I am the son of a No. 11. My dad had no real skill as a batsman. He had patience and a decent technique, if the ball was full on off stump. He pretty much put his foot on the same spot every single delivery, almost oblivious to where the actual ball was delivered.
My dad had no cricket gear other than his red-stained whites, his boots, a ratty terry toweling hat and his box. “Batsmen have gear, bowlers have boots” he told me once. While in beard and belly he could resemble Mike Gatting, one look at him told everyone at the ground that nine wickets been taken, and the tenth would soon follow. You could often pour a beer as he walked out and it would still be ice cold when he returned. He was that guy. Last man. Jack. The bunny and ferret.
But he wore it proudly. He worked in the nets. He fought in the middle; every time with the thought that you don’t have the talent to go in and really bat, but your wicket will end your team’s innings, match or series. I don’t know how he did it every week.
Mike Atherton was left with a hard decision. Sky needed the interview from the amazing finish to the match at Headingley Test. James Anderson had been made Man of the Series, and as such, was required to speak to Sky. Atherton could clearly see the pain on Anderson, and the more he questioned, the more Anderson got upset. Soon it was tears. Atherton had to finish the interview.
Anderson had faced 55 balls in 81 minutes and only needed to face one more afterwards to save the series for his country. He was the hero right up until that ball. The man who failed to handle one short ball. The man who gave the catch. The man who lost the match. He was the last man in, and out.
All three Tests in England this year have had No. 11s do magical things. Nuwan Pradeep survived five balls from Stuart Broad, somehow, to draw the Lord’s Test. Anderson very nearly survived his. And Mohammed Shami’s unbeaten 51 at Trent Bridge made his 3.33 average look silly. Even in the West Indies just a few weeks back, Shane Shillingford made 53 off 29 balls in the West Indies.
But it’s not the summer of the No. 11, it’s the era of them. Ashton Agar’s 98 will be the single thing that defines him right up until he cures cancer. Tino Best was asked to mind the windows by England once, and then smashed them at Edgbaston. Zaheer Khan helped Our Sachin score his highest ever score in Test cricket. That, along with Anderson on day four, are the four highest scores ever made by No. 11.
Even Trent Boult has a fifty. They are giving them away with happy meals. Glenn McGrath’s slog sweep for six was an amazing moment in Test cricket history at the time. Now it’s just another No. 11 who eventually had that one magic day. Like when Monty Panesar saved that Test. And the other one. Graham Onions saved two Tests in the same series from No. 11 – against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Nathan Lyon couldn’t be dismissed in the Ashes and before that top scored in an innings with a magnificent 14.
There are few players who can score a magnificent 14. No. 11s can.
Muttiah Muralitharan was perhaps one of the last great old school No. 11s. A man who regarded batting as a problem for other people. He bowled 44,039 deliveries in Test cricket, why would he want to be involved anymore? He wanted to slog, laugh, and go out and bowl.
It’s not the modern thinking. We are now in the era of hard working No. 11s who spend a great deal of time on their batting. Nathan Lyon went from a ferret to a bunny with some hard work. Lasith Malinga got better over the years. Morne Morkel really does try to bat well. Boult is a huge upgrade from Chris Martin. Part of this is due to the professionalism of the game. Unless you are Murali, you can’t really afford to throw the bat around for fun.
Then there is the equipment. Once the gentleman’s agreement between bowlers not hurling bouncers fell down, bowlers were fair game for short balls. That led to No. 11 batsmen backing away and swinging, not for fun, but for survival. Even in the 1990s, that was still a common thing for a No. 11 to do. But it changed. Coaches and captains wanted more of their tail. Glenn McGrath was challenged to go from probably one of the worst tailenders in history to someone who could provide. He did. He stood in line. He took balls on the body. At times he looked like recently caught fish flapping on a wharf. But he did get better. And so did everyone else.
No. 11s are never going to be good at facing fast bowlers, or even top quality spin. But they now get in line more often, watch the ball and don’t do anything silly. There is still not enough equipment to protect them, but the days of playing balls from square leg and smiling on your way off have seemingly left us.
Arshad Khan played nine tests. In one of them he made nine runs; from 184 minutes. Bhagwath Chandrasekhar had to overcome a withered arm to score his top score of 22. It was Lindsay Kline who turned the ball into the leg side to set up the run out for the first tied Test and Lindsay Kline who made 15 not out to draw another match for Australia. Jeff Thomson put on 70 with Allan Border over two days to fall all of four runs short of victory. Chuck Fleetwood-Smith’s uncharacteristic 5 not out helped Stan McCabe to his only double hundred. Geoff Allot’s 101 minute duck helped New Zealand draw a Test. The then-world record holder for ducks Danny Morrison batted for 166 minutes to draw a Test for New Zealand against England. He never played another Test.
Mike Whitney had to face an entire over of Sir Richard Hadlee to save a Test. It was a like a seven-year-old school kid holding a stick surviving an Invasion from the US Army. There are few sports, or endeavors in general, as silly as No. 11s batting – sending out the player in your side who is least qualified to do his job against, in Whitney’s case, one of the single greatest human beings to ever bowl a cricket ball. It’s made for humiliation and light relief.
These are not men made for batting. Ishant Sharma once went out on the field with two of the same gloves, in what was a cunning tactical move, or just a stupid thing that No. 11s do. Bob Willis once forgot to take out his bat.
James Anderson is a big player in the age of the No. 11 © Getty Images
Since George Hirst said, probably apocryphally, “we’ll get them in singles, Wilfred” to the No. 11 Rhodes, there have been 11 other occasions of No. 11s winning a Test with the bat. Every single one of these men are heroes worthy of every single honour and prize their countries can afford them; they should be given all the beer and skittles in all the lands. Courtney Walsh has done it twice.
When Walsh retired, he did so with the most ducks of any human being in Test history. But those innings of 0 not out and 4 not out are very special. It’s only at No. 11 where you can offer so much by doing so little.
To thank Jimmy Anderson for his amazing effort at Headingley in trying to save the match, he was given a pitch at Trent Bridge so brutally unfriendly that had it leapt up and punched him, the only surprise would have been that it leapt up. Alastair Cook used Anderson on it for 38 overs. When he finally came out to bat, his team were 159 runs behind. Had he got out then, he would have had one day off after bowling 38 overs.
Instead Jimmy stayed in. He didn’t like the short ball, but he knew this wasn’t Mitchel Johnson and the WACA. He was protected by Joe Root, but not always that maternally. He gave chances, but wasn’t any more lucky than most batsmen on this surface. He just batted. Maybe he batted just for his team. Maybe he batted just so he didn’t have to bowl again. But he scored the third-highest innings a man in his position has scored in over 2000 Test matches. His highest score was made. His first fifty was scored. The world record partnership was broken. And he became only the third man ever to know how the 80s feels like in a Test match at No 11.
Then he drove at a wide ball. The catch was taken. Anderson turned and started to leave the ground with his shoulders slumped. Then he remembered his real job and he jogged off. He had more work to do. His 81 was hurriedly given a standing ovation. His partner in the world record 198 stand was well behind him, Anderson left too quickly for them to be appreciated together. Anderson raised has bat to shoulder height only once just as he hit the Trent Bridge pavilion steps.
Anderson’s last two innings have been two of the greatest knocks by a No. 11 in the history of cricket. He was rewarded by losing a Test series on one and having to bowl ten minutes later on the other.
Anderson’s eighth ball of the Indian second innings was edged, Prior missed it. Anderson walked back to his mark again.
On December 24, 1953 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa were 259 for 8 at the close of play against New Zealand. The next day, the players had a rest and a lovely Christmas lunch. But there was a massive mud slide at Tangiwai. It took out a bridge. A train went through and couldn’t stop before slamming into the Whangaehu River.
151 people died, including the fiancée of New Zealand seamer Bob Blair. On December 26, play resumed. Blair stayed back at his hotel to grieve. The flags were at half-mast as South Africa made 271.
New Zealand’s innings started terribly, and it got worse as the day went on. Only the legendary Bert Sutcliffe could handle the ferocious Neil Adcock and the inform David Ironside. But he was sent to hospital after a brutal bouncer to the head. Sutcliffe came back out to bat, his head covered in a bandage. With only the tail left, he went past the follow-on. Eventually, at 154, the ninth wicket is taken, and both teams start to walk off the field.
But there is a No. 11 batsman. Bob Blair walks out. Sutcliffe puts his arm around him. The crowd applaud Blair’s act. In the next ten minutes they score 33, mostly in sixes. Sutcliffe hits many of them. Blair hits one of them.
It is one of the greatest moments in cricket history, and all that happened is a No. 11 walked out to bat.
My dad made two 47s batting at No. 11. And one day, while I was old enough to understand what was happening, he hit two sixes over midwicket. That is the only positive memory I have of watching my dad bat.
Anderson’s innings was another piece of history for cricket’s most comical and undervalued batting position.
Every No. 11 needs that one great moment. That amazing draw, a nerve-killing win, the best comical dismissal, a six off a fast bowler, a nagging never-ending partnership, a proper score or that time they came out when they really shouldn’t have. They deserve it for having to suffer the many embarrassments of batting where they bat: the bad decisions from grumpy umpires moving the game forward; the confusion at not understanding which way the ball is spinning; trying to face a ball that is bowled at a speed quicker than you can see.
Until you know what it is like to walk out on the field as a No. 11, with the opposition sniggering, and your team preparing to take the field behind you, it’s impossible to know what batting at No. 11 is really like. It takes a special person to bat last.