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Wisden’s slow starters Test XI

Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 5 minute read

Presenting Wisden’s slow starters XI – a list of players who established themselves as Test icons, despite experiencing underwhelming starts to their career.

Matthew Hayden

Batting average after 10 Tests: 25.81, Career average: 50.73

Arguably Australia’s greatest Test opener, Hayden had one fifty-plus score in the first 15 innings – and six years – of his career. He turned a corner during the 2001 India tour, when he finished as the series’ highest run-getter, scoring his maiden double hundred at Chennai. After that, it was a dramatic upward curve: three years later, he had the highest Test score to his name and he finished with a career average of over 50.

Marvan Atapattu

Batting average after 10 Tests: 16.89, Career average: 39.02

Credit to the management at that time who continued to back Atapattu, who, after his first six Test innings, had one run and five ducks. Until his 17th innings, he hadn’t crossed fifty in Test cricket, before a breakthrough hundred in India in 1997 brought upon a change in fortunes. Two matches later, he struck his first double hundred and found his groove, going on to hit 16 centuries in the format – the fourth-highest by Sri Lanka – and six double centuries.

Martin Crowe

Batting average after 10 Tests: 20.68, Career average: 45.36

It took Crowe five Tests for his career average to cross 10, and 21 Tests to go past 30. With one Test century in three years, the pressure was on a young Crowe, but things turned around on the 1985 tour of the West Indies when he smashed 188 against an attack comprising Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, and Joel Garner. By his 34th Test, his average had crossed 40, and he ended his career as New Zealand’s leading run-getter, eventually averaging in excess of 45 from 77 Tests.

Jacques Kallis

Batting average after 10 Tests: 22.66, Career average: 55.40

The third-highest run-getter in Tests, Kallis had a forgettable start to his career, managing just one double-digit score in his first seven innings. A century in his 12th innings, in Melbourne, indicated that he was back on track, but there was another rut that came his way: he had to wait for 15 more innings before he crossed the three-figure mark again. It wasn’t until his 20th Test that his average crossed 30 in Test cricket, but he had 15 prolific years thereafter, finishing with 45 centuries to his name, the most by anyone after Sachin Tendulkar.

Garry Sobers

Batting average after 10 Tests: 29.92, Career average: 57.78

One of the game’s greatest all-rounders, Sobers took time to get going – until his 16th Test, he had a high score of 66 and an average of 31.47. A monumental 365*, the highest Test score at the time, in his 17th Test, announced the arrival of a future great. On the bowling front, his average had gone past 50 by his 19th Test, but steadied as he went further.

Andrew Flintoff

Bowling average after 10 Tests: 66.42, Career average: 32.79

Before he turned into a blazing all-rounder, Flintoff endured a quiet first few years in Test cricket. He didn’t cross fifty in his first 20 Test innings and really struggled to find rhythm with the ball too, averaging 66.42 after 10 Tests. The year 2002 was a turning point, when he hit his maiden Test century and took 20 wickets in the calendar year. He walked away in 2009 as one of England’s greatest all-rounders.

Mark Boucher

Batting average after 10 Tests: 24.92, Career average: 30.30

Boucher ended his career with the second-most runs by a Test wicketkeeper, but it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing in the first few years. By his 15th Test, he averaged 19.21, with three fifties to his name. The wicketkeeping skills were never under question, but the batting, too, came to the fore when he struck a century against the West Indies in 1999. He ended up with four more centuries, and over 5,550 runs.

Shane Warne

Bowling average after 10 Tests: 35.72, Career average: 25.41

One of the game’s true all-time greats, Warne’s start wasn’t quite as explosive as you’d expect. His record after ten Tests was more than respectable but given what he would go on to achieve, it was a relatively sedate start, albeit one with a couple of standout performances. He finished his first Test series – at home against India – with figures of 1-228.

Stuart Broad

Bowling average after 10 Tests: 45.23, Career average: 27.87

The third-highest wicket-taker among seamers of all time, Broad started young but didn’t quite settle in his role in Test cricket immediately. Up until his 20th Test, his bowling average was still hovering over 40, before an Ashes six-wicket haul in 2009 announced his arrival on the world stage. His average stayed above 30 till his 75th Test, but has continued to get better with age, now standing at 27.87 after 153 Tests.

Michael Holding

Bowling average after 10 Tests: 34.37, Career average: 23.68

Before he became the fast-bowling machine that instilled fear in batters’ minds the world over, Holding was a young quick still finding his feet at the Test level. There were three wicketless spells in his first five innings – starting with a 0-127 on debut – and by his 10th Test, his bowling average stood at 34.37. On India’s tour to the West Indies in 1976, he picked up his first five-for, and from then on, became the ‘Whispering Death’ that he is remembered as, picking 249 wickets in 60 Tests.

Rangana Herath

Bowling average after 10 Tests: 39.60, Career average: 28.07

Sri Lanka’s spin titan who grabbed the limelight only after Muttiah Muralitharan retired, Herath debuted in the late 1990s, but had to wait for a long time to establish himself as the side’s primary spinner. He collected on and off appearances between 1999 and 2005, with his average almost touching 40 by his 10th Test. It was only from 2011 onwards that Herath really made an impact: from 1999 till June 2011, he had picked four five-wicket hauls; over the following seven years, he picked an astonishing 30 more.

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