In the long history of the Unlikely Lads series we’ve featured good players and bad players, very bad players and the occasional occasionally very good player. We hasn’t yet featured a player whose entire international career seemed to be an elaborate wind-up designed to whip the watching public into a blind fury every time he appeared. Most of the bad players have been funny bad: Amjad Khan running up to bowl no balls at Brendan Nash for hours on end or Owais Shah setting off for a single only to be hilariously struck down by cramp and immediately run out every time he played.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s no shortage of comedy from this latest entrant, but he’s also a very 21st century Unlikely Lad; defined as much by the avalanche of furious outrage on the Twittersphere that greeted his various attempts to bowl at the death as by his actual performances. His efforts were restricted to one day and T20 cricket, much to our eternal dismay, unlike virtually every other player we’ve seen fit to allow into this most sacred place. It also wouldn’t surprise us in the least were he to walk in, whip his clothes off and start pissing on everything we hold dear.
Without further ado, the 52nd Unlikely Lad is:
On Jade Dernbach’s T20 debut, a T20 Cup semi final against Lancashire, he took 0/52 from his four overs (Unlikely Lad pioneer Ian Salisbury also played, taking a marginally more impressive 0/22 from his two). On his most recent T20 appearance, a T20 Cup semi final against Warwickshire, he took 0/56 from his four overs. We could just leave it there.
The story of Dernbach’s career is one of desperately wishful thinking on England’s part, and very little thinking on his. In the never-ending quest for a death bowler, the idea of someone who can bowl 90mph yorkers and an undetectable slower ball is dizzying. He made his T20 international debut against Sri Lanka in 2011, recording tidy figures of 1/18 and claiming Sanath Jayasuriya, somewhat inexplicably still playing, as his first victim. To start with, he was pretty good – in his first eight T20s he averaged 15 with an economy rate of 6. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment that everyone started getting really enraged by him, but the spectacular collapse probably began when he was emphatically dismantled by the West Indies in a game at Trent Bridge. From that point on, in 26 more games he averaged 30 with an economy of 9.58 to end up with the joint highest T20 economy rate of all time.
In ODI cricket it was a similar story; a good start, then a descent into previously unchartered depths of ineptitude. With just enough of a sprinkling of good performances to encourage England’s unceasing belief in his variations and skill at the death. England wanted to believe. He could bowl fast and he could bowl a brilliant slower ball. The problem was he bowled the slower ball so often as to render it pointless and couldn’t seem to bowl anything else with anything like the same regularity. The only consistency was the ball disappearing to all parts at the end of every innings.
His last one day game for England was in June 2013, when he helped Martin Guptill to make 189, but his T20 efforts stretched out a bit longer. The end there didn’t come until after the World T20 in Bangladesh in early 2014. His run of performances after being dropped from the one day side are staggeringly bad: six games, 20 overs and 203 runs conceded. By then even England seemed to be involved in the wind up, a bit like the time they reappointed Peter Moores.
The odd thing (well, one of them anyway) about Dernbach is that his first class record for Surrey is quite good. In Championship cricket he seemed to have more control, better pace and used the slower ball far more sparingly. All this raised the very brief prospect a couple of years ago that he could get near the Test team, which would’ve been outstanding on almost every level. Alas, it wasn’t to be. From about the point at which he was dropped from the ODI side in 2013 his form, such as it was, veered off a cliff. At the end of 2014 he came close to leaving Surrey and this summer has seen him go wicketless in three innings in April before going missing with a side strain. As he stepped up his recovery from that ailment he picked up a calf problem. It might be some time yet before he gets the chance to take sole control of that T20 record.