Illustration: Vasim Maner
Illustration: Vasim Maner

Bruce Yardley played 33 Tests for Australia between 1978 and 1983 as an off-break bowler who could bat a bit. His bowling average was 31.6 and batting average 19.6. He took five wickets in an innings six times (while taking 126 wickets) and scored four fifties in his Test career (while scoring 978 runs).

Despite the seemingly ordinary, even if competent, career record, Yardley did something remarkable in the annals of Test cricket, something that actually cannot be seen with the naked eye.

In those 33 Tests, he failed in just one match. Just one. That gives him a failure rate of 3%, which is the lowest failure rate in the history of Test cricket (minimum 30 Tests).

No one thus utilised the biggest advantage of an all-rounder better than Yardley – to justify his place in the side with two opportunities in each innings.


AVOIDING FAILURE COMPREHENSIVELY

A failure on Impact Index is when according to the context of the match, a player does not register an impact of 1. Or, loosely speaking, he does not do the job of even one player. Yardley’s 3% failure rate among all Test players who have played 30 or more Tests (515 players in 140 years of Test cricket) is pretty amazing. The next lowest, even amongst wicketkeepers, is 6% (Dhoni, who has, of course played much more). Amongst non-wicketkeepers, it is curiously Jim Laker, R. Ashwin and Trevor Goddard who come in next with a 7% failure rate each.

It is actually more interesting examining Yardley’s lower impact performances than the higher impact ones like we normally do with others. With just a 21% failure rate in bowling and 82% in batting, it is instructive to begin with his stronger suit.

In only two of his 33 Tests, did Yardley not take a single wicket in the match.

In the first instance, the third Test of his career, against a full-strength West Indies in their pomp in their backyard in 1978, he made up for his 0-67 in the match by scoring 74 (top score in 250) and 43 (second-highest score in 178) in a low scoring match where the pitch favoured the faster bowlers. It was, interestingly, the highest impact batting performance of his career. That first innings 74, in fact, included a fifty off 29 balls, the fastest fifty in Australian Test history (David Warner broke it earlier this year, 39 years later) – while negotiating Roberts, Croft and Garner at their peak without a helmet.

In the only other time Yardley did not take a wicket in the match, he made up by producing a valuable 28 out of a team total of 164 in a low-scoring Ashes Test in 1979, and also took two catches, which took him just over the line when it came to justifying his place in that game.

Even in his only failure, the lowest impact performance in his Test career, against Pakistan in their backyard in 1982, he actually took a top-order wicket. Unfortunately, he also got a pair in the match – the only time in his career.


NOT AN ALL-ROUNDER

Despite some valuable innings, Yardley’s high failure rate with the bat made him a bowler who could bat, rather than a genuine all-rounder, talent notwithstanding.

As a pure bowler though, Yardley is actually the fifth highest impact Australian spinner of all time (min. 30 Tests). The names above him – Clarrie Grimmett, Shane Warne, Richie Benaud and Hugh Trumble – are all legends of the game. Yardley, in fact, was a higher impact bowler than Stuart MacGill, Ashley Mallett and Nathan Lyon (thus far).

His restrictive abilities as a bowler were significant but not something spectators or commentators necessarily took notice of. He still has the seventh highest Economy Impact among Australian Test bowlers, with only Grimmett, Warne and Trumble better than him in this respect among spinners.

Yardley’s consistency as a bowler was a hallmark as well – he is the third-most consistent spinner in Australian cricket history, after, interestingly, Stuart MacGill and Clarrie Grimmett. Again, not something too many people would have guessed.

And, yet as a bowler who could bat, his contributions had much more impact than they let on in plain numbers. For example, against West Indies in 1978, his 1-48 and 22 wouldn’t even have been noticed. His performance of 4-40 in the third innings might have been then, but forgotten soon enough, despite the fact that it came in 30 overs and affected the game (though Australia batted poorly thereafter and lost the match).

Similarly, 25 and 0 with 6-182 in the match would go relatively unnoticed, as would 22 with 8-208. Or 9 and 22 with 6-84. Or 53 with 2-101. And these were high impact performances in his career. What chance did 61 and 12 with 4-138 have in a high scoring match to be noticed?

And yet, Yardley chipped away in pretty much every match he played in, making contributions that invariably helped his side in varying degrees.


AN IMPACT PLAYER

Yardley produced seven high impact performances in his 33 Tests, with bowling being the main contributor. Two of these performances actually came in the same series against a full-strength West Indies (that is, not Packer-hit) at home in 1981-82, in a three-Test series that ended 1-1 – a very impressive way to get a series-defining performance ( SD ).

In his other SD , in remarkably his debut Test against India in a deciding fifth Test in 1978 at Adelaide, he produced a typically-ignored all-rounder’s performance – a low profile 22 and 26 with the bat, and then 4-134 in the second innings, while India chased 493 but fell short by just 45 runs – not a single lower-order wicket among those four. Packer-hit Australia narrowly won the series 3-2.

So, two SDs in just 33 Tests – that is very impressive – it puts him among Australia’s 20 highest impact cricketers in history (minimum 30 Tests), higher impact than the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh, which is a perspective comparison really, rather than a direct one, given the far greater number of matches these two played. But it is still revealing of how valuable Yardley was as a player.

It is odd that Yardley was dropped after getting 7 wickets in his last Test, when Australia beat Sri Lanka by an innings in 1983 in Kandy. He got 5 wickets against England just before that in his second-last Test at home.

Perhaps the bits and pieces did not add up as they should have in the selectors’ minds?

 

 

 

Jaideep Varma