Sachin Tendulkar is one of the very few child prodigies to have succeeded in Test cricket

Sachin Tendulkar famously entered the scene in November 1989 at the tender age of 16 years and 205 days © Getty Images

Sachin Tendulkar is one of only 10 cricketers who started their Test career at the age of 16 or earlier. And his success is an exception to the rule. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the other young debutants and finds that few careers lived up to the early promise.
As Sachin Tendulkar gears up to play his final two Test matches, the curtains prepare to come down on a magnificent, unique and enormously long career.

Tendulkar famously entered the scene in November 1989 at the tender age of 16 years and 205 days. Back then few could have predicted a career lasting 24 years and three days —  as it will if the Mumbai Test goes on to the scheduled last day. And no one could have even imagined 200 Tests, over 15000 runs, 51 hundreds, along with 18000 runs and 49 more centuries in One-Day Internationals. These numbers were beyond the realm of most fanciful cricketing fantasies in the late 1980s.

To conquer all these unknown summits, it did help Tendulkar to start early. However, even then, he has been an exception. In cricket, seldom have child prodigies gone on to achieve such spectacular success. The early signs of exceptional talent have often lost the differentiating edge by the time these gifted wunderkinds grew into mature men.

In the history of Test cricket, only 10 men have made their debuts at the age of 16 or earlier — all from the subcontinent; the list consists six Pakistanis, three Bangladeshis and Tendulkar. This statistic speaks as eloquently of early development as about the system of registering births in this part of the world.
Interestingly, when we look back at these talented boys, apart from Tendulkar only Mushtaq Mohammad went on to become one of the top cricketers in the world. And of the current lot, Mushfiqur Rahim is the only one who promises to go down as a major force to reckon with by the time he winds up his career.

Let us see how these other young debutants fared:

1. Khalid Hasan – A leg spinner from Lahore, Hasan made his debut in the Nottingham Test of 1954 at the age of 16 years and 352 days. The current world record that he holds is rather unenviable — he is the youngest cricketer to have played his last day in Test cricket, at the age of 16 years and 356 days. Yes, he managed just that one Test. His leg breaks came up against the rapier like bat of Denis Compton and were mercilessly slashed into ribbons.

Hasan did get the great man by castling him, but only after Compton had scored 278. Within another five runs, he added Godfrey Evans to his tally. However, 21-1-116-2 were rather disheartening figures. He never played Test cricket again. Besides, Compton’s assault seemed to have some left lasting effects. Although he continued in First-Class cricket for five more years, the best bowling analysis he managed read three for 27.

2. Nasim-ul-Ghani – A left-arm spinner of considerable promise who could also bowl medium pace, Nasim-ul-Ghani made his debut in the Bridgetown Test of 1958 made famous by Hanif Mohammad’s 337. At 16 years and 248 days, he broke Hasan’s record as the youngest debutant, but went wicketless in that match.

He did end the tour with two five-wicket hauls. But, after 30 wickets in the first two series, he struggled to capture just 22 more in the remaining 21 Tests played over one and a half decades. He is more famous for coming in as a night-watchman and scoring 101at Lord’s in 1962.

3. Mushtaq Mohammad – A rare teenaged success. One of the celebrated Mohammad brothers, Mushtaq took over the mantle of the youngest Test debutant at 16 years and 124 days when he played against West Indies at Lahore in early 1959. However, there remains considerable doubt about his age, and consequently about his being the youngest centurion in Test history at the age of 17 years and 78 days.
Nevertheless, he did enjoy a long career spanning 20 years and played 57 Test matches for Pakistan as a middle-order batsman and a more than useful leg-spinner. He led his country in 19 of these Tests and ended with an excellent record of 3643 runs at 39.17 with 10 hundreds and 79 wickets at 29.22. The pinnacle of his cricketing days was reached in 1977 at Port-of-Spain when he scored 121 and 56 and took five for 28 and three for 69 in a historic 266 run victory.

Mushtaq played regularly for Northamptonshire and ended with 72 First-Class hundreds, more than his talented brothers Hanif and Sadiq. His final figures read an impressive 31091 runs and 936 wickets. He was also a leading innovator, and became the first exponent of the reverse sweep.

4. Aftab Baloch – A middle-order batsman of genuine class, Baloch made his debut against New Zealand at Dhaka at the age of 16 years and 221 days. He did score a compact 25, but was subsequently dropped from the side. He made his way back to the national side by scoring a mammoth 428 for Sind against Baluchistan in 1973-74. However, although he toured England in the summer of 1974, he did not get to play in the Tests. The highlight of the tour was when he was allotted room number 428 in the team hotel, supposedly a mere coincidence.

He returned to the Test side at Lahore in February 1975, scoring an unbeaten 60 at number seven and playing a crucial role in saving the Test. However, in spite of the undeniable promise and the robust performances, he could not make his way into a side already brimful with batting talent.

5. Aaqib Javed – Nine months before the debut of Tendulkar, another 16-year-old ran in as second change at Wellington, his 34 overs of medium-pace producing 103 runs without a wicket. In the second innings he shared the new ball with the great Imran Khan, but once again remained wicket-less while giving away 57 runs.

Sixteen years and 189 days on the day of his debut according to his rather contentious birth certificate, Aaqib played for nine years, claiming 54 wickets in 22 Tests at 34.70. His ODI tally of 182 wickets from 163 outings makes somewhat better reading. His career ended with all the match-fixing allegations of the late 1990s — although Aaqib emerged as one of the few clean players. His lasting claim to fame remains the hat-trick of leg before wicket decisions he won against India at Sharjah. The other highlight was slightly murkier, when he bounced No 11 Devon Malcolm and followed it up by snatching his sweater aggressively from umpire Roy Palmer.

6. Hasan Raza – Even by Pakistani standards, Hasan Raza’s 14 years and 227 days was an exceptional age for breaking into the Test side. However, doubts persisted about the validity of his birthday and medical tests led Pakistani officials to withdraw the claims of the record as the youngest debutant.
A gifted timer of the ball, Raza was dropped after his not too impressive debut against Zimbabwe in 1996. He came back a year later to play another Test against the same opponents and was dropped yet again after another failure. Recalled for the third time in 2002, he did flourish in two innings of 54 and 68 against Australia at Sharjah. But, even two more matches against the weak Zimbabwe side could not get him regular runs. Another couple of insipid performances against England at home led him to be dropped for what seems to be an air of finality. Going by his official age, he is just 31 and he can be recalled yet again. But, chances of that seem remote as of now.

7. Talha Jubair – The patter of young feet was heard in Bangladesh as Jubair ran in with the new ball at Colombo in 2002  at the tender age of 16 years and 223 days. And he removed Marvan Atapattu for 20 and Mahela Jayawardene for a duck to put Sri Lanka in some discomfort at 55 for three. However, Kumar Sangakkara and Aravinda de Silva put on 150, and then Sanath Jayasuriya joined de Silva to add another 244. Jubair finished with 21-0-120-2.

Soon, mauling at the hands of different top sides was augmented with a stress fracture which sidelined him for more than a year. He made a comeback at Chittagong in 2004 but Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid got stuck into him and the youngster went for 95 runs at five an over. It was Jubair’s seventh Test, and at the end of it his record showed 14 wickets at 55 apiece. He has not played after that.

8. Enamul Haque Jr. – Another youngster with a questionable date of birth, Haque can still end with respectable numbers as a left arm spinner. Hovering on the brink of 27 now — many insist it is actually 29 — he perhaps has the time to mature and improve his bowling average which stands at 40.61 for his 44 wickets.

After making his debut at the age of 16 years 320 days, he did have one memorable 12 wicket haul against the club-class Zimbabwe of 2005. However, since then he has taken wickets at 57 apiece in the 10 Tests he has played across eight years.

9. Mushfiqur Rahim – One of the rare youngsters who promise to go a long way, Rahim was 16 years and 267 days old when he made his debut at Lord’s, playing as a batsman as Khaled Mashud wore the big gloves. The inclusion was reward for his 115 against Northamptonshire, his maiden First-Class ton. In his first innings, he was one of the only three batsmen to reach double figures in a routine Bangla collapse. All at sea against Muttiah Muralitharan when he played his second Test at Bogra, again as a batsman, he soon replaced Mashud as the preferred wicketkeeper in the 2007 World Cup.

With time, his glovework has remained neat and efficient and his batting has shown increasing signs of maturity. He scored his first Test century against India at Chittagong and has averaged 40 since then. He was appointed captain after Bangladesh lost to Zimbabwe in 2011, and got a gutsy 68 against West Indies in his first innings at the helm. Earlier this year, at Galle, he hit 200 not out, joining the seven other wicketkeepers who have scored double hundreds in Test cricket. A month later, he played a leading role in Bangladesh’s first win under his captaincy by scoring 60 and 93 at Harare.

Child prodigies in Test cricket

Name Age at Debut T Runs Ave Wkts Ave Ct/St
Khalid Hasan 16 y 352 d 1 17 17.00 2 58.00 0
Nasim-ul-Ghani 16 y 248 d 29 747 16.60 52 37.67 11
Mushtaq Mohammad 16 y 124 d 57 3643 39.17 79 29.22 42
Aftab Baloch 16 y 221 d 2 97 48.50 0 0
Aaqib Javed 16 y 189 d 22 101 5.05 54 34.70 2
Sachin Tendulkar 16 y 205 d 198 15837 53.86 45 54.68 115
Hasan Raza 14 y 227 d 7 235 26.11 0 5
Talha Jubair 16 y 223 d 7 52 6.50 14 55.07 1
Enamul Haque Jr 16 y 320 d 15 59 5.90 44 40.61 3
Mushfiqur Rahim 16 y 267 d 36 2078 32.46 0 60/10

 

Sachin Tendulkar Retirement

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twiter.com/senantix)