David Cameron is presented a No. 10 jersey by Andrew Strauss at 10 Downing Street

"... and you can chuck a few pies as well"

© Getty Images

The Zaltzmeister

The importance of being consistently rubbish

Just ask a genuine No. 10

Andy Zaltzman |

No. 10 is not a batting position that receives a surfeit of critical attention. There are occasional debates about whether a 10 ought to be batting at nine, or an 11 at 10, but these register low on the Richter scale of cricketing squabbles, and seldom result in the kind of feral fisticuffs that inevitably arise from a discussion about, for example, whether Ian Bell is or is not a Genuine Three.

The only way to make the 10 position indisputably your own is to be consistently quite rubbish without either slipping into outright elevenish uselessness, or elevating yourself into the outer reaches of Allrounderdom and a single-figure spot in the batting order. Few aspire to this status; those that do are likely either to overshoot or fall Panesarially, Mullallically short. Thus, no player has stamped an indelible mark on the history of 10. No one has scored 500 runs at 10 - Waqar Younis came closest, with 496 at an average of 11.80. Only six players have ever passed 50 twice at 10; and, of the four cricketers to have ennobled the 10 position with a century, none has ever batted there in a subsequent Test.

The six men to have batted 50 or more times at 10 - Bob Willis, James Anderson, Muttiah Muralitharan, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, and Most-Test-Innings-At-Ten record-holder Bishan Bedi - were all, judged against the performance of their contemporary tens, below par as tens, averaging less than the combined figure of the other tens of their time. Willis, at 10.21, is the highest-averaging of the six, yet still misses out on a place in that rightly ignored list of the Top 100 Highest Averaging Tens Who Have Played At Least 10 Innings There. He is a lowly 109th out of the 190 eligible candidates.

The Wall Street crash of the 1920s not only sent global share prices tumbling, it also prompted a 26% slump in the run-making value of Test number tens

After a shaky start to its Test existence - tens suffered the scarring indignity of averaging less than elevens during the 1880s, when elevens averaged 11, tens averaged 10, and the universe as a result made little sense to anyone - 10 has been, consistently and appropriately, the tenth most productive position in the batting order.

Its best years were in the four decades from the 1890s to the 1920s, with an average of 13.87. The Wall Street crash not only sent global share prices tumbling, it also prompted a 26% slump in the run-making value of Test number tens. From 1930 to 1959, tens averaged a mere 10.28. Other tailenders suffered too - elevens also slumped by 25% (10.26 to 7.65) and nines by 11% (16.68 to 14.80). Over the same periods, sevens and eights combined were almost unmoved (22.12 to 22.07), while numbers one to six rocketed up by almost 14% (32.35 to 36.82).

Blessings from an Invincible: Bill Brown signs the bat of a man who become the only player ever to pass 50 in Tests batting at eight, nine, 10 and 11

Blessings from an Invincible: Bill Brown signs the bat of a man who become the only player ever to pass 50 in Tests batting at eight, nine, 10 and 11 © Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Since these dark, benighted times for tens, Test cricket's penultimate men in have enjoyed fluctuating fortunes - a bumper '60s, averaging 13.43 as sexual liberation inspired a much-improved contribution; then a slump in the '70s (10.67), probably aggravated by bowlers' natural aversion to prog rock; then a resurgence in the '80s (12.98) as the Cold War headed towards its dramatic Berlin Wall-clonking denouement and tens embraced the spirit of perestroika emanating from Gorbachev's Soviet Union.

Either side of the millennium, tens returned to averaging 10. Perhaps the era of the Statistical Spin Superheroes resulted in tens struggling more than in the pace-dominated 1980s; the similarly tweakish and twirlish 1950s had been even more disastrous for tens, their collective average sinking to single figures (9.97) for the only decade in Test history. Since 2010, tens have bounced back towards the 13 mark, despite the two most regular tens, Anderson and Ishant Sharma, bumbling along with averages of 7.

The overall resurgence, so seldom commented upon by major international news sources and politicians, has been aided by the most recent of those four centuries by a ten, the 113 off 123 balls smashed by Bangladesh's Abul Hasan against West Indies in Khulna in 2012, to become the second of the four to make a century on Test debut when batting at 10.

Tens suffered the scarring indignity of averaging less than elevens during the 1880s

The first and second centurions at 10 had been specialist batsmen, deep in the sepia-soaked early years of Test cricket. England's Walter Read, in just the 16th Test played, made a dazzling 117 in two hours at The Oval in 1884. He was regarded as one of the finest batsmen of his time, but England had a stellar batting line-up, with five genuine allrounders in the top seven. Furthermore, Read - a humble "Mr" - also had to come in below a "Lord" (Harris) and an "Honourable" (Lyttelton). Perhaps this socially stratified batting-order quirk was the origin of the much-used and often-misleading cricketing adage: "Form is temporary, class is permanent."

More than 132 years, well over 2000 Tests, and in excess of 6000 innings by tens later, Read's innings still stands as the highest by a Test 10, the longest-standing Position Record Test Innings by more than 50 years (Don Bradman's 270 at seven in 1936-37 is the next oldest).

The second hundred by a 10 was Reggie Duff's debut 104 at the MCG in 1902, when the future Mr Victor Trumper (if one can indeed equate opening partnerships to marriages) batted low down after Australia sent in their bowlers to eat up time while a rain-affected pitch was at its most treacherous.

When South Africa's Pat Symcox, 96 years later, made 108 against a Pakistan attack of Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Mushtaq Ahmed, Saqlain Mushtaq and Azhar Mahmood, he thus became the first authentic 10 to score a Test hundred. For most players, a century against that stellar attack would book them into their nation's batting order for years, perhaps decades. Symcox, as an offspinner, was dropped for the next Test, after five wicketless overs. He no doubt consoled himself by gazing lovingly into the hypnotic eyes of a mesmerically beautiful stat - he had just become the only player ever to pass 50 in Tests batting at eight, nine, 10 and 11.

Too good for 10: Abul Hasan scored a debut century at No. 10, but he wasn't the first to achieve that feat

Too good for 10: Abul Hasan scored a debut century at No. 10, but he wasn't the first to achieve that feat © AFP

This millennium has seen some impressive landmarks by tens. Saqlain and Dale Steyn have played the longest Test innings by tens, each enduring for 238 minutes of opposition-riling tail-end time-sapping. Tim Southee, as a 19-year-old on debut, flayed England for nine sixes in his 77 off 40 balls - no 10 had previously cleared the ropes more than four times in an innings. Graeme Swann has set a new mark for Highest Average By A 10 In More Than 15 Innings - 25.75, breaking the previous best of 23.45 set by India's Ramakant Desai in the 1960s.

Not all cricketing nations' third-millennium tens have been made equal, however. New Zealand's and Australia's tens have averaged just under 15; no other country's tens average over 12, and West Indies' tens have mustered a pitiful figure of 8.49.

In fact, since April 1994, there have been 95 scores of 33 or more by tens in Test cricket - none by a West Indian.

In this time, Pedro Collins (3.84) and Reon King (3.50) have claimed the bottom two positions on the list that Swann tops.

Perhaps the most remarkable 10 of all was the late-1930s South African Chud Langton, one of the six tens to have made two half-centuries (alongside Hedley Verity, Tony Lock, Sarfraz Nawaz, Michael Holding and Ish Sodhi).

Langton batted only three times at 10. The first, on his debut at Trent Bridge in 1935, resulted in an uneventful 0 not out. In the fifth and final Test of that series, after consecutive ducks batting at nine, he added 137 for the ninth wicket with No. 8 Eric Dalton, who scored a century. Langton finished unbeaten on 73.

Promoted back up the order throughout South Africa's next rubber, against Australia a few months later, Langton picked up eight single-figure scores in 10 innings, and a highest score of 16. In his next Test, against England in 1938, he was back down to 10. Again, Dalton was on his way to a century. This time, they added 97, and Langton ended 64 not out. He never batted at 10 again. Three innings at 10, 137 runs without being out, contributing to what remained, until 1998, South Africa's two highest ninth-wicket partnerships. In 20 innings higher up the order, he reached 20 only twice, and scored a total of 161 runs at 8.47. Perhaps, in an era of more frequent Test cricket, he could have been the man to define what it takes to be a truly great 10.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer





  • POSTED BY S on | February 14, 2016, 16:17 GMT

    Andy you are gifted with the ability to put a funny spin on most things. Lots of fun reading this. Thanks. I would imagine swann would not too thrilled to be in any batting list including Reon King.

  • POSTED BY Scott on | February 2, 2016, 10:32 GMT

    Ah yes. But what about the No. 10s that missed out on their century? I particularly like Sarfraz Nawaz - out on 90 at 10 in his final test. http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/stats/index.html?batting_positionmax1=10;batting_positionmin1=10;batting_positionval1=batting_position;class=1 ;debut_or_last=2;filter=advanced;orderby=runs;runsmax1=99;runsmin1=90;runsval1=runs;template=results;type=batting