England’s thrashing lacks the sleazy glamour of a real low score

John Nicholson

Tuesday’s loss to Sri Lanka by 219 runs was an ODI record defeat for England and, while some have seen this as a tiny bit humiliating, they still scored 132 runs. In the annals of international humiliation for England, or anyone else, that’s quite a high total.

I have a confession to make. Perhaps perversely, I have a love of the really low score, seeing them as a hard-to-achieve level of terribleness. Any side can stumble to 130 runs, but it’s far harder to rack up a really, really low score. It’s why I love them.

I was inculcated into this in 1974 while watching England play India at Lord’s. It was the second Test, England won the toss and opted to bat. They set about India with gusto and put 629 on the board with Dennis Amiss, Mike Denness and Tony Greig all scoring centuries. India’s first innings was decent with Lancashire’s magnificently side-burned Farokh Engineer (that most exotic of players – the wicket-keeper opening bat) knocking 89. But a 302 total meant they had to follow on. And that’s where the fun started. By the time Bishan Bedi was bowled by a rampant Chris Old to give him his fifth wicket of the innings, only 42 run were on the Lord’s scoreboard. Yes. 42.

As a young boy I stared at that total, unable to believe it was so very, very low. We’d never even been bowled out at school for 42, so that this happened to a Test side seemed incredible, even more so because they’d scored 302 against the same attack earlier in the match, so clearly were half decent.

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And that’s when I started to ‘collect’ low scores and became mildly obsessed with them. Any time a side lost a few early wickets, I’d be hoping to see a new low total, but it very hardly ever happens. It’s an exotic rarity.

Remember when England were bowled out for 46 by West Indies at the Queen’s Park Oval in 1994? That’s England’s lowest ever Test total and I secretly hope they’ll go lower one day.

They managed five more than that in 2009 at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica; 51 is still a pleasurably low total but once you break the 50 mark you’re starting to look like at least one of the team is competent and that takes the filthy glamour of abject failure away.

That being said, getting into the 40s is positively lofty compared to the record all-time Test lowest score. New Zealand scrambled to a mere 26 when playing England in Auckland in 1955. You have to try really hard to only score 26. Eight players – yes, eight – scored one or nought! That is some shade of epic, right there.

That 26 remains the only ten wickets down test innings in the 20s. I hope to live to see someone glide effortlessly into the record books with a total of 25. England, of course, gave this a crack earlier this year when reaching 23/9 against New Zealand only for Craig Overton’s 33 not out from number nine to turn a potentially world record-breaker into a merely catastrophic 58 all out.

England have dismissed South Africa for 30 on two occasions. Australia’s record low is a mere 36 achieved against England at Edgbaston in 1936. Bloody drongos. Mind you, it was still a draw.

But once you get hooked on low totals, no number is too low. South Africa hold the record for lowest two dismissals in the a match when in 1932 they were sent back to the pavilion by the baggy green for 36 and then 45. Woo hoo! Just 81 in two innings. You have to admire that.

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Once you dip into first-class cricket’s lowest scores, there are lots of very low numbers to be enjoyed. Sides have been bowled out for 20 or fewer on 35 occasions (five of them are before 1864 and not universally considered first-class), the most recent being the deliciously awful 20 by Essex against Lancashire at Chelmsford in 2013.

The lowest combined total for a side’s two innings is 34 (16 and 18) by Border against Natal at East London in 1959–60. If you think about it for a moment, that is pretty extraordinary. The lowest aggregate for a completed first-class match is 85, Quetta v Rawalpindi at Islamabad, 2008–09. Excellent work.

The B’s v All England in 1810 scored just six in their innings. Yes. Only six. Almost erotic, isn’t it? Sadly, it’s not really recognised as a first-class game. Even so, six is a magnificently poor effort by anyone. The MCC dismissed Oxford University for 12 in 1877, Gloucester sent Northants home for 12 in 1907. Both record examples of low score artform.

So y’see, England’s 132 against Sri Lanka looks huge compared to these. OK the defeat was their heaviest ODI loss ever, but it lacks the sleazy glamour of a low total. Their lowest ODI score is 86 against the Aussies at Old Trafford in 2001, so they were still well ahead of that this week. The lowest ODI total ever is Zimbabwe’s 35 which looks like an almost unbeatable low, but hopefully, one day, someone will score less.

The ultimate fantasy for a low score addict is to one day see a scoreboard which proudly declares all 10 wickets have been taken for zero runs. Nought. Zilch. Nada. Now that would be a happy day.

By John Nicholson

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