(Clockwise top from Left) Mohammad Ashraful, Hamilton Masakadza, Salim Malik, Archie Jackson and Javed Miandad © Getty Images
(Clockwise top from Left) Mohammad Ashraful, Hamilton Masakadza, Salim Malik, Archie Jackson and Javed Miandad © Getty Images

Cricket has evolved beyond recognition from the time of its founding, particularly so in the past 14 years, with the advent of the T20 format and the introduction of the financially lucrative IPL and BBL.

But even in this era of instant gratification, every young cricketer in every little village from England to India and Australia dreams of the day he will get that coveted numbered cap that signifies he has stepped on the hallowed 22 yards of a Test ground and been recognised as one of the eleven best players of his nation.

Every moment of those first five dizzy days stays imprinted in the mind beneath that numbered cap, regardless of whether that cap is worn only once in their lifetime by a Andy Ganteaume or 200 times by a Sachin Tendulkar. And for a batsman, if the arrival on that big stage happens to be signalled by that raised bat acknowledging a much coveted first century, it is a memory that will likely remain the high point of their cricketing career.

Precisely 104 times in the 140 years since the first Test played between Australia and England, that bat has been triumphantly raised to the skies by a Test debutant. 104 times in the 4,478 innings of Test cricket that has been played till date. Statistically, a Test debutant has scored a ton once every 43 times that a team has walked out to bat in a Test since 1877. How many runs can you score in 4 balls? More than you think!

Suffice to say, the occurrences have been rare and treasured.

Not surprisingly, by and large these centurions have been young men, given that these were their debut Tests. Men like Stephen Cook of South Africa who had to wait till the age of 33 or Adam Voges of Australia who bore his frustration in silence until the age of 35, and Dave Houghton of Zimbabwe who waited until the age of 34 to play Zimbabwe’s first Test ever against Indian in 1992-93, and then erupted on to the Test stadia on debut with astonishing centuries, have been the exceptions that proved the rule.

It is safe to conclude that to succeed instantly, at the highest level, against the best bowlers in the world, takes something special. To get to the Test arena, in most cases, a player has to rise through the ranks of grade and first-class cricket. It is of little surprise then, that most debutants are in their early to mid-twenties before they earn that coveted cap, and are declared ready for the big stage where they can step high wide and plentiful.

Cricket, however, often throws up exceptions to these studied norms, and has been doing so for much of its long existence.

Some of these 104 Test debutants were very young indeed when they burst upon the international scene and captured the imagination of their peers and fans alike. Many of them were still teenagers when they made the big leap, and often went on to have illustrious careers. Sadly, some had relatively short stays at the pinnacle of the sport. A few of these were talents that flattered to deceive, and on a few others fate played truant, as it so often does. The Day of the Yadav

But the common thread that runs through the five youngest batsmen to score a century on Test debut, other than the remarkable feat itself, is that each of their lives reflected a uniqueness that keeps them in our memories, almost as if their deeds on the cricket field were not enough to get on with.

Mohammad Ashraful

We begin our story with the youngest of the five, who at the age of 17 years 63 days, representing the youngest-Test playing nation, Bangladesh, scored a brilliant 114 against Sri Lanka in September 2001. Just three days later the world was to witness the dramatic collapse of the Twin Towers, seven seas and a world away. Ashraful’s feat, to his countrymen, while happier in circumstances, was an event no less momentous.

The Test at Sinhalese Sports Club finished inside three days resulting in an innings victory for Sri Lanka. The fact that it is chiefly remembered for Ashraful’s debut ton says it all about the immediate impact that this teenager had on the game. Muttiah Muralitharan’s 10-wicket haul might have spun Sri Lanka to their most comprehensive victory in their 112 Tests till date, but the post-match talk was all about Bangladesh’s teenage prodigy.

Ashraful’s 114 came off 212 balls against an attack comprising Murali and Chaminda Vaas, two of the best bowlers Sri Lanka has ever produced, fighting a rear guard battle, 365 in arrears in the second innings. Against Murali he used his feet to get to the pitch of the ball, drove him over the top, pull-swept the vicious off-spin repeatedly over mid-wicket, and treated the doosra with disdain, late cutting it with aplomb to leave a disbelieving bowler shaking his head.

Three years later, Ashraful, no longer a gawky teenager, scored a breathtaking 158 off 194 balls against India at Chittagong, against an attack comprising Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, and Zaheer Khan. His 24 hits to the fence and 3 sixes were not enough to save his team the blushes, Bangladesh losing by an innings and 83 runs. A Messerschmitt up your arse and other War Stories

But the sheer brilliance of the innings brought unstinting praise from the Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, himself a debut centurion, when he said: “I think he is a quality player. He played an outstanding innings, played shots on all sides of the wicket, off both front foot and back foot. We peppered them with short stuff early in the morning but he saw off that phase and then played one of the best Test knocks I’ve seen. I’m sure he is going to serve Bangladesh cricket for a long time. Ashraful played the best innings of the series.”

Ashraful, with his rise from Dhaka’s suburbs to the newest wonder boy of cricket, was a breath of fresh air, the elusive surfer’s crest, that Bangladesh cricket needed to bring it out of the depths of despair it had fallen into after its repeated failures to justify their elevation to the elite list of Test playing nations in 2000. But this optimism was not to last for long.

Ashraful became the captain of a young Bangladesh side at the age of 22 after the 2007 World Cup. He continued to produce outstanding innings from time to time, but never did true justice to his talent, with only 15% of his Test innings being converted to a 50. He lost his captaincy after two years to Mashrafe Mortaza after the continued string of poor results. He was dropped from the team, and then made a comeback with a mature 190 against Sri Lanka in 2013.

And then fell the bombshell. A few short months after the 190 that brought renewed hopes of a successful comeback, Ashraful was accused of match fixing during the BPL. As investigators asked the first questions, Ashraful came right out and admitted his involvement, almost visibly relieved that he didn’t have to hold the guilt inside him: “When I faced the investigators for the first time, I realised I would only get into further trouble if I lied. I didn’t do it for money. I feared being dropped as I had scored just 110 runs in 11 domestic matches. They [the bookies] exploited this vulnerability. Yes, I am guilty and I have committed a crime.” We are the Inglorious: Most undeserving Test XI of all time

When the ban imposed by the Bangladesh Cricket Board ends in 2018, Ashraful hopes to make a comeback to the highest level of the game, drawing hope from the longevity of Misbah-ul-Haq. If he performs anywhere at the level that Misbah did in the latter part of his career, perhaps Test cricket may yet witness another glimpse of Ashraful’s wasted talent.

Hamilton Masakadza

Ashraful’s 114 against Sri Lanka wiped from the record books the feats of a 17-year-old schoolboy from Harare, six months older than the Bangladeshi at the time the record was set, Masakadza.

Masakadza’s record had briefly adorned the top spot for just over a month at the time. It had taken 19 long years for a Masakadza to come on the scene and shatter the previous record, and he must surely have felt undone with his brief stay on top of the record charts.

The significance of Masakadza’s achievement, however, was enormous, and went far beyond the 119 runs he gathered against the West Indies at Harare with such panache that July day of 2001.

A few years before that fateful day in 2001, in the Harare suburb of Highfield, young Hamilton was handed a cricket bat for the very first time at his school: an act that was to change his life. Here he was to also meet and become friends with some other future legends of Zimbabwe cricket — Tatenda Taibu, Vusimuzi Sibanda, Elton Chigumbura, Stuart Matsikenyeri and Prosper Utseya. They were to form the core of the group of black players defining the next generation of this country’s cricket.

Tristan Holme was to write in an article in The Cricket Monthly earlier this year: “It is no great surprise that the first surge of black cricket players in Zimbabwe emerged from here. The country’s liberation movements were born here in the 1960s, when three of the foremost black nationalists — Rev Ndabaningi Sithole, Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe — all lived in the area. Some of Zimbabwe’s top musicians, including the legendary Oliver Mtukudzi, were born and raised here, and so were a handful of eminent business people.” Shahid Afridi quits: Cricket’s Peter Pan lays his bat down

Holme described the impact of Masakadza’s innings well when he went on to say, “The innings nudged open the door for a race, a culture and a new generation. Cricket culture had officially crossed the racial divide in Zimbabwe.”

John Ward, in ESPNCricinfo, perhaps indulged in what could be misjudged as hyperbole when he remarked: “It was a not-so-small step for a man, but a giant leap forward for black cricket in Zimbabwe.”

119 runs scored by a young man in a drawn match would not perhaps have drawn such praise under normal circumstances, but when put in the context of Zimbabwe’s situation, it was perhaps well deserved.

The rest of Masakadza’s career has unfortunately not held up to the promise he showed as a 17-year-old with an average less than 29 in a career spanning 32 Test matches. It took him another 10 years to score his next Test century in no small measure due to Zimbabwe’s isolation from Test cricket between 2005 and 2011. He sometimes found himself out of the Test side due to indifferent form even when Zimbabwe played Tests, and made a few comebacks.

He has had a more permanent place and performed more consistently as an ODI player. In 2015-16 he scored 162 not out for Mountaineers against Mashonaland Eagles — the second-highest T20 score in history.

While Hamilton Masakadza may not have delivered all that he promised as a 17-year-old, he will occupy an important place in Zimbabwe’s cricketing history for all time to come.

Saleem Malik

The remarkable cricketer whose record Masakadza broke enjoyed his time in the sun (so to speak) for 19 years as the youngest debut centurion in Test history.

With supple wrists and silky timing, Malik dominated bowlers all over the world, and was one of the first to truly sort out Shane Warne. He was no lame duck against quality fast bowling either.

Debuting in 1982, he played 103 Tests for Pakistan, scoring at an average of 43.69 with 15 centuries and 29 fifties to his name.

In his debut match at Karachi against Sri Lanka, Malik made a modest 12 in the first innings of a Pakistani total of 396. Sri Lanka replied with 344 and on the back of a magnificent 100 not out from Salem Malik in the company of his captain Javed Miandad, Pakistan were able to declare at 301 for 4 and bowl Sri Lanka out for 149 to win the match.

With that innings, Malik at 18 years 323 days, moved into the top position as the youngest centurion on debut.

Fulfilling the proverb that “the morning shows the day”, Malik’s debut was sensational, followed by a career to match.

Few Indians who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s will forget Calcutta 1987, when India looked like it was going to run away with the match at lunch, having scored 238 in a 40-over match on the back of a scintillating 103-ball 123 from Krishnamachari Srikkanth.

Pakistan were reduced to 161 for 5 when Malik arrived at the crease. He scored 72 out of the remaining 77 runs required, making them from just 36 deliveries. He finished unbeaten and Pakistan won by 2 wickets with 3 balls still to spare in the match. Among the shattered young hearts that day at the Eden Gardens, happened to be a teenaged yours truly!

This story, despite the longevity of his Test career, was not to have a happy ending.

What started with the investigations in the 1990s and Hansie Cronje’s stunning confession, came to roost for him in 2000, when Malik became the first player to be banned — from all cricket — for match-fixing, when Justice Qayyum’s inquiry found him guilty. Warne and Mark Waugh also testified that Malik had tried to bribe them to lose the Karachi Test of 1994-95 (which Australia did, by 1 wicket). He protested his innocence, appealed against the ban in 2001 but the Lahore High Court rejected it. He sought relief from the Supreme Court and after a seven-year wait, had his ban lifted by a lower court.

A Telegraph story of the time, based on an undercover sting by News of the World, went thus: “To fix any match for certain, Malik says you need to engage five or six players in a team, including the captain. As a trial run, he suggests the businessmen can enlist one member of the current Pakistan team, a batsman, for £50,000 for one match. Malik emphasises that you must not try to fix too many matches -about one match per tournament -because the players have to be allowed to perform some of the time or they will be dropped. “It’s important for old players to stay in the side so the business can continue,” adds Malik.”

A wonderful career with a magnificent beginning and a truly disappointing end.

Javed Miandad

When Malik burst on the scene with his magnificent debut ton, it was at the same time both fitting and ironical that guiding him all the way out in the middle, was his captain Miandad, helping the young man reach the magic three-figure mark.

Six years before the Karachi match and Malik’s emergence, at 19 years 119 days, it had been Miandad himself who had made the world sit up and notice that a young genius with the bat had arrived.

Abdul Hafeez Kardar, Pakistan’s first Test captain famously predicted in the early 1970s, that Javed Miandad was “the find of the decade.” He would prove to be truly prescient.

So when in October 1976, Miandad made his Test debut against New Zealand, all eyes were on him.

Richard Hadlee had reduced Pakistan to 44 for 3 when Miandad joined Zaheer Abbas at the crease. Zaheer left 11 runs later leaving the young debutant at the crease at 55 for 4.

Karthik Parimal described the innings on these pages: “Miandad went after all the bowlers without any inhibitions, right from the outset. He soon began to flourish, and runs started to flow far more freely. Later in the innings, he and Asif Iqbal looked unstoppable. During the course of the innings, Miandad started to point out technical glitches in his senior partner’s batting! … At one stage Asif walked down the wicket and told Miandad, ‘Looks like I’m the one making Test debut and you’re the one who is playing for years!’”

History was made when Miandad ended the innings with a score of 163, becoming the youngest player to score a debut century, breaking a record that had lasted 47 years.

In his third Test, Miandad added his name again in the history books as he scored 206 to become Test cricket’s youngest double-centurion at the age of 19. He went past George Headley, who had scored one at the age of 20. Miandad was to maintain an average over 50 throughout his Test career, no mean feat for a man who played 124 Tests.

In ODIs, he will be particularly remembered for a last-ball six that he hit off Chetan Sharma to beat India at Sharjah. It was the first such instance in ODI history, but it would not be the last. Once again, Miandad was flirting with the history books.

He will also be remembered for his sharp tongue and aggressive nature on the field, a manifestation of which is the infamous photograph of him getting ready to strike Dennis Lillee with his bat. But that was how Miandad played the game — to win, and no holds barred.

It was after his career ended however that Miandad gained some notoriety and significant bad press because of his close association with fugitive Indian terrorist Dawood Ibrahim. Miandad’s daughter married Dawood’s son, and the families became closely linked. Dawood has been a fugitive from justice since masterminding the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts and has reportedly been living in Karachi for the past few decades. He is apparently seen at parties in Miandad’s home from time to time. He also got involved in a public spat between Afridi and Miandad last year.

What is clear is that controversy will court Javed Miandad wherever he goes. What cannot be denied however is that he did fulfil his early promise and is perhaps unanimously acknowledged as the greatest batsman that Pakistan has ever produced.

Archie Jackson

When Percy Chapman’s Englishmen came to Australia in the summer of 1928-29 to play a 5-Test series, there was nothing to suggest that something momentous was about to happen. Indeed, even by the end of the series, looking at the result of the series, one could be forgiven for not believing this to be the case.

It was however destined to be the start of an era that would change cricket forever.

The first Test at Brisbane saw a young 20-year-old domestic batting sensation, Don Bradman, making his debut for Australia. A score of 18 in the first innings and looking clueless on a sticky wicket before departing for 1 in the second, in a 675-run loss for Australia, was not the start to his career young Bradman was looking for.

When he was dropped from the XI for the second Test at Sydney despite his domestic season average of 85, rankled badly with the 20-year old. Twenty years later, writing in Farewell to Cricket, he remarked: “Our selectors were not at that time particularly imbued with the gospel of youth, for in our Team they included Jack Ryder (then aged 39), [Clarrie] Grimmett (36), [Don] Blackie (46) and [Bert] Ironmonger (41).

It was because of the unfortunate Bill Ponsford’s left arm being broken by a Harold Larwood delivery early in the match that Bradman was able to be on the field for the entire match. Australia this time lost by 8 wickets.

Bradman was brought back into the team for the third Test at Melbourne, and this time he grabbed the opportunity with both hands scoring 79 and 112. Despite these heroics, Australia again lost by 3 wickets, and by the end of this match not only had The Ashes been lost, but Australia were down 0-3.

To compound its problems with the series result thus far, Australia had a big challenge to address at the top of the order, with no apparent substitute for Ponsford to partner Woodfull.

In their desperation, Bradman was asked to open for New South Wales against South Australia between the third and fourth Tests to Test him out in the position. Scores of 5 and 2 brought a quick end to that particular idea.

But in Bradman’s opening partner in that same Sheffield Shield match, Australia found the other half of their new opening pair. Jackson made sure that his phenomenal talent, which had put him in some estimates above Bradman as a batting prodigy, was not ignored any more with scores of 162 and 90 while Bradman scored 5 and 2.

In the fourth Test at Adelaide, England piled up 334 on the back of a typically brilliant century from Wally Hammond. Then, when Australia came out to bat, young Jackson soon found himself stranded helplessly at the non-striker’s end as the scoreboard read 19 for 3 with Woodfull, Stork Hendry and Alan Kippax back in the pavilion before the first hour of batting was done.

Bradman describes the innings and what happened thereafter from his vantage point at the other end, in Farewell to Cricket: “Undaunted by this setback, Jackson proceeded to play an innings which from the point of view of stroke execution, elegance and sheer artistry held the spectators as few innings in history have done.

“I was Jackson’s partner when we resumed after an interval. If my memory is correct Archie’s score was 96 or 97, and being so much older than him (just about a year to be precise) I had the temerity to offer him some advice. Jackson was to take strike against Larwood who had a new ball, so I suggested to him that there was no hurry. ‘Take your time’, I said, ‘and the century will come’.”

He then describes with awe what happened next. “Those who saw his next stroke will agree with me that no more glorious square drive could be played. He didn’t care about [Harold] Larwood or the new ball which travelled like a bullet to the pickets in front of the Member’ Stand. “

The young prodigy had fulfilled his initial promise and went on to record 164 runs becoming not only the youngest centurion on debut since Test cricket started, at the age of 19 years 149 days, but also recording the highest score which has not been surpassed almost 90 years later, with Miandad coming the closest with his 163.

Australia again lost the Test narrowly by 12 runs, but with Bradman and Jackson in full flow, victory finally came in the final Test at Melbourne by 5 wickets.

England took the Ashes winning the series 4-1, but the seeds of Australia’s cricketing dominance had been sown that Australian summer and would continue to bear fruit for the next two decades.

But what about Archie Jackson?

Martin Williamson, writing in ESPNCricinfo, says about Jackson: “Jackson was a graceful batsman, his innings punctuated by delicate leg-glances, wristy flicks through the covers and exquisite footwork.”

Describing his career after that magical debut, Williamson says, “He struggled for form on the 1930 tour of England, his courageous 73 at The Oval when he added 243 for the fourth wicket with Bradman a rare highlight. But his successes were made against the background of his failing health, and his appearances grew rarer.”

Jackson suffered from the scourge of tuberculosis, an unconquered disease at the time, which had claimed many a sporting life, and it did not spare this young man.

He passed away on February 16, 1933, the day that England regained the Ashes in the Bodyline series.

Bradman recalled sadly while talking about Jackson’s debut, “To think that four years later I should be called upon to act as one of the pall-bearers when this glorious young player’s remains were carried to rest, a victim of that dread scourge, tuberculosis.”