No 54: Christopher Stewart Martin

At his peak, Chris Martin was an excellent bowler. Often having to fulfil the position of work-horse and spearhead of the New Zealand attack, he ended his career as his country’s third highest Test wicket-taker. He provided a sense of consistency to a decidedly injury-prone seam line-up.

Particular highlights would probably include his eleven wickets against South Africa at Auckland in 2004, or his 6-54 against Sri Lanka a year later (knocking over six of the top seven). Or even his extraordinary burst to reduce India to 15-5 at Ahmedabad in 2010.

However, perhaps sadly for him, it is not just his bowling for which he will be remembered.

As well as being a fine bowler, Martin carved out a wonderful career as the anti-Bradman. Only once in his 71 Tests did he breach the ceiling of double figures, and in total he scored only 123 runs. Thirty-six times he was dismissed for no score – only Courtney Walsh, who played 61 more Tests, recorded more ducks. Out of all players to have played more than 20 Tests, none have a lower average than Martin’s 2.36 – and it is only that high because he was unbeaten in half of his 104 innings.

It is of course true that Martin isn’t the only rabbit that has played international cricket, but it is rare indeed for someone that plays at such an elite level to be as poor a batsman as him. Even Monty Panesar spent his younger days batting in the top order for Luton, and I even once saw Jade Dernbach, batting at 5, score 74 whirlwind runs for Guildford. However, with Martin, it often looks like he’s never even picked up a bat before, which isn’t actually a million miles from the truth.

The story went that in his formative years Martin, not being able to drive, used to travel to net sessions by bike, and was unable to bring his batting kit. As a result, he would concentrate almost exclusively on his bowling, which turned out quite well for him, even if his batsmanship suffered as a result.

Martin, though, is anything but a bad sport about it. He famously starred in a Pulp Sport comedy sketch, where he advertised a “Learn How to Bat like Chris Martin” DVD, and his good humour about his haplessness, allied to his wholehearted bowling, quickly saw him given cult-hero status among supporters.

If he is the worst Test batsman of all time, Martin’s position in cricket history surely will be under less and less threat as time goes on. Lower order players work much more at their batting than they used to, and it’s not that unusual any more for teams to select sides containing no players that average less than 10. The days of “nine, ten, jack” are coming to a close, for now, and players like Chris Martin may well live in history as the last of the great tail-enders.

No 50: Clandestine Updates during Work

5th December 2007 is a day that, perhaps curiously, I will remember for a long time. It was the final day of the first Test of England’s tour of Sri Lanka, in Kandy. Having been nowhere at 130-6, Ian Bell and Matt Prior took England to the brink of saving the match, batting for 45 overs against the indomitable threat of Muttiah Muralitharan.

This I remember so acutely because England collapsed to defeat within the confines of one French lesson. With every wicket that fell, I failed more and more to hide my displeasure as the screen on my portable DAB radio flashed up the bad news. In the end, Hoggard b. Malinga 8 was met with a louder-than-intended pained sigh, alerting the other cricket fans in the room to England’s sudden demise.

What I have just described has been a common quandary for cricket fans for decades. The necessary length of a Test match (even an ODI) means that it will always cut into your work/school day, and your job as a fan was to try and keep abreast of matters as surreptitiously as possible. Top marks always went to the one who could thread an earphone through the arm of their jumper and into the palm of their hand, so they could listen to TMS by “resting” their head. (My strategy during England’s tour of Pakistan in 2005).

Others would be forced into using more intermittent sources – remember, ubiquitous internet is a fairly new phenomenon – and would have to be even more creative to find out the score. The telephone was always an option, either through contacting a friend who had a radio, or via calling one of those score update services whose existence I never knew about until hearing about cricket in “the old days”. You might have used the work phone, or even the phone box down the road to satisfy your cravings. You might even have drawn up a complex plan, using timetables, to work out when the rooms which had working televisions were free, so you could check Ceefax (John Major’s plan of choice).

Rare it is that fans of other sports have to deal with this hardship. Only really during World Cups and Wimbledon do non-cricket fans engage in these activities, as since the widespread advent of floodlights in the 1950s, midweek football games are played at much more convenient times for the English working/scholastic hordes than cricket matches.

As time has gone on and technology has improved, there has been less and less need for these complex strategies – a smartphone on the lap is all one need use. You can even watch the match if you have the opportunity to log onto WiFi, or don’t mind incurring large data roaming charges.

How times have changed from having to conceal a transistor radio in your blazer.

No. 40: Sir Paul Getty’s Ground, Wormsley

Buckinghamshire is not renowned as one of the great regions of world cricket. It has plenty of history, with cricket being recorded there as early as 1730, and the County Cricket Club itself actually declined the opportunity to join the County Championship in 1921, over concerns about the standard of their facilities. It has won the Minor Counties championship nine times, and famously beat Somerset in the 1987 NatWest Trophy.

It is also home to possibly the most beautiful cricket ground in England, perhaps even the world.

Set in the rolling hills of Wormsley Park, Sir Paul Getty’s Ground is a monument to the beauty of simplicity. It is a relic of a bygone age – in an era of stadia, it is a true cricket ground. The immaculate playing surface is situated inside a grassy amphitheatre, flanked on one side by a thatched mock-Tudor pavilion, and on the other by an old-style manual scoreboard, behind which the Chiltern Hills slope up towards the clouds. The only sounds are those of the wind, and that of leather on willow. Occasionally, some polite applause. It really is like being in another world.

Getty was a life-devotee to everything English, and a few years after being introduced to the game by Mick Jagger, he had fallen so in love with the game that he decided to build the idyll we see today, loosely based on The Oval. For twenty years it has stood as a shrine to both his philanthropy and to the game he adored so much.

During the course of a match, should you look up the chances are you will see a Red Kite swirling around on the rolling breeze. After having been extinct in England and Scotland for many years, they were reintroduced on Getty’s land in 1989 as part of a project to increase their population, and are now a signature part of the park.

For those lucky enough to visit, there are few places that can match up to the experience of watching cricket at Wormsley. They have played host to many international sides, from Australia, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and South Africa, and of course, they hosted the 2013 Women’s Ashes Test.

That match was my unforgettable experience of Wormsley. As you climb the hill up to pitch level the view awaiting you genuinely takes your breath away. You are consumed by the majesty of the place, and it is easy to see why it is so beloved of players and fans alike.

A lot of grounds draw their lustre from their sense of history and tradition – for example Lord’s, or The Oval. Some are so big that, when full, they produce an experience like no other, such as the MCG or Eden Gardens. Grounds like Wormsley, however, are just stunningly attractive places to watch cricket, and in my view, it is as close to Heaven on Earth as you are likely to find.

No 36: 99.94

Some sporting achievements will be remembered forever: Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths; Usain Bolt running the 100m in 9.58 seconds; Brian Lara scoring 400 not out in a Test match.

Then there are sporting careers the likes of which, in all likelihood, we will never see again: Michael Phelps winning 18 Olympic gold medals; Joe Louis defending the World Heavyweight Championship 25 times in a row; Michael Schumacher taking victory in 91 Formula 1 Grand Prix.

And then you come to 99.94. The four most famous digits in cricket.

Sir Donald Bradman’s Test batting average is so absurdly large that it renders all comparison meaningless. You are considered an all-time great batsman with an average barely half of his (only 35 others to have played 20+ Tests average more than 50), and the gap between the Don and the 2nd on this list, Graeme Pollock (60.97), is roughly equal to the gap between Pollock himself and Graeme Swann.

However it is not just the size of the number which evokes awe and wonder, but the story behind it, which has passed into sporting folklore. Bradman went into his swansong, the final Test of the 1948 Ashes tour, with an average of 101.39, and needed 104 runs in the match to guarantee a final average of 100.

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62689.html

Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller then made the Don’s job easier, bowling England out for 52, and such was Australia’s domination that by the time Bradman came in, at first drop, they were already ahead by 65. Arthur Morris was well on the way to a magnificent 196 and it was already looking likely that Australia would only need to bat once. If Bradman did only get one opportunity, he would only need four for his three-figure average.

Bradman came to the crease with the Oval’s appreciation ringing in his ears, and was cheered to the wicket by the England side. Blinded by his tears, he missed Eric Hollies’ googly and was bowled second ball. He departed to as loud an ovation as he had received two minutes previously, and disappeared up the pavilion steps and out of Test cricket.

England folded for 188 in their second innings meaning that Bradman wouldn’t get another go. His record would be ever so slightly imperfect.

But to me, that is why Bradman’s record is so great. That this freakishly great player who had achieved everything in the game could be so enslaved by his emotions proved that, for a few minutes at least, he was just like one of us.

99.94 confirmed Bradman’s immortality as a cricketer. The lack of that 0.06 confirmed his mortality.