John Warr. Photo courtesy: eBay
John Warr. Photo courtesy: eBay

John Warr’s atrocious bowling average is well-known, but as Abhishek Mukherjee recalls, a Sydney Wharf labourer had almost predicted it.

John Warr used to be a regular feature in quizzes till 1985. Of all bowlers to have taken at least one Test wicket, Warr’s bowling average of 281 used to be the worst for decades. Then Roger Wijesuriya usurped him from the throne with a career tally of 1 for 294. Two current cricketers, Naeem Islam (303) and Ravi Bopara (290), have also gone past Warr, so he no longer remains a novelty.

To make things worse, Warr’s only Test wicket was a gift. He had 0 for 142 on debut at Sydney. The first innings of Adelaide got him 0 for 63. In the second innings, too, he had conceded 60 when, as Arunabha Sengupta narrated here, Ian Johnson decided to have mercy on him. The ball took a very thin edge, landed to Godfrey Evans’ gauntlets, they all went up in unison, the umpire turned down the appeal, and Johnson walked for the only time in his career (as per his own admission).

It had taken Warr 551 balls to take a Test wicket. He had conceded 265. He would bowl another 33 and give away 16 more runs, but the last column would remain unaltered.

Warr’s misfortune had started earlier on the tour since the party landed on Fremantle on October 9. His first 7 matches fetched him 10 wickets; 6 of these came in a single match, against Western Australia Colts.

The tourists halted at Adelaide and Melbourne, playing South Africa and Victoria respectively, en route Sydney from Perth. The sledge, considered one of the classics in the history of the sport (and almost the most prophetic), came some time at Sydney.

The fact that England’s “other new ball bowler” had not being doing well had reached Sydney. He had taken 2 for 119 against South Australia and 0 for 77 against Victoria, and would be dropped for the New South Wales match.

Warr was instantly recognised at the Sydney Wharf. One of the labourers yelled at him: “Hey Warr, you’ve got as much chance of taking a Test wicket on this tour as I have of pushing a pound of butter up a parrot’s arse with a hot needle!”

Had Johnson not been as magnanimous, the ‘sledger’ would probably have been sought out as a 20th-century version to Nostradamus. Of course, this is under the assumption that no member of the superfamily Psittacoidea was heard yelling in the great city of Sydney some time around the prediction.