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Best and Worst: No. 11s – From the ‘rearguard specialist’ Jimmy Anderson to the ever struggling Chris Martin

Ashton Agar (No. 11s)
Phil Walker by Phil Walker 3 minute read

From artistes of the long handle to the fluffiest of rabbits, Phil Walker lists down the best and worst No. 11s – the finest and most abject ‘Jacks’ in the game in Issue 2 of Wisden Cricket Monthly.

THE BEST

Wilfred Rhodes | 58 Tests, 1899-1930; average at No.11: 44.43

Wilf began his England stint – make that 31 years, all in – at the foot of WG’s batting order, where the great left-arm spinner (4,204 first-class wickets) hoped to remain until a 130-run partnership for the last wicket with RE Foster at Sydney rather blew his cover. Thereafter he was moved steadily up the order, at one stage even going in first with Hobbs at Melbourne and sharing a 323-run opening stand. He finished with a Test average of 30, with two hundreds, shaming his fellow No.11s forevermore.

Bill Johnston | 40 Tests, 1947-1955; ave. 14.45

Johnston was a beanpole left-armer whose primary role for Australia became a secondary story on the 1953 Ashes tour, when the perennial No.11 found himself nearing the end of the summer with a bunch of not outs and only one dismissal. Sensing something extraordinary in the air, the Aussies began engineering situations to ensure that Johnston remained not out in all their remaining first-class fixtures, finally creeping past the 100-run mark to finish with a tour average of 102, much to the vexation of Neil Harvey (65.80), who was consigned to second place.

James Anderson | 131 Tests, 2003-; ave. 9.63

Jimmy makes the cut by dint of being beaten up for the best part of two decades, and his to-die-for reverse sweep. There’s not a quick bowler in the game who hasn’t gone after him, yet there’s a sadistic streak driving this rearguard specialist, a man who’s saved almost as many Tests with bat and body as won them with ball and brilliance. Oh, and he holds the record for the highest 10th-wicket partnership, putting on 198 with Joe Root against India at Trent Bridge in 2014.

Ashton Agar | 4 Tests, 2013-; ave. 98

Swaggering out on debut at Trent Bridge to rescue Australia’s first innings of an Ashes summer, the teenage Agar treated the sanctified position of last-man-in with shameful disdain. In hauling them up from 117-9 with a Sobers-like 98 – the highest Test score ever made by a No.11 – Agar made a mockery of his standing. Thankfully he’s never batted there since. Leave it to the professionals, dear boy.

THE WORST

Glenn McGrath | 124 Tests, 1993-2007; ave. 7.63

Pidge makes our list for the unseemly crime of getting better. The No.11 is there, as we all know, to offer comic relief from the undulating miseries of your standard five-dayer, and for years McGrath gropingly understood that. But then Australia got so good that they decided to get even better, just to rub it in. Cue the cutesy brotherhood ruse of partnering one great batsman with one great bowler. McGrath got Steve Waugh, and next thing we know, he’s got ‘61’ slapped on his bat just as Lara would have 400.

Alan Mullally | 19 Tests, 1996-2001; ave. 7.40

Big Al makes it in for three reasons. One: he could hit a clean ball, long and true, yet fear and casualness almost always won the day; two: he once took Australia for 16 at Melbourne, riling McGrath chronic in a match that England actually won; and three: even Devon Malcolm averages more in Test cricket.

Bhagwat Chandrasekhar | 58 Tests, 1964-1979; ave. 4.43

The great Indian twirler was openly terrified of batting, hated it with a passion, and in fairness had every right to. Sporting a natural hopelessness only exacerbated by polio, Chandra played against a rampant collective of quicks, and almost all before helmets. In 1978, the Aussies presented him with a bat with a cricket-ball-sized hole in its middle. Chandra thought it hilarious.

Chris Martin | 71 Tests, 2000-2013; ave. 2.36

The big kahuna. The second-most ducks in Test cricket, from half as many Tests as the great ham actor, Courtney Walsh; comfortably the most pairs in Tests; a highest score of 12 (three fours!) and an average hovering around the 2.3-mark. He has reputedly never made a fifty in any form of cricket anywhere, and blames his struggles on not learning to drive till he was 28, having buzzed around before that on his bicycle, and as everybody knows, you can’t ride a bike and carry a cricket bat at the same time. Ah, what might have been…

First published in Issue 2 of Wisden Cricket Monthly

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