What Tino Best achieved on Sunday at Edgbaston will serve as an inspiration for tail-enders for years to come. A player coming in at No 11 need not be the worst batsman in the side. With a little bit of enterprise and innovation, hard work and practice he could turn the game around with the bat even if that is not the primary reason why he is in the side.
The advent of one day cricket with its emphasis on utility players – those who could contribute with the ball while being essentially batsman and vice versa – did not mean that specialists who could only bat or bowl would disappear.
Not in Test cricket anyway for the game’s traditional format calls for greater emphasis on skill and endurance. So a batsman is expected to bat for hours and possibly get a hundred while a bowler is expected to bowl 30 odd overs and perhaps pick up five wickets.
Occasionally however we have had the rare spectacle of a batsman utilized as a change bowler or a surprise tactic picking up three or four wickets or a bowler who is generally considered a rabbit with the bat either defying the opposition or even lambasting them for a quick half century.
But what Best achieved on Sunday put him on a pedestal all by himself. For one thing his 95 was the highest score by a No 11 batsman in the history of Test cricket surpassing Zaheer Khan’s 75 hit against Bangladesh eight years ago. Secondly, he came within a stroke of becoming the first No 11 batsman to get a hundred in Test cricket.
No one, perhaps not even the England team which had been at the receiving end of his hefty blows would have grudged him that honour. Third, he and Denesh Ramdin added 143 runs for the last wicket – the second highest partnership after the 151 that is the record and stands in the name of two pairs – Brian Hastings and Richard Collinge for New Zealand against Pakistan in 1972-73 and Azhar Mohammed and Mushtaq Ahmed for Pakistan against South Africa 25 years later.
To complete the storybook touch, Best was coming back to the team after a three year gap. With the discovery of several new ball bowlers it was largely thought that his career was over. Best is a couple of months away from his 31st birthday, had the unenviable figures of 28 wickets from 14 Tests at an eminently forgettable average of 48.6 and a prohibitively high strike rate of 78.
He had just one four wicket haul as his best innings figures. It was only because of the injury to Kemar Roach that Best was brought back and the rest as they say is history though not along expected lines. Now at the end of the Test while there will not be much improvement in his bowling figures, his batting average – 9.8 – is now approaching 14. He more than trebled his previous highest score of 27. He had hit 23 fours and one six; the count is now 37 fours and two sixes. Little wonder then that he looks upon all this as his "rebirth" in international cricket.
But Best’s feat is only the latest in a fairly long line of last men who have come good with the bat. The legendary Wilfred Rhodes is perhaps the most famous instance of this. He started his career in 1899 by going in at No 11. In 1903-04 he and RE Foster figured in a record tenth wicket partnership of 130 against Australia. Eight years later Rhodes was opening the batting for England against Australia with Jack Hobbs and the two put on 323 runs. He provides the perfect example of what a bowler can achieve if he works hard at improving his batting.
Before Best performed his heroics there were only 12 other scores of half century by a player coming in at No 11 underlining the rarity of the feat since the Edgbaston game was the 2045th Test match. Besides Collinge, Mushtaq Ahmed and Zaheer Khan the others in the list are also the kind of players who would not be expected to notch up the feat - AE Vogler, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Bari, John Snow, Pat Symcox, Rodney Hogg, Wesley Hall, Fred Spofforth and Ghulam Ahmed.
Of these only Symcox could be said to have some pretensions to being some kind of batsman. He has hit a century at No 10, shares a Test record 195-run ninth wicket partnership with Mark Boucher and has a career average of 28.50 spread over 20 matches. Special mention should also be made of Snow’s contribution since he figured in a 128-run last wicket stand with Ken Higgs – the only occasion in Test cricket when No’s 10 and 11 have got half centuries.