'm running instead of staying put. I'm not always trying to give the other guy the strike any more. I used to make half-hour noughts; now it's more likely to be a half-hour two.'

A surprising absentee from the lower rungs of the ladder is another Glamorgan seamer, Mark Frost, second only to Robinson back in April with a career average of 2.86. Frost's solitary scoring stroke - a boundary - and 1.33 average are unmatched, but his three completed innings in eight first-class outings leave him three short of the requisite minimum. For some reason, his county have resisted the temptation to field Frost, Barwick and Bastien together.

Among those who have played in 30 Tests or more, the title of King Bunny goes to the Indian Maninder Singh (88 at 3.82), followed by his countryman Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (167 runs at 4.07) and the Jamaican Alf Valentine (141 at 4.7). Extending the role to those with at least 10 caps, Australia's John Saunders stands supreme with 39 runs at 2.29. The aforementioned were all spinners.

If Robinson has taken a small step towards mediocrity, Peter Such has taken a great leap for rabbitkind. From 1982 to 1991, the off-spinner never mustered 50 runs in a summer for either Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire or Essex. These days, however, he can be spotted in the Chelmsford nets with disturbing regularity, with marked results. In his last three innings alone he has made 12 not out, 20 and a career-best 35, lifting that career mark to the dizzy heights of 4 and more.

Another reluctant batsman to shed an unwanted reputation has been Paul Taylor. Beginning the season with an average of 4.27, the Northamptonshire left-arm bowler managed a 673 per cent improvement on his previous highest score - 11 in 1984 - with an unbeaten 74 against Nottinghamshire in May. Duly encouraged, his 1992 Championship average stands at a hefty 20. The boy's an absolute disgrace to his class.

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE RACE FOR BATTING'S WOODEN SPOON ----------------------------------------------------------------- Runs Innings Average S R Barwick (Glamorgan). . . . . . . . 28 11 2.54 M B Abington (Cambridge Univ). . . 20 7 2.85 S Bastien (Glamorgan). . . . . . . . . 21 7 3 M A Robinson (Yorkshire). . . . . . . .25 6 4.17 S J W Andrew (Essex). . . . . . . . . .38 8 4.75 S M McEwan (Durham). . . . . . . . . . 59 12 4.91 Qualification: six completed innings Only completed innings are included -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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