The recent selection of leg-spinner Adil Rashid for the England Test team has caused something of a stir among the country’s cricket-viewing public. Rashid performed well in the limited-overs series England had played throughout the summer, but had renounced red-ball domestic cricket in an attempt to focus on the shorter forms of the game. This made him a somewhat unlikely candidate for Test selection (to the annoyance of many), but he is far from the first surprise Test match call-up. Here are five others who raised eyebrows when they were called upon to play the longest format of the game, with varying results.
David Steele (1975)
The England Test side were in disarray after the first Test of the 1975 Ashes. They had lost the match by an innings having been skittled for 101 batting first, mere months having been beaten 4-1 in Australia. Such a dismal state of affairs resulted in captain Mike Denness being sacked, with Tony Greig taking his place. Needing some mettle in his side, Greig turned to uncapped 33-year-old David Steele to bat at three. The bespectacled and grey-haired Steele did not appear the most likely of sporting heroes, a perception which only got worse when, coming out to bat on his Test debut, he got lost on his way to the middle and ended up in the Lord’s pavilion basement by accident. Finally making it to the crease, though, he impressed with his grit, making a half-century in his first innings and 45 in the second against a fearsome bowling attack including the legendary Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. He made three more fifties in the remaining four innings he played in the series, inspiring many with his gritty performances that earned him the accolade of 1975 BBC Sports Personality of the Year, a rare award for a cricketer. He played against the West Indies the following summer, making his first century against another talented bowling attack, but his performances were not sufficient to win him a recall for any future series. He may have only played eight Tests in total, but his short career has lived long in the memory.
Bob Simpson (1978)
Simpson had had a long and illustrious Test career, captaining the side and scoring runs prolifically. Most memorably, he had made a legendary 311 against England at Old Trafford, on which lasted over 12 hours. He retired at age 32 with a more than respectable reputation, and quickly moved into press and punditry. Almost a decade later, Australian cricket was in crisis. The controversial World Series Cricket had been launched, and almost the entire first-choice Australian Test side had deserted to take part in the breakaway tournament. Remarkably, Simpson was asked to return to captain the side at the age of 41 as they welcomed India. Despite his age, Simpson showed the permanence of his class by making 89 in his first Test back, and finishing the series with two centuries to his name. He remained captain for most of the remainder of 1978, but his form began to drop off and he was eventually deposed by the board. Yet his story remains one of the most stunning comeback tales in cricketing history, and Simpson will always be remembered for his ability to resume Test cricket after more than nine years in retirement as if he had never been away.
Tauseef Ahmed (1980)
The Pakistan side which took on Australia in 1980 was a talented one, including legendary batsman Javid Miandad as well as the iconic Imran Khan, meaning they had a good chance of matching the tourists’ strong team. On the eve of the first Test of the series in Karachi, though, the Pakistanis were bolstered by an unlikely addition to their ranks in the form of off-spinner Tauseef Ahmed. There are many conflicting stories as to how Ahmed made his way into the Test side. Some say that a friend of Tauseef’s, observing Pakistan’s bowlers practicing in the nets before the match, told team coach Mushtaq Mohammad that he knew someone who could bowl better than anyone currently in the team, prompting Mohammad to ask Tauseef to have a bowl at some of the team’s batsmen. Others say that the friend knew Miandad, who was captaining the Test side, and urged him to give Tauseef a try. Either way, after letting Tauseef have a bowl in the nets, the team management liked what they saw, as he was selected for the first Test the next day, despite only ever having played one first-class match previously. The gamble paid dividends straight away, as he took seven wickets in the match, helping Pakistan to a famous victory as they took not only the match but also the series. Tauseef went on to have a respectable Test career, playing 34 Tests in total, in which he took 93 wickets. Rarely have players come from such obscurity to looking to assured at Test level in a matter of days.
Darren Pattinson (2008)
Born in England but raised in Australia, Darren Pattinson had spent most of his twenties playing grade cricket in Victoria. However, being something of a late bloomer, he managed to force himself into the Victoria side in 2007, making his first-class debut at the age of 27. Following limited opportunities in Australia, he moved to England, where he made a living tiling roofs before he earned a contract with Nottinghamshire, where he made an immediate impact. After taking 29 wickets in nine matches, he was unexpectedly called up to the England squad as cover for the second Test of their home series against South Africa. Even more unexpectedly, first-choice bowler Ryan Sidebottom picked up an injury on the eve of the match, leaving Pattinson in line to play. His selection, however, prompted uproar among the media, as Pattinson had just played 11 first-class matches, leaving some to suggest he was not ready to make the step up to the highest level. Indeed, many said it was one of the most surprising test call-ups they had ever seen. In the event of the match itself, everything went poorly for England right from the outset. After they were bowled out for 203, South Africa went on to rack up a massive 522. The South Africans went on to win by 10 wickets, with the winning runs coming off Pattinson’s bowling, just to add insult to injury. Though Pattinson took two wickets and did not bowl significantly worse than any of the other bowlers, he was scapegoated for England’s disappointing effort in the field. Captain Michael Vaughan called the decision to include Pattinson “a confused selection”. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Pattinson was left out of the following squad, and was never called up for Test duty again.
Ashton Agar (2013)
Following the retirement of Shane Warne, followed soon after by Stuart MacGill, Australia spent several years trying to find a front-line spinner capable of performing in Tests. In this time, they tried and discarded several players, before opting for a particularly left-field selection in Ashton Agar before the first Test of the 2013 Ashes. Agar, aged only 19 at the time, had impressed for Australia A as well as Western Australia, but had only played 10 first-class matches when he joined the national squad. Indeed, just weeks before his call-up, he had been playing in the somewhat obscure Home Counties Cricket Premier League in England. His international debut was certainly a memorable one, though perhaps not in the way many would have expected. He had a disappointing first innings with the ball, only getting 7 overs and failing to take a wicket, before he came in to bat at number 11 with his side struggling at 117 for 9. From here, though, he played the most unexpected of innings, smashing an almost run-a-ball 98 as he and Phillip Hughes put on a partnership of 163 runs for the last wicket. Though he was dismissed before he could reach a century, his effort remains the highest ever score by a number 11 in a Test match. He followed this up by picking up the key wicket of Alastair Cook with the ball, although his team went on to lose in a thrilling finale. Since his debut, he has only played 3 further Tests, but considering his relative youth Agar may yet go on to big things in the game’s longest format.
Image Credit: Nic Redhead