July 22, 2016

The hinterland of 40

At Lord's we saw three in-between scores of the sort that are as likely to annoy the selectors as excite them

James Vince: pretty while he lasted © Getty Images

Forty. It's a good average but not a good score. An innings of 40 occupies that hinterland between success and failure, a liminal score, a score for the flaky talent or the not yet good enough. Forty is as likely to annoy the selectors as excite them. When he remembered the golden run that saw him average more than 100 for two full first-class seasons in 2006 and 2007, Mark Ramprakash said: "If I gutsed out 40 or 50 on a difficult wicket, I thought, 'Yeah well done.' But it also meant if conditions were in my favour, I was absolutely ruthless."

A score of 40 does not represent ruthlessness in the mind of Ramprakash, or of any serious batsman. The reactions of the fielders if they dismissed a Lara or a Ponting or a Kallis for 40 said it all: it was a win, a bullet dodged, a cause for celebration. And take a look at the face of Brian or Ricky or Jacques - were they happy with 40? They were not. In a strange way, they'd rather get out early than fight through all of that and then chuck it away. It's like putting Led Zeppelin IV on the stereo and turning it off again before "Stairway to Heaven".

Most batsmen fail to make their average in two-thirds of their innings. This rule applied even to Don Bradman, the most ruthless of all, who was as vulnerable to early dismissal as everyone else (Jack Hobbs apparently had more chance, statistically, of reaching 10). But of his 80 Test match innings, Bradman made just four scores between 40 and 50. He passed fifty 42 times, and turned 29 of those into a hundred or more. Thirty-six per cent of his innings were centuries, and 25% were scores of fewer than 20. He was the ultimate converter of starts.

The second innings of England's defeat to Pakistan at Lord's contained three scores in the 40s. They demonstrated how the light refracts differently depending how the runs were made, and by whom. James Vince scored 42, Gary Ballance 43, and Jonny Bairstow 48.

They were very different knocks by players in very different places. Vince is four Tests and six innings into the apparent seven-game run that every new gun is afforded under Andrew Strauss. He cover-drives as though the ghosts of Dexter, Vaughan and Bell are at his back, the rifle-crack of the ball leaving his bat at stark odds with the languorous fluidity of his strokeplay. Of his 112 Test runs, 76 have come in boundaries. At Lord's before lunch he seemed to ride the wave, the ball scudding across the green as a herald to his talent, and yet it was suddenly quelled by the kind of shot that so often extinguishes other batsmen touched by aesthetic beauty. Forty-two for him, and more murmuring.

Gary Ballance's innings was made virtuous by the struggle it involved © Getty Images

Ballance had bet the house on his unaltered technique, still crabbed and crease-bound. Stubbornness, though, is a quality prized by pros and selectors. His 43 was as ugly and hard-won as Vince's was apparently casually knocked off. Most of those 43 runs seemed to go through slip and left him white-faced with effort. It was a score that seemed somehow more virtuous for being difficult.

Bairstow's grim countenance had little to do with his immediate future in the England team. He was a man who knew he could do it when it mattered, and it mattered now. Yasir Shah had bowled pure kryptonite at him in the UAE, and then in the first innings, Bairstow had tried to cut one off middle stump, a shot full of doubt and fear. Now he played with a vertical bat and a clenched jaw, looking for all the world like a young redbeard King Hal.

He and Chris Woakes, another player with the sun shining down on him at last, were deeply aware that they were the last, thin chance England had. Yasir tired, and Bairstow pulled a long hop for four to move within six of 50. Then came another, but this time with an extra zap from wrist or fingers, met by a waft that was neither punch nor pull, and he was done. The fiery demeanour gave way to shattered realisation.

Three men, three innings, three forties, one defeat. Bairstow drew plaudits for his. Ballance, it was generally acknowledged, should get another game. For Vince, a stereotype was reinforced. Perhaps he can ask Bairstow about how he might reinvent himself if - and probably when - the axe comes.

For all of them, and for all of their reasons, 40 was, as ever, far from enough.

Jon Hotten blogs here. @theoldbatsman

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • cricfan77606565 on July 28, 2016, 12:32 GMT

    Ledcult. Mr Hotten has a wonderful musical pedigree. His piece was written for a cricket audience and not the president of the Led Zeppelin fan club.

  • yorkshire-86 on July 27, 2016, 11:30 GMT

    All these people moaning about Vince and Ballance seem to forget Stokes has not produced any innings of note with bat or ball since that lucky slogfest

  •   simplythebaz on July 26, 2016, 14:19 GMT

    NUTCUTLET - I think JR got his score? ;)

  • Ledcult on July 24, 2016, 17:13 GMT

    Point #1. The album was not called Led Zeppelin IV, it was not given a name to prove that the commercial hype they were accused of was a fallacy. It was known as the 4th album, or simply 'unnamed' but never LZ IV. That is the refuge of the lazy. Some called it ZOZO however that was an abomination. Point #2. 'Stairway To Heaven' was far from the best track. I would always play 'Four Sticks', or 'Black Dog' first. Even 'Misty Mountain Hop'.

  • Insult_2_Injury on July 24, 2016, 2:07 GMT

    Ironic really when accepted wisdom around the game is that an average around 50 is exceptional, therefore 40 odd is the norm of good players, however a score of 40 is a waste of a good start! Even more interesting is if one of those players had converted to a ton and the team had won, then the other two who scored 40's would be commended for matchwinning support roles. That contradiction is what makes our games unique and enjoyable.

  • Puffin on July 22, 2016, 11:28 GMT

    This is really just the reasonable assumption that 40 is decent batting average applied to an individual innings. Either way, It's not a bad definition.

  • badboycricfan on July 22, 2016, 11:23 GMT

    And besides there were couple of 40s from Pakistan batsmen in 2nd inns as well... 48 from fluid Shadow and 45 from pugnacious yet dominating Sarfaraz... Both got out to their own mistakes missing fairly straight forward straight balls. Besides most other Pakistan batsman were either unlucky(Azhargiven lbw on balls that could well have missed leg stump). Misbah playing outrageous shot in 2nd inns after a fantastic hundred in 1st. Hafeez handing a simple catch to slips. Younis got out in 1st inns to a ball he'd normally hit for 4 instead hitting it straight to a fielder. Shafiq gloving to a ball unfortunately trying to leave. Overall eng bowling was quite ordinary at best. While eng batters did make mistakes Pak batters made more. Pak dropped 6 catches too and stii won by 75 shows you the depth of this team...

  • Nutcutlet on July 22, 2016, 9:54 GMT

    And for good measure, there was 48 from Joe Root in the first innings, before he thought it all too easy. The selectors may still be pondering on the respective merits of Ballance and Vince, but to my mind the inked-in name on the England team sheet for the next ten years let himself and his side down badly. It could be said that he set a trend. Get a pretty 40 then start to get ahead of yourself, because these Pakistani bowlers aren't all that they're made out to be. I said it at the time: Root's dismissal in the first innings was the crucial point of the Test. England were always playing catch-up thereafter. And so to Old Trafford. If JR is really going to be remembered as one of the best English bats of all time, he will know more than anyone, he owes England a score that will atone for his 'moment' at Lord's.

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