Top, from left: Vizzy, Rob Quiney, Trevor Chappell, Usman Afzaal, Jack Ikin. Bottom, from left: Stuart Binny, Richard Blakey, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Robert Kennedy, Khaled Mahmud © Getty Images
Top, from left: Vizzy, Rob Quiney, Trevor Chappell, Usman Afzaal, Jack Ikin.
Bottom, from left: Stuart Binny, Richard Blakey, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Robert Kennedy, Khaled Mahmud © Getty Images

It is the dream of every young cricketer to play for his country in a Test match.

And the fulfilment of this dream is more often than not the high point of his career.

It is a fact of life that very few go on to have careers like a Don Bradman, a Brian Lara, a Steve Waugh, a Sachin Tendulkar, a Shane Warne or a Glenn McGrath. Most cricketing careers are sadly, short lived.

The archives are indeed littered with tales of one-Test wonders like Andy Ganteaume (who inexplicably never played a second match despite a phenomenal batting average of 112 in his only Test) or Gobo Ashley (who took 7 for 95 playing his only official match, never to be picked again).

But what about those who got picked to represent their country in the highest form of the game, some not once but multiple times, but did little to deserve it?

To make matters worse, not even hindsight allows us to be kind to them or their benefactors, given how miserably they failed to capitalise on those chances.

I thought it would not only be a lark, but an interesting study too, to go through history and pick a Test team of 11 such players whose selection defied cricketing logic, and whose subsequent performance just drove the proverbial nails into their cricketing coffins.

Shall we then call this team the GUE (Grossly Undeserving Eleven)?

Let us pick the captain first so that he can participate in this excellent exercise of picking the undeserving, of which he himself was an immense beneficiary.

I am of course talking about one of the most controversial figures in the history of Indian Cricket, Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vijayananda Gajapathi Raju, Maharajkumar of Vizianagram aka Vizzy.

Vizzy was the equivalent of Wodehouse’s Hon. Freddie Threepwood, the second son, never destined to be Lord. But unlike Freddie, Vizzy was all about the power, and a past master at manipulation, using his not insubstantial financial might.

If ever there was a dark day in the annals of Indian Cricket, it was the day Vizzy manipulated his way to emerge as the leader of the Indian team.

With his behind the scene machinations, financial contributions, elevation of himself as a selector, and ensuring every other candidate fell by the wayside for one reason or another, Vizzy led India on a 3-Test tour of England in 1936, accompanied by two servants and 36 pieces of luggage, as per contemporary accounts.

He scored 33 runs from 6 innings, batting at No. 9 in 5 of those innings, and did not bowl.

And with his actions during the tour, he cut short or damaged the careers of three Indian players of the era who were counted among the best in the world at the time — CK Nayudu, Wazir Ali and Lala Amarnath.

Just as an aside, he also picked up a knighthood during the tour, to make it a truly fruitful voyage. In fact, when he was being knighted, news arrived that India were winning against Lancashire under CK’s able leadership. Vizzy cabled Mohammad Nissar, ordering him to bowl full-tosses. Nayudu promptly replaced Nissar with Jahangir Khan, kept himself on from the other end, and bowled India to one of their two victories on the tour.

With such a stellar record, there clearly is no need to look further for providing inspirational leadership to our team.

And while we are about it, why not let him open batting? After all, he would probably bring his own umpire and runner in any case.

Walking in alongside Vizzy, we need a man with the patience of a mountain and the ability to bat for hours and yet leave the scorers untroubled by excessive activity.

The ideal candidate then to open the batting for our Grossly Undeserving XI, is an Australian, Rob Quiney.

It took seven years of domestic cricket before Quiney made his Test debut in 2012 against South Africa as replacement for Shane Watson.

The debut was, shall we say, less than stellar.

Quiney played 3 innings in the 2 Tests that he wore the Baggy Green, scoring 9 in his only innings at Brisbane and then a pair in the second Test at Adelaide which left the scorers to enjoy their morning cuppa without stretching their arms towards the scoreboard.

No one could have summed up Quiney the Test cricketer quite like Jarrod Kimber, when he said: “Quiney is a club cricketer. You couldn’t say he batted like a First-Class or international player. He played like a club cricketer with serious talent. It was raw and unkempt. A classic shot could be followed by a horrible slog.” QED.

At No. 3 (after Vizzy’s inevitable early exit), who could be a better sight for sore eyes, with bat in hand, than Trevor Chappell.

Chappell was an obdurate batsman whose claim to fame ironically came with a ball which failed to rise above his ankle. To be fair, his sullied reputation was entirely because he followed the order of his captain (who also happened to be one of his two illustrious cricketer brothers) to bowl underarm and deny New Zealand victory in a One-Day tournament, adding a particularly inglorious chapter to the history of cricket.

With a career First-Class batting average below 30, an average below 16 from the 3 Tests he was picked to play for Australia, accompanied by the third-worst strike rate in Test cricket history of 18.89 (of all cricketers with more than 50 Test runs), Trevor Chappell’s selection in this team is despite his last name, not because of it.

Strolling in at No. 4 and managing to look cocky even in his walk to the wicket, is England’s Usman Afzaal.

Admittedly, Pakistan-born Afzaal was a man who had some decent scores in County cricket with an average just below 40. But more than the swashbuckling left-hand batting that he should have been known for, his penchant for fast cars, a flashy lifestyle and a permanently cocky attitude are the abiding memories of his short stint in the highest form of the game.

Just the kind of man Vizzy would love to have in his team.

The Australian team was not amused when Afzaal (somewhat mysteriously nicknamed Trevor — which may add to some amusement if he partners Trevor Chappell) rocked up for his debut in a flashy sponsored sports car. Shane Warne ensured his cockiness did not last long by bowling him through the gate, early on his first morning in Test Cricket.

It’s a good thing that he celebrated his first 50 in Test cricket with leaping, whooping, exaggerated air-punching celebration (in a score of 641 for 4 declared), because that was the only chance he was ever going to get to celebrate in a career that spanned 3 Tests and resulted in an average below 17.

In at No. 5 is an Englishman, Jack Ikin, whose personality could not be a more striking contrast to Afzaal.

Jack Ikin played in 18 Tests for England between 1946 and 1955, scoring 606 runs with an average of 20.89 and took 3 wickets at 118 runs each. By sheer force of lack of performance, Ikin would find his way into our team.

It might seem bizarre that he played so many Tests over such a long period, but he was looked at almost as a part of the support cast needed to back up stars like Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Denis Compton and Bill Edrich, in the immediate post-War era when England’s cricketing cupboard had been laid bare by the ravages of War.

Let us just say he was in the right place at the right time.

Ikin however remains a part of cricketing lore for a good chest-high catch of Don Bradman that he took off Bill Voce. It was so obvious that no one initially appealed, and when they did, to everyone’s disbelief, Bradman declined to acknowledge the edge, and umpire George Borwick promptly gave him not out.

At no. 6, the all-rounder’s spot is claimed by a man, who, if the selection powers that be of the BCCI are to be believed, was ‘born’ to occupy this position.

Yes, you guessed it. The man in the spotlight is Stuart Binny, progeny of one of India’s genuine all-rounders, and part of the 1983 winning World Cup team, Roger Binny.

“Stuart Little” as he is sometimes unkindly referred to in India, has been touted as India’s best all-rounder, an address one assumes makes Kapil Dev cringe every time he hears it.

While there is an argument for the several times Binny has been included in the ODI and T20I sides, given a couple of truly stellar performances he has come up with, the selectors were surely playing a cruel joke on an unsuspecting public when he was inducted into the Test team six times over a two-year period.

With one 50 and a batting average below 22, and a bowling average (yes I am sure I have not switched the two) of 86 while taking 3 wickets, the 1.2 billion collective sighs of relief when he was finally dropped almost triggered a Tsunami warning.

To keep wickets to Stuart and his fellow bowlers, we have in our midst, none other than England’s answer to Adam Gilchrist, Yorkshire’s very own Richard Blakey.

Blakey started his career as a batting wunderkind and was turned into a wicketkeeper by Yorkshire, looking to find a substitute for David Bairstow, in the process doing a tremendous disservice to the man and the cricket-loving public at large.

Blakey’s batting steadily deteriorated and it was a shock to the discerning cricket fan when he was picked ahead of Jack Russell for the tour of India and Sri Lanka in 1993.

He made a less-than-spectacular debut against India in Madras with an agonizing 17-ball struggle until he was put out of his misery by Venkatapathy Raju, bowled without troubling the scorers. Kumble did the honours with Blakey’s score at 6 in the second innings.

Blakey’s Test career ended after the next match with a mind numbing batting average of 1.75 and 2 catches behind the stumps to talk to his grandchildren about on long winter nights.

Batting at No. 8 and opening the bowling is South Africa’s Lonwabo Tsotsobe, making sure the GUE has every possible position filled by the (un)deserving.

The tall left-arm swing bowler was clearly marked out for a lack of stamina and fitness for the longer format, and yet, bizarrely, he was given a Test call-up when South Africa toured West Indies in 2010, the reasons for which were at the time a matter of much speculation.

It was a Test career that lasted all of six months and 5 Tests before the South African selectors uttered their mea culpas and sent him back to plugging away for the Warriors.

Needless to say (given that he has made it to this exclusive list), a bowling average just shy of 50 and a batting average of 6, in his 5 Tests, did little credit to his purported talent.

Tsotsobe is currently under investigation for allegations of match-fixing in the domestic T20 competition, adding a special spice to our already illustrious mix of non performers.

At No. 9 is Australian leg-break bowler John Watkins, a man Keith Stackpole once described as “possibly the luckiest player ever to represent Australia”. Stackpole also spoke about how in one of the tour games, “he almost hit the square-leg umpire with the widest full-toss I’ve seen.”

Watkins was plucked out of obscurity to play his only Test against Pakistan in 1972-73 after only five first-class appearances in which he had taken 11 wickets at 37.18. He bowled 6 overs in the match, did not take a wicket, and consequently, does not possess a Test bowling average.

Watkins redeems himself somewhat by providing a semblance of respectability at the No. 9 position with his batting average of 39 in the only innings he played.

Bringing up the tail are two men who appear to have been born to play in this team.

Partnering Watkins from the other end, and acting as his spin twin, when the GUE bowls, will be Mark Haslam from New Zealand with his left-arm spin.

Lancashire-born slow left-armer Mark Haslam’s rise was truly spectacular, when he played his first 2 Tests against Zimbabwe in 1992 at the age of 20 after only 5 First-Class matches for Auckland.

The results alas were less spectacular. He took one tail-end wicket for 153 runs.

He was inexplicably then again picked to tour India in 1995-96, where he took 1 for 42 in Cuttack in the only innings when he bowled in the two tests.

With a bowling average of 122.50 in 4 Tests, GUE could not have hoped for a better pick in the spin department.

And finally to wrap up the Eleven is another Kiwi, Robert Kennedy, who will display his inconsiderable skills when he partners Tsotsobe with the new ball.

In his first Test against Zimbabwe, despite a reputation of having the ability to swing the ball both ways, he failed to control the ball at all in the reverse swing overs, and freely admitted that he had “never seen anything like this before”.

Things did not unfortunately get better from that point.

Kennedy played 4 Tests in all, finishing with 6 wickets and a ‘healthy’ average of 63.

His batting, with an average of 7, was unfortunately not enough to save his Test career.

We now have our GUE (Grossly Undeserving Eleven) in play and all ready to tour the world.

But not quite.

We do need to pick some reserves. After all, one does not quite expect Vizzy and his “chosen” to exert themselves too much by playing all day. So, for the days on which they are otherwise engaged, or the times when they don’t feel up to running up a sweat, we need in our extended team, at least one (un)deserving backup.

Fortunately, we have just the man for the job.

To captain the team, in the (likely) event that Vizzy is too busy to show up at the ground, we have Khaled Mahmud. Mahmud, apparently a talented “all-rounder”, had the honour of captaining Bangladesh in 9 of the 12 Tests that he was privileged (and I do not use the word loosely) to play for his country, losing all 9.

One can perhaps make excuses for the early Test record of a fledgling nation, but it is rather more difficult finding an excuse for a Test captain who retired with a batting average of 12 and a bowling average of 64 from his 12 Tests.

Mahmud is a worthy substitute in the absence of either captain Vizzy or our GUE’s first pick all-rounder Binny. And of course, his presence will be sorely needed to bring drinks out to the toiling XI out in the middle.

Just to avoid any unfortunate (read unfavourable) decisions out in the middle, Vizzy has of course arranged for his own umpires to travel with the team.

When you look for gentlemen in coats to stand in the middle, and you are not particular about the quality or accuracy of decisions, and indeed enjoy a bit of induced bias, you do not need to look further than Shakoor Rana. Suffice to say that he is credited with enquiring about the Test record for LBWs after giving 10 LBW decisions in his first Test.

While we are setting up the scene for some fireworks here, accompanying Rana has to be Bapu Joshi, who carved a permanent if dubious spot for himself in the record books in the late 1940s.

In Bombay, in late 1948 India were chasing 361 to win in their 2nd innings to win the match and level the series. They needed 21 runs to win with 15 minutes still left on the final day’s play. Despite some time-wasting tactics by West Indies, India had to score just 11 runs to win from the last 2 overs. In the next over, India scored 5 runs from the first 5 balls. But then, with 6 runs to get in 7 balls, umpire Joshi called time and whipped off the bails. Not only had he miscounted the number of balls in the over, but he had miscalculated the time as well.

And with that Vizzy and his entourage are finally ready to face whatever the world of cricket can throw at them.

Squad:

Vizzy (c), Rob Quiney, Trevor Chappell, Usman Afzaal, Jack Ikin, Stuart Binny, Richard Blakey (wk), Lonwabo Tsotsobe, John Watkins, Mark Haslam, Robert Kennedy, Khaled Mahmud (12th). Umpires: Shakoor Rana, Bapu Joshi.

Author’s note:

It has indeed been a long and exhausting journey across geographies and timelines to help Vizzy pick the best candidates for his GUE.

What is clear is that no Test-playing country is immune to bizarre selections that defy logic.

Sometimes these selections are a result of selectors’ misguided faith in miracles, at other times of pressure from within the system to pick players who fit a certain profile, and often it is just plain luck that certain players get the breaks they do not deserve because they happen to be in the right place at the right time.

And then there are the those unfortunates who spend a lifetime performing at a high level, but never get that elusive chance to showcase their talent at the Test level.

The fact that it was an arduous task to find a playing Eleven of the truly undeserving across time and geographies, gives one hope that most players who do get the chance to play Test cricket for their country, deserve the honour, and their actual success or failure after that, to a great degree, can be put down to luck and the vagaries of life, rather than just a measure of their abilities.