Richard H Thomas is back with another fascinating and comprehensive edition of ‘The Greatest’. This time, it’s one-Test wonders…
“Look”, suggests Eminem, sounding for all the world like an Aussie Test captain starting a press conference. The rapper continues with a question: “If you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or just let it slip?”
Almost certainly Slim Shady’s more reflective alter ego is not talking Test cricket, but he hits the spot nonetheless. When you are picked to represent your country for the first time, you can only hope and imagine that it is the start of a long and fruitful career at the summit of cricket’s mountain. For some, though, it is the single opportunity that Eminem identifies.
One member of this unfortunate club, even founded, well… a club. He is John Stephenson, formerly of Hampshire and Essex (and England of course – once) who eventually became the MCC’s head of cricket. When he started it in 1996, he noted that membership of The OTW (One Test Wonders) is a privilege “but once you are in, the best thing that can happen is to be out again”.
The performances of those who played a single Test can be assigned to three discrete piles. First, there are those whose moment in the sunshine was a complete non-event. England’s Jack MacBryan, for example, was selected to play against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1924. The match was rain-affected, and during the 66.5 overs of play, he didn’t bowl or take a catch. England never got to bat so he didn’t do that either. He was dropped for the next match, presumably on the basis that he was no good at gin rummy, or told terrible jokes while everyone waited for the rain to stop. At least he can say that he never failed at the top level.
Glamorgan stalwart Alan Jones also can claim his Test appearance was a non-event. Literally. It was scratched from the records. Pressed into England service in the hastily arranged series against the Rest of the World in 1970, he made 0 and 5. Official Test status was removed from the match some time later. Martin Williamson reports that although it is often believed that Jones was forced to return his England kit, the opener at least still has them as permanent reminders of a Test debut that was, then wasn’t. John Arlott describes it as “a massive con trick – as cynical as any ever pulled in cricket”.
Next, there are those for whom the fleeting experience of Test cricket was as excruciating as having their toenails removed by some rusty pliers. In other words, the “my single cap was a total disaster” pile. If Gareth Batty can come back after 11 years, then it’s too soon to write off Simon Kerrigan just yet, but his only Test match, against the Aussies at the Oval in 2013, was a shocker. His figures of eight overs for 53 actually brushed up quite well in the end, his first two overs having cost 28 runs and half a dozen boundaries. Vic Marks noted that these were “dodgy figures in a Twenty20 game, let alone a Test match”, adding that “it was tough to watch, though nowhere near as tough as it was for Kerrigan to bowl the bloody thing down the other end”.
Another spinner, Aussie Bryce McGain, also had a horror-show debut, yielding eight sixes in a painful 0-149 from 18 overs against South Africa at Cape Town in 2009. At 37, McGain was a mature debutant, Simon Briggs reflecting that though the Victorian at last made it onto the field, “the ball spent much of its time travelling in the opposite direction – either flying into the crowd or smashing into the boundary boards”.
Gavin Hamilton will also have bitter-sweet memories of Test cricket. He was good enough to be selected in the first place, thanks to his all-round endeavours for Yorkshire, but made a pair at Johannesburg in 1999 and took 0-63 in 15 unremarkable overs. Thereafter he was dumped and then he had to requalify for Scotland, waiting four long years before any more representative cricket.
Mentally scarred maybe, but at least Kerrigan, McGain and Hamilton remained physically intact. Not so Warwickshire’s Andy Lloyd, concussed barely half an hour into his first Test – “27 years to make your Test debut and then Malcolm Marshall puts you in hospital with a bang on the head,” wrote Cricinfo. He spent the rest of the match under observation, and the rest of his career back in county cricket.
He has the quirky honour of being the only England opening batsman who was never dismissed during the whole of his Test career. WG Grace’s brother Fred also had a howler of a single appearance. He made a pair at the Oval in 1880 against Australia and died of pneumonia two weeks later. Not a great month for him.
In terms of single appearances that went as badly as they possibly could, Australian Roy Park perhaps takes the biscuit. A dour opening bat who was on the cusp of Test cricket before WWI scuppered any such fun, Park finally made his debut against Johnny Douglas and his England team in 1920/21. He was bowled by the only ball he faced in the first innings, didn’t get a second innings and was never picked again.
Even if the selectors had finished with him, though, the cricket gods had not. Martin Williamson reflects that Park’s wife had been distracted at the critical moment and missed Henry Howell castling her husband – one of the only cases in history when someone missed the entirety of a loved one’s career at the top level because she bent down to pick up her knitting.
But single Test appearances were not always so insignificant that they were upstaged by a short interlude of knit one, purl one. There are those who completely embraced the moment and, as Eminem would put it, did not miss the chance to maximise the opportunity that came only once in their lifetime. Except that they didn’t know it would only be once.
Take Stuart Law for example. It was his “grave misfortune”, concludes Steve James, to have played during “a golden age of Australian batting” when quality oozed out of every pore. His record (79 centuries, average 50, 27,000 runs) was as good as anyone’s, but as one-time Essex teammate Stephen Peters reflects, “Stuey was no angel” and “if something annoyed him he told people and a lot of people didn’t like that”.
James confirms that Law had a reputation as a “knockabout bloke” – Aussie-speak for a straight talker. On the field, remembers James, Law “was as fond of a sledge as an Arctic explorer”. Perhaps he had too much to say for himself, even for an Aussie. Either way, an unbeaten 54 in his only Test knock means that he doesn’t even have a Test average, and not even Bradman can say that.
Charles ‘Father’ Marriott was another who made the most of what came his way. Aged 38, he took 11-96 against the West Indies at the Oval in 1933. As so often has been the case, a good showing at the home of Surrey cricket is usually enough for a winter tour berth and, accordingly, Marriott made it onto the boat to India, but played no Tests. A leg-spinner who just took 11 wickets on the best batting track in county cricket not getting a sniff of a Test on the subcontinent? I know. I don’t get it either.
Then there’s Rodney Redmond. The blond opener from Whangarei was chosen for New Zealand’s last Test in the series against Pakistan in 1973, at Eden Park. In his two knocks he made 107 (including 20 fours in 145 minutes) and 56 (including nine fours in 84 minutes). In the first innings, the mayhem included five successive boundaries off Majid Khan’s occasional tweakers.
Quite reasonably, Brydon Coverdale asks why this was his only Test. The answer, says Coverdale, is a combination of things, including some “stubborn selectors” who had decided that when fit, Glenn Turner and John Parker were New Zealand’s opening pair regardless of anything else. Furthermore, says Coverdale, “Redmond had played in the last match of a home series, with the next Test still four months away”. Out of sight, out of mind.
It has been claimed that Redmond’s struggle to adjust to contact lenses also explains his short but sweet Test career. While there is something in that, says Coverdale, “it is not the key factor”. At least Redmond’s son Aaron provided some redemption, turning out in seven more Tests than his father.
However, the Victor Ludorum of opportunity graspers must be West Indian Andy Ganteaume. In 1948, against England at his home ground at Port of Spain, he made 112 in his only Test innings. True, this wasn’t the best attack England ever fielded, but you still have to whack ‘em to the fence, which Ganteaume did, 13 times.
The Telegraph reports that in response to England’s first-innings 362, the home side were going along nicely, if at a rather measured pace. Once the debutant had got to his century, skipper Gerry Gomez sent out a note to Ganteaume and batting partner Frank Worrell, giving them the hurry up. Ganteaume opened his shoulders and was out almost at once. “That’s not what I meant,” admonished Gomez.
The match was rain-affected, and the home side didn’t quite have time to make the modest total needed to win. The new opener it seemed, was made to pay with his Test career. “No official explanation was given,” writes Peter Mason, “but it was put about that he was simply too slow.”
Like Law after him, Ganteaume was no lover of the establishment. In the Caribbean at that time of course, the cricketing establishment was white, and this is seen as another potential factor in Ganteaume’s soar to glory and immediate fall from grace.
Only when this cruel racial imbalance was corrected did the Trinidadian make any career strides in cricket; in the early 1970s, for example, when the West Indies began to apply a vice-like grip on Test cricket, Ganteaume was their manager. “A cheery conversationalist with a good sense of humour,” reported the Guardian, “he also became an opinionated occasional newspaper columnist in Trinidad.”
When he died, aged 95 in February 2016, he was the West Indies’ oldest Test cricketer. Perhaps, a bit like Eminem and unlike the others who only played one Test, Andy Ganteaume appreciated that opportunity actually only comes “once in a lifetime”. You can never say that he didn’t take it. Bravo, sir.