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How did this mediocre Australian XI play so many Tests?


Quite regularly there are articles or comments and why Player A has been unlucky not to play more Tests and the selectors are dunderheads for not selecting Player B.

I thought I would turn this on its head and pick a team made up of players who played a decent number of Tests for no apparent reason. I present to you the mediocre Australian XI.

Openers

Before we get into the team proper, there are two honourable mentions here who very nearly made the cut for bog average openers.

Rick Darling managed 14 Tests while averaging just 26.8. However he was turned to in February 1978 during the depths of Australia’s World Series Cricket crisis, so the selectors’ inertia here was understandable.

No such argument can be made for Cameron Bancroft, who received 10 Tests to try and improve an average of just 26.23 with no centuries.

Given Bancroft averaged 87 after his first Test, the other nine were not impressive. He did manage to push up his contributions during the ill-fated South African series, but a return in England in 2019 was ill-advised.

But these two are only the entrée. Our champion openers are John Dyson and Marcus Harris.

John Dyson (1977-1984)

Dyson received 30, count them, 30 Tests between 1977 and 1984 for a career average of 26.64. Unlike Rick Darling, Dyson’s career continued well after the reunification of Australian cricket in 1979. To what purpose is the mystery.

There were two centuries, one being a bloody-minded 127 not out against the West Indies to force a draw, but precious little beside. Incidentally in his other nine innings against the Caribbeans he never passed 30.

Dyson’s strike rate of just 33.17 didn’t exactly scream game-changer, either, which is why he also received 29 one day international caps for a strike rate of under 50. But there was that catch.

Marcus Harris (2018-2022)

Harris has received 14 Tests to date and I wouldn’t put it past the selectors to hand him a few more. His career average of 25.29 is punctuated by brittle starts, almost always ended by slashes to the slips, gully or point. A strike rate of just under 46 indicates that he has never really got comfortable and a high score of 79 backs this up.

Marcus Harris of Australia leaves the field after being dismissed by Ollie Robinson of England during day two of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 09, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The whole of the cricketing fraternity of Australia is praying that Will Pucovski can get himself right before David Warner or Usman Khawaja retire, or that one of the younger players has a breakout season.

Batsmen

Jack Worrall (1885-1899)

Played in the late 1800s so his batting average of 25.15 from 11 Tests with a high score of 76 is not too bad, although well behind the greats of his day. So, why does he make this list? One wicket for 127 runs. For Australian players who played at least 10 Tests that is the highest bowling average in history.

He did this in an era where bowling averages were significantly lower than today. He likely couldn’t have deliberately averaged this much on those pitches. To be fair to Worrall, his only wicket came at the cost of 97 runs in his first-ever Test innings, bowling 56 overs.

His clever captains only bowled him for a further seven overs during the rest of his career.

Worrall also scored 34 in his first-ever Test innings. He then continued to play Tests despite no longer bowling and delivering a telephone number set of innings: 6, 6, 1, 2, 4, 8, 0, 0* and 0. At this point his cumulative batting average was a princely 6.78.

Ironically, Worrall never failed to reach double figures again and scored three consecutive 50s in his final three Test innings, so of course was never picked again.

At this point I will give an honourable mention to Jack Worrall’s doppelganger – Tommy Andrews. Andrews played for five years in the 1920s, averaging 26.9 with no centuries and took one wicket for 116 runs. Not quite mediocre enough, Tommy!

Ian Craig (1953-1958)

Craig captains this team, like he did in five of his 11 Tests in the 1950s. Craig averaged 19.88 for those 11 Tests, a truly awful result. Because of his undoubted talent at domestic level the selectors continued to hope for a turnaround for the young prodigy, but it never came.

One could argue that if Steve Waugh had been discarded after 11 Tests, he too would have made this list. Craig managed two 50s but a highest score of just 53. He was consistent, making no impact against four different opponents in five countries.

In a case of what might have been, Craig only received one Test cap at home, where he contributed an easy 53 in a 500-plus first innings total, but also top scored in the second innings with 47 out of 209. Australia contrived to lose this match after scoring 500 in the first innings.

Victor Richardson (1924-1936)

At 5 we have a player who captained his country and has a gate named after him.

Richardson enjoys a somewhat legendary status, partly due to his devil may care, ‘have at you Bradman’ attitude and partly due to his rather talented grandchildren, the Chappells. However, Richardson’s own record is very patchy. In a reasonable era for batting he managed a single Test century and one half-century from 19 Tests.

He averaged under 20 in England and in South Africa, captaining the latter tour. His only century came in just his second Test (in a score of more than 600) and his half-century came eight years and 16 Tests later, before he signed off with a pair against Harold Larwood in Sydney in 1933.

Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay (1956-1963)

Mackay is our batting all-rounder, just on the basis of the number of Tests he played: 37 of them over seven years. To play for that long and not even fluke a single century takes some doing.

He was consistent and a career average of 33.48 nearly excludes him from this club. However, if we add 50 wickets at only 1.3 per match with a strike rate of 115.8? Well, that’s mediocrity right there.

In addition, Mackay managed to average just 22.6 in 16 Tests against England. His career average was padded by a five-Test tour of South Africa where he was not out four times in seven innings and averaged 125.

There were plenty of other ways to go here. Michael Bevan’s undoubted talent got him 18 Tests, but in the end his bowling record was significantly better than his batting.

Gary Cosier averaged under 29 across 18 Tests while adding five wickets at 68. Les Favell was an attacking captain and stroke player but averaged just 27 in 19 Tests.

All-rounder: Mitch Marsh (2014-2019)

I could just take the easy way out here and nominate Mitch Marsh … and that’s exactly what I’m going to do!

Marsh can bring his all-round talents to the 7 spot, even though he spent most of his 32 Tests batting in the top 6. His average at No.7 is actually his best – a whopping 27.2 with the top order pressure off.

Overall Marsh averaged 25.2 with two centuries. His nadir was after playing India in 2017 where his average bottomed out at 21.7 but he then put on some runs against the ‘might’ of the English attack in Australia, before reverting to his level.

On the bowling front, 42 wickets at 38.64 sounds passable – if you could bat. Plus that’s just 1.3 wickets per match, this is a batting all rounder, apparently.

Mitchell Marsh celebrates taking a wicket

(Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

There were plenty of other bits and pieces players who could have snagged this spot, such as Peter Sleep (14 Tests. 24.15 batting average, 31 wickets at 45) or Tom Veivers (21 Tests, 31.3 batting average, 34 wickets at 41), but where is the romance in that? Every good team deserves a Marsh.

By the way, Mitchell Marsh is a very good limited overs player and still has the potential to go down as one of our greats in that arena. Like Shane Watson before him, his Test travails hide his white-ball excellence.

Keeper

I really felt like giving this to Matthew Wade, who made a Test career out of catching more flies with his mouth than balls with his gloves, but Wade batted okay, made a decent contribution on his last tour of England and generally was just slightly better than his more polite predecessor.

Peter Nevill (2015-2016)

So, the gong goes to Peter Nevill.

Nevill had all the tools: a very slick keeper indeed, a classical batting style and returns at Shield level befitting a specialist bat, plus a maturity and calm demeanour sorely needed by the Australian team of his day.

But he never quite nailed it, averaging just 22.3, which stopped being a decent return for a keeper around 1998.

Nevill produced one of his best Test innings in Perth in 2016 against South Africa, scoring a gritty 60 not out in a lost cause. But the following test in Hobart was a debacle for all concerned and the selectors threw out half the side, including their diffident keeper.

By the way, 63 dismissals in 17 Tests is good going and I can’t remember Nevill missing too many.

Spinner

Ray Bright (1977-1986)

Bright played 25 Tests and barely took more than two wickets per match. His 53 wickets came at the unimpressive rate of one every 104 balls at an average of more than 41. So, obviously Bright was in for his batting? Nope – averaged 14.

His 39 Test innings included a seven-wicket haul in Karachi and five in Lahore, plus five in the famous tied Test in Chennai. He also took a 5-fer in Birmingham. But unfortunately he took no wickets at all in nearly half of his innings (19 innings). In 11 of these he bowled over 15 overs to take those zero wickets.

Pace bowlers

I actually struggled for pace bowlers. Australian fast bowlers tend to succeed or disappear.

Tim Wall (1929-1934)

Wall had 18 Tests in the early 1930s, taking 56 wickets at an average of 35.89. His strike rate of a wicket every 86 balls did not instil fear into the heart of opposition batters. His batting average of just 6.36 showed that he was definitely there to bowl.

Wall’s record was somewhat trashed in his final series in 1934 in England when he took just six wickets in four Tests from 172 overs bowled (four of those wickets were taken in a single innings). Before this his average was a Peter Siddle-like 30.7. It had all started so well, with Wall’s eight wickets on debut being the ninth-best match haul on debut by an Australian up to that point.

Ian Meckiff (1957-1963)

Meckiff also played 18 Tests and despite his ‘unusual’ action, he only took 2.5 wickets per Test and bowled 83 balls per wicket. Meckiff took eight wickets in his first Test, nine in his sixth and seven in his 13th, but in between took between zero and two wickets in 13 different matches (i.e. more than 70 per cent of his Tests).

Next time I will find a worthy set of international opponents to dial the speakers all the way up to a bog average 5.

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