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Wisden’s all-time fast starters Test XI

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

Test cricket is arguably the toughest format, and newcomers often struggle to adjust to the demands of the game. However, a few managed to impress right from their first game. Here’s an XI of Test players who started off brilliantly in the format.

To ensure consistency, we have taken into account a player’s numbers from their first 20 innings. The spin department might be slightly weak – not because of the lack of options – but because the fast bowlers outperformed them.

Here is the XI.


Stats in bold refer to first 20 innings only

Graeme Smith – South Africa (c)

1,300 runs @ 68.42, 100s: 4

Smith had a dream start to his Test career, making the most runs by a South African in their first 20 matches. Making his debut in 2002, Smith started off with scores of 3, 68, 1 and 42 before notching up a mighty double hundred in just his third Test match. In his next 12 innings, he was unstoppable, scoring three more hundreds, including two double tons and a 151 against Pakistan as he was swiftly promoted to the captaincy. Smith also scored a total of three fifties in this period to announce his arrival in style. By then, he was also leading South Africa.

Herbert Sutcliffe – England

1,348 runs @ 74.89, 100s: 5

Sutcliffe remains the only cricketer with over four thousand Test runs whose average never dropped below 60. He made 64 on debut before getting his a hundred against South Africa in 1924, and he followed it with 83 in the very next game. Overall, he made five hundreds in his first 20 innings, including two in the famous Melbourne Test match of the 1924/25 Ashes.

Wally Hammond – England

1,321 runs @ 73.39, 100s: 4

Hammond edges past Don Bradman despite the latter’s superior overall numbers. Bradman made 1,889 runs at an average of 99.42 in his first 20 innings, but Hammond’s numbers at No.3 see his surge ahead. When batting one down, Hammond scored 785 runs at an astonishing 196.25, with all of his four centuries coming at the spot. Bradman averaged 128.45 at No.3 – but, well, let us leave him out of this one, just to give others a chance.

Adam Voges – Australia

1,327 runs @ 94.79, 100s: 5

Voges had a stellar start to his career, scoring the most runs in the first 20 innings by any batter this century. He made an unbeaten 130 on debut against West Indies, before a slight dip where he accumulated 111 runs in seven innings as Australia conceded the Ashes in 2015. However, he turned his form around with three successive fifties and then cashed in back home, with innings of 119, 269*, 106 and 239 over six outings. Despite the turnaround, Voges’ career failed to take off, and he was dropped after 31 innings.

Michael Hussey – Australia

1,225 runs @ 76.56, 100s: 4

A lot has been spoken about Hussey’s late entry into the Australia side, and he was not one to let go of the opportunity when it finally came his way. Hussey did not have the best debut, making 1 and 29 against West Indies, but made three hundreds and a fifty in his next four Test matches. Courtesy of his start, he etched a place in an Australia side where sticking around was always going to be tough, and soon became one of the stalwarts.

Jimmy Adams – West Indies

1,145 runs @ 81.79, 100s: 3

Adams’ overall Test average reads 41.26 is handy, but hardly indicating how brilliant he was in his initial days, and how he tailed off towards the end. He played only four Tests in his first two years, scoring 11, 79*, 47, 16, 77* and 8, thwarting Indian spinners with obdurate pad-play to help West Indies draw a Test series on Indian soil. When he did get a longer rope later on, he ensured he made the most of his chances.

Adam Gilchrist – Australia (wk)

870 runs @ 54.37, 100s: 1

Gilchrist had to bide his time for a chance in Test cricket, behind Ian Healy in the pecking order despite tearing up the ODI scene. Already a World Cup winner by the time his long-format bow came, he was determined to make up for lost time, with a famous 149 not out acing a chase against Pakistan in his second Test appearance in Hobart.

Ian Botham – England

59 wickets @ 17.28, 5-fors: 7
687 runs @ 36.15, 100s: 3

Botham picked up a five-wicket haul in his maiden Test match, against Australia in Nottingham, and went on to pick another the next game. Seven of his first 20 bowling innings saw him grab at least five wickets, which made him a star to watch out for from the very start. Botham was also consistent with the bat in this period, scoring five fifty-plus knocks upfront, including three hundreds. He became the quickest to the 1,000 run-100 wicket double.

Waqar Younis – Pakistan

54 wickets @ 19.26, 5-fors: 5

Equipped with pace, a searing yorker, and the ability to swing both the new ball and the old, Waqar had a strike rate of 41 in his first 20 innings, which demonstrates the wicket-taker he was for Pakistan. Combined with an average of under 20, Younis proved to be a dangerous weapon.

Vernon Philander – South Africa

63 wickets @ 15.96, 5-fors: 7

Philander had a stunning average of 15.96 in his first 20 outings, but what also struck out was his strike rate. He picked up a wicket every 33 balls, and was one of the most lethal bowlers when he first burst onto the scene. He was also a more than handy batter.

Yasir Shah – Pakistan

65 wickets @ 24.72, 5-fors: 4

Yasir picked up a wicket every 49 balls and went wicketless only once in his first 20 innings. He grabbed three or more wickets in an innings 14 times. On one hand, he played all these matches in Asia – but not one of them was on Pakistan soil.

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