SPORTING DECLARATION: Bats out of hell

SPORTING Declaration was left pondering some typically profound thoughts as Ricky Ponting pulled up stumps this week on his days in the Baggy Green.

In particular, ‘‘Punter’s’’ departure reignited a debate that dates back 64 years – who is Australia’s best batsman since Bradman?

Yours truly can’t help thinking this is a tired old talking point.

Let’s face it, Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Matthew Hayden were no mugs either and it is all rather boring trying to argue that any of them were better than the others.

Like judging a bikini contest, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.

I reckon a more stimulating topic of discussion would be who has been Australia’s worst batsman since Bradman.

And in this case I’m not counting abject tailenders like Jim Higgs, Bruce Reid and Terry Alderman, who could scarcely hold a stick.

I’m talking about blokes who were selected as front-line batsmen, presumably on the strength of truckloads of runs in the Sheffield Shield, but never quite passed the test at the highest level.

For every Mark Waugh, Greg Blewett or Michael Clarke who live the dream of scoring a century on debut, there are the soon-forgotten unfortunates left with a lifetime of regrets.

After scouring my library, I’ve come up with the following list of lost souls.

The benchmark must be Roy Park, who earned a page in cricket folklore by scoring a golden duck in his only Test innings, against England in 1921. Apparently his wife bent down to pick up her knitting and missed her husband’s entire Test career.

But the following deserve honourable mentions:  

❏Les Joslin. 1 Test, 9 runs, average 4.5, highest score 7. Scored a century for Victoria as an 18-year-old and made his Test debut against India in 1968 just after his 21st birthday. Never sighted again in the national team, for whatever reason.

❏Ken Eastwood. 1 Test, 5 runs average 2.5, highest score 5. Called in to open the batting against England in 1971, after the surprise sacking of skipper Bill Lawry. When he failed twice, there were no more chances for the 35-year-old left-hander.

❏Bruce Francis. 3 Tests, 52 runs, average 10.4, highest score 27. Debuted against England in 1972 at the age of 24. Cricinfo remembers him as a ‘‘cavalier’’ right-hander who showed a ‘‘willingness to hit fast bowlers back over their heads’’. Evidently without much success. 

❏Paul Hibbert. 1 Test, 15 runs, average 7.5, highest score 13. The 29-year-old opener didn’t score heavily in his lone Test against India in 1977 but occupied the crease, scoring 13 in 77 balls before sending the selectors to sleep.

❏Steve Smith. 3 Tests, 41 runs, average 8.2, highest score 12. A handy opening bat in the canary-yellow pyjamas, averaging almost 40 in 28 games and scoring a century, Smith’s Test career unfortunately coincided with a tour of the Caribbean and opponents named Marshall, Garner and Holding.

❏Rob Kerr. 2 Tests, 31 runs, average 7.75, highest score 17. Enjoyed a successful career for Queensland but, like so many players in the mid-1980s, was in and out of the Test team before he could work up a sweat.

❏Wayne Phillips, 1 Test, 22 runs, average 11, highest score 14. Shocked selectors when they discovered he was not the original Wayne Phillips, a swashbuckling, left-handed wicketkeeper. His lone Test against India in 1992 signalled the end of Geoff Marsh’s Test career. ❏Chris Rogers, 1 Test, 19 runs, average 9.5, highest score 15. Has scored more than 18,000 first-class runs in Australia and England at an average of almost 50. But after a couple of failure against India in 2008, he was sent on his way. Tough school.

❏Rob Quiney, 2 Tests, 9 runs, average 3, highest score 9. Tossed in at No.3 against South Africa, the Victorian left-hander went on debut for nine, then collected a pair in his second Test. At least he was no one-Test wonder.

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