Cricket: Top 10 bowling bolters

By Andrew Alderson

Wellington bowler Andy McKay has been named in the New Zealand squad for the one-day series against Bangladesh. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Wellington bowler Andy McKay has been named in the New Zealand squad for the one-day series against Bangladesh. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Andy McKay's surprise selection as the latest 'bowler bolter' in the Black Caps led Andrew Alderson to look at 10 instances where 'surprise' does not always mean 'success' and where experiments can go wrong.

10. Trent Boult 2009
Boult is the latest to land up on the scrapheap, for the time being anyway. The Northern Districts bowler was taken to Australia for the Chappell-Hadlee series a year ago with the idea of immersing him in Black Caps' culture. It was a decision many, including his ND coach Grant Bradburn, felt was premature. He was tipped as a player who could give batsmen the hurry-up with deliveries clocked in the mid-140km/h range. However, in the Prime Minister's XI match in Canberra, Boult, like a number of others, was carted around in excess of six runs per over. Boult didn't get out of the nets for the rest of the tour. He suffered a stress fracture in his back in March, which saw him rehabilitate in the off-season.

The 20-year-old also missed the HRV Cup this year, following advice to rest as the stiffness to his back returned. Boult has certainly indicated he can be lethal.

This season he has seven Plunket shield wickets at an average of 12.85. He was also a star of the 2008 under-19 World Cup, taking 11 wickets at 10.90. A prosperous future still beckons. He is expected to resume in the domestic one-day competition next month.

9. Carl Bulfin 1999
Bulfin's pace and power failed to keep the selectors' attention for long but he was given a fair crack at the limelight as a 25-year-old heading to the 1999 World Cup. Before moving to Wellington, Blenheim-born Bulfin helped Central Districts win the inaugural Cricket Max title in 1996, even dyeing his blonde dreadlocks green for the occasion.

He first came into the Black Caps World Cup preliminary squad of 19 and then debuted against South Africa in March, replacing Simon Doull. He failed to make his mark, taking none for 78 from 11 overs but the powers-that-be persevered, taking him to England in May. Bulfin played only in the easy win against Scotland, his last match. He then created controversy by walking out of a 10-match second XI contract with Nottinghamshire so he would effectively be on stand-by while the Black Caps played the England test series. He walked out after one game, citing an ankle injury, which didn't thrill New Zealand Cricket.

8. Greg Loveridge 1996
Loveridge, for now, will always be the answer to that classic trivia question: which New Zealand leg-spinner never bowled in his test career? He was selected to play Zimbabwe at Hamilton in 1996, a bit of a punt given his career-end first class average was 53.23, but fractured a knuckle while batting. It came after he had straight-driven Henry Olonga for four and on his 21st birthday. He played no further part in the test and was never selected again. Loveridge has had more luck moving on from cricket into the property industry with Robert Jones Holdings, where he has risen to be New Zealand general manager.

7. Robert Kennedy 1996
The man known to his team-mates as "Rupert" came and went from the New Zealand international scene within 12 months - and that included two one-dayers in Pakistan in December, over seven months after his last test in the West Indies.

He was drafted in for the Zimbabwe tests in January in a test which showed the re-building the side was going through. Geoff Allott, Greg Loveridge and Nathan Astle joined him in the Black Caps for the first time, the most debutants in a test team for 34 years. Kennedy was seen as a player for the future, a tall right-arm pace bowler who could move the ball both ways. Sadly, he also came to be viewed as someone unable to master the then-revolutionary trend of reverse swing. Kennedy did time it perfectly to make the World Cup squad for the subcontinent in February but failed to make an impact, despite showing a knack for bowling at the death earlier in the season. Kennedy continues to captain Upper Hutt in the Wellington senior competition.

6. Mark Haslam 1992, 1995
He was selected for test cricket against Zimbabwe at 20 after just five first-class matches for Auckland but Mark Haslam faded into the ether with the arrival of first Matthew Hart then Daniel Vettori as promising left-arm orthodox spinners.

His two tests against Zimbabwe yielded one wicket for 153 runs while fellow spinner Dipak Patel carved up with two six-wicket bags. Haslam was given a reprieve for two tests on the 1995-96 tour of India but late monsoon rain saw the first of those chances abandoned in Chennai with just five hours of play in the entire match. At Cuttack, Haslam took 1 for 42 in the only innings.

5. Michael Owens 1992-1994
Owens debuted against Sri Lanka after being called into the team after the bomb attack outside the New Zealand hotel. Five players and coach Warren Lees returned home. Owens immediately produced some reasonable displays in trying circumstances with debate raging about the merits of continuing the series, which New Zealand eventually lost.

Owens again turned up as a substitute on the 1994 tour of England with injuries rife. He grabbed four wickets against Yorkshire in May but a source in the team said he was in need of some 'conditioning' having put on a decent winter coat indulging in Sunday roasts at home. Owens was so knackered after that first game he didn't re-appear until almost a fortnight later against Glamorgan before playing the final two tests, the last of his career. He took an acceptable 17 wickets at 34.41 over his eight tests but fashioned a more extraordinary batting record, even by number 11 standards. It included 12 innings - he failed to score in eight of them - 16 runs, and an average of 2.66. To put it in context, Chris Martin's average is 2.24.

4. Brian Barrett 1986
What is this obsession with picking young players to go to England? Barrett, aged just 19, showed some seam bowling nous for Auckland in the summer of 1985-86 and booked a ticket. He debuted at Worcestershire in 1985 then returned to New Zealand to play just three first-class games before the end of January.

However, he did take 10 wickets at an average of 21 before topping the averages on the under-20 tour of Australia. It's not quite up there with Daniel Vettori, playing a test against England within 20 days of your first-class debut, but it's close.

Sadly for Barrett, his career floundered post-1986 courtesy of regular injuries and a struggle for accuracy. He never played a test for New Zealand on his solitary tour, narrowly missing out to Willie Watson at Trent Bridge. He returned to play for Northern Districts but, having just turned 23, he played his last game in 1989-90, never to return at first-class or domestic one-day level.

3. Sean Tracy 1983
Right-arm fast bowler Tracy stepped on to the domestic scene as a 19-year-old in 1982-83 when Auckland regulars Martin Snedden and Gary Troup were with the national side in Australia. He played five games, taking 12 wickets at an unspectacular average of 41.33 but impressed with his pace.

Tracy then went to play for Gloucestershire in 1983 and, much like Chris Pringle on the England tour seven years later, was called into the New Zealand side during an injury crisis. It followed an impressive showing against the tourists where he bowled Bruce Edgar and had Jeff Crowe caught behind. Tracy's pace had caught the selectors' attention - some things never change - but his line and length proved erratic when he joined the team as cover after New Zealand's first test win in England at Headingley. Tracy only played two games, one against Hampshire and another against the DB Close XI, where he starred with 5-29 off 6.3 overs. He played further seasons for Auckland, Canterbury and eventually Otago in 1990-91 but never saw another black cap.

2. Brendon Bracewell 1978
At 18, Bracewell was fast-tracked through the ranks after just a handful of first-class matches and then taken on the 1978 tour of England. He made a successful debut in the first test at the Oval, removing Graham Gooch and Mike Brearley in his opening spell to have England 7-2. He finished the three-test series with nine wickets at 31.33 and had 24 scalps on tour, but ominously he had already been troubled by a muscle strain in his back.

Bracewell's career was riddled with injury, so much so he ended up playing just six tests over six-and-a-half years.

He now runs the Bracewell Cricket Academy in Napier with the aim of teaching young players how to best make the transition to higher levels. Speaking in the Herald on Sunday recently Bracewell is still adamant pace is a relevant criterion to national selection.

"The first thing I'd do is identify pace bowlers through a speedball radar," he said. "That way, a lot of young bowlers from 17 to 24 who can bowl 140km/h don't slip through the net. Often they've had no encouragement and aren't contracted players, so are never seen.

"The reality is the quicker the ball comes on, the more chance there is of an error. A number of players bowl at 135km/h-plus but they're not necessarily on great training programmes. In 2009, we're no further down the track than we were in 1989 in spotting and then developing talent."

1. Eric Gillott 1973
Gillott's selection to go to England as a raw 21-year-old left arm orthodox spin bowler from Northern Districts was seen as a waste of a potential talent, after he took a promising 52 wickets in his first two first-class seasons. A theme clearly emerges when it comes to picking bolters for such tours. Cricket writer Lynn McConnell noted in the Shell New Zealand Cricket Encyclopedia: "New Zealand's penchant for taking young players on tour and then denting their confidence was still in vogue."

Dick Brittenden, NZPA correspondent for the trip, said the gamble was a failure: "but this was simply because he bowled only an average of eight overs per innings. It became apparent [captain Bevan] Congdon lacked faith [in Gillott] and that he received a bowl only when all else had been tried and failed." Almost the whole month of June passed without Gillott playing a game. The ND spinner ended up bowling just 136.5 overs all tour for 10 wickets at 42.20. He never played for New Zealand again.

- Herald on Sunday

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