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Best and Worst: Test rookies – From James Anderson to Jeff Thomson

James Anderson (Test rookies)
Phil Walker by Phil Walker 4 minute read

From Jack Crawford to Jeff Thomson – Phil Walker lists down the best and worst Test rookies in issue 11 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.

THE BEST

James Anderson (England, debut 2003)

So excited was English cricket by the sudden emergence of a good-looking kid who could swing it at pace that they chucked him in before he could catch a breath. Anderson, red-streaked and raw, had just turned 20 in the winter of 2002 and was a veteran of three one-dayers for Lancashire when he was thrown his ODI cap. He promptly bowled 10 overs for 12 runs against Australia at Adelaide, and was given the new ball in a World Cup campaign. A few weeks later, ‘Jimmy’ (his mother having begged the papers to refer to him as James) rocked up at Lord’s and took a five-for on his second day of Test cricket.

Yasir Ali (Pakistan, debut 2003)

Aged 18, Yasir became just the fourth man since 1899 to make his first-class debut in a Test match, and did well, picking up two wickets and holding up an end at No.11 as an inspired Inzamam, new to the Pakistan captaincy and as yet unproven, made an unbeaten 138 to defeat Bangladesh by one wicket. The partnership saved Inzi’s captaincy career, and Yasir’s reward? He never played an international match again.

Jack Crawford (England, debut 1906)

Crawford was aged 19 years and 32 days when he made his Test debut, top-scoring in both innings and picking up a couple of wickets at Johannesburg in 1906. A prolific schoolboy cricketer whose feats at Repton were said to create “chaos” among his peers, the bespectacled Crawford was the original prodigy, an untamed dasher and off-spinner who became in 1906 the youngest man ever to do the double (100 wickets; 1,000 runs) in a county season. But an independent streak was his undoing, and after an almighty row with Surrey over selection, he boarded a boat to Adelaide, where he took up a teaching position and played for South Australia for a decade. He remains the second-youngest man to play for England.

Holly Colvin (England Women, debut 2005)

The left-arm spinner was just 15 when, in 2005, she turned up to help out as a net bowler at an England training session, and bowled so well that she was thrown straight into an Ashes Test later that summer. She took three wickets in the match, in a summer in which she also helped Sussex to the County Championship and played for the first XI at Brighton College. The next summer she did her GCSEs, scraping together eight straight A*s.

THE WORST

Chris Schofield (England, debut 2000)

Two Tests for no wickets appeared to be the leg-spinner’s international legacy after he’d been thrust onto the stage as a plainly unready 21-year-old. It didn’t get much better for Schofield, but after his release from Lancashire in 2004, with coach Mike Watkinson conceding that “he’d perhaps not reached his full potential”, he found a second wind in T20 cricket, and claimed an England berth at the first-ever World Twenty20 tournament in 2007, taking four wickets in as many matches.

Hasan Raza (Pakistan, debut 1996)

Officially, Raza was 14 years and 227 days old when he made his Test debut against Zimbabwe in 1996. But despite the precocity, the right-hander would play just seven Tests spread over nine years, making a pair of fifties. His struggle at international level is at odds with his heavy run-scoring in domestic cricket, where he averages 45 across a career that’s still not quite done.

Brian Close (England, debut 1949)

Close is both the youngest man to play a Test for England, and the 11th oldest. Aged just 18 in 1949, he was elevated to face an emergent New Zealand team. In the first innings, Close was told by the skipper Freddie Brown to “have a look at a couple and give it a go”. Close being Close, he did precisely that, and was caught playing a heave to his third delivery. After only managing a single run from his next Test at Melbourne in 1950, the die was cast, and Close played just 22 Tests across 27 years, famously returning in 1976 aged 46 to wear Michael Holding’s bullets at Old Trafford.

Jeff Thomson (Australia, debut 1973)

Prior to infiltrating England’s worst nightmares in 1974/75 (“I like to see blood on the pitch”), the lightning-quick Aussie had debuted against Pakistan at Melbourne after six first-class appearances in a match in which he bowled 19 overs, returning figures of 0-110. He hadn’t bothered mentioning that he had a broken foot at the time.

First published in issue 11 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly

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