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.