September 19th 1996 sounds like a pretty normal day. According to Wikipedia, the most exciting thing that happened was the scoreboard at Buffalo’s $127.5 million HSBC Arena falling to the ice just hours before a National Hockey League game; no one was injured. As we said, one of the great days.
So why are we mentioning it now? The reason is that, with no actual cricket on for a few days, we’ve been reduced to our two favourite hobbies to pass the time, and Editor Steve really doesn’t approve of us doing hobby number one in the office, as this recent video shows:
Hobby number two involves messing around on Cricinfo’s Statsguru tool, while occasionally drinking our weak lemon drink (i.e. gin with a slice). And it was while performing said messing around that we discovered a fascinating* truth: if you run a query to see the overall Test batting records for all players from the 19th of September 1996 onwards the results will include the number of balls faced. If you run the same query for the 18th of September onwards the number of balls faced will mysteriously disappear.
Don’t believe us? You’ve got some attitude, mister.
The reason for this epoch-defining difference really isn’t that exciting. On the 18th of September Sri Lanka began their second Test against Zimbabwe, having won the first by an innings and 77 runs. They went on to win this one comfortably as well, strolling home by ten wickets inside four days. The final part of this stroll, the home side’s second innings, lasted only 6.4 overs; long enough for the scorers to get really drunk and forget to record how many balls each batsman faced. This was the last time that this minor phenomenon occurred and, with ball by ball commentary here to stay (pending approval from the BCCI), it’s likely to remain so forever.
With all that excitement out of the way, it was time to actually do what needed to be done to avoid being repeatedly shot at with a BB rifle, namely looking at which players in the modern era (starting on September 19th 1996, as we’ve already pointed out in excruciating detail) were kings of occupying the crease for bloody ages.
In order to assess these we’ll used a simple measure: balls faced per dismissal. We can calculate this for every player and then rank them in order. Having done this, we found some surprising results. Perhaps the most surprising was that Naveed Nawez, a Sri Lankan batsman who played a single Test (and also represented the wonderfully named Nondescripts Cricket Club), was in fact the greatest anchor of his generation, having faced 192 balls per dismissal.
One quick glass of gin later, we returned to put a sensible filter on our results; a player needed to have played at least 20 innings to be considered for our list, yet another kick in the teeth for Ravi Bopara. But at least we now had some sensible results. And in many ways, the number one spot was the least surprising result since Nigel Lythgoe selected Suzanne Shaw to anchor Hear’Say to chart stardom back in 2001 (a selection that came at the expense of the future Mrs Kevin Pietersen, no less).
Anyway, back to the list. Here are the top ten:
Not an Englishman or Australian in sight, which can probably be put down to having to spend half their time playing in English conditions (for the former) or constantly being routed by Mark Ealham (for the latter). Or at least not batting for weeks at a time on flat subcontinental pitches. The top performers for England and Australia are actually Graham Thorpe (103.79 balls per dismissal, 15th place) and Mike Hussey (102.78 balls, 16th place).
However, if we look at the top 50, England are actually the most represented team with nine players, of which none are Kevin Pietersen (76.62) and only two have actually become Unlikely Lads. See if you can guess which two they were! The answers are here and here.
Of course, the real excitement is down at the bottom. The worst five batsmen in the modern era are all genuine tailend rabbits. There’s spot-fixer extraordinaire Danish Kaneria (14.57 balls per dismissal), duck collecting king Courtney Walsh (12.83), Coldplay fronting legend Chris Martin (11.83), Leicestershire favourite Jermaine Lawson (11.80) and then one more.
Ladies and gentlemen, with just 11.35 balls per dismissal we give you the worst batsman, and commentator, of the modern era:
* may not be fascinating