Crimes against bowling humanity
Virender Sehwag, not for the first time in his extravagant career, stands on the cusp of history. To break Brian Lara’s Test innings record, the Delhi Devastator needs another 117 runs – equating to approximately 23 minutes’ batting at his standard scoring rate.
I speculated in my first World Cricket Podcast exactly what bowlers must feel when attempting to combat Sehwag on a good batting pitch. Suffice it to say that if this innings continues long into day three, the International Court of Human Rights may become involved, and the phenomenal Indian opener may find himself charged with crimes against bowling humanity.
For all the splendour Sehwag has once again given to the cricket-watching world, all record of this innings must be surreptitiously destroyed. What if impressionable young bowlers were to stumble upon evidence of the kind of abuse they may endure? What right-thinking parent would want their precious little baby bowler to grow up in such a heartless universe? Even bowling machines might refuse to bowl.
How cricket has changed. As a schoolboy, I was an opening batsman. Not a good opening batsman but an opening batsman nonetheless. And, more importantly, an excruciatingly tedious one. I viewed it as my specific responsibility not to score runs, and to not score them over as long a period as possible.
Steve Waugh used to talk of the “mental disintegration” of opponents. My approach to this task was to block full-tosses, leave wide half-volleys and pad up to long-hops until the opposition bowlers and fielders were on the verge of either tears or retirement. Sehwag embodies everything I could not even have imagined being possible as an opener.
In fact, cricketing orthodoxy at the time was such that a boy was expelled from my school for scoring a run-a-ball 50, bringing disgrace to the school’s proud cricketing tradition with his morally wanton strokeplay. That story is not true, but it might as well have been, so it’s staying in the blog. No arguments.
Sehwag may well break Lara’s record, but Angelo Mathews has already claimed his place in the record books, with the narrowest failure to score a century in Test history. Mathews was run out by approximately half a millimetre, after an agonising delay as the third umpire subjected the video footage to more intensive scrutiny than any piece of film since the JFK assassination.
Being out for 99 is a strange form of personal sporting failure − you have basically succeeded, but the moment of disappointment is all the greater than if you had in fact properly failed. And being run out for 99 adds a piquant element of avoidable silliness to the failure.
Mike Atherton suffered this partially abominable fate at Lord’s in 1993, when, turning for a seemingly simple third run, he was sent back by Mike Gatting, who had been temporarily transfixed by a supernatural vision of the world’s largest banoffee pie. Atherton slipped, Ian Healy Australianly whipped the bails off, and Gatting licked his lips, mumbling, “I have seen the future. And it’s covered in toffee and bananas.”
Steve Waugh became an associate member of the Missing Out On A Test Century Due To Between-The-Wickets Incompetence in spectacular fashion, in the Perth Ashes Test of 1994-95. Twin brother Mark was acting as runner for Craig McDermott, went for an imbecilic single, ran himself/McDermott out, and left Steve one run short of another scrawling on another honours board. What were the brothers thinking to each other as they trudged off? The official Confectionery Stall guess is as follows:
Mark: “That’ll teach you to make your Test debut four years before me.”
Steve: “Looks like I’ll be forgetting your birthday this year. I don’t care how easy it should be for me to remember it.”
Mark: “You’ve got to admit, it was objectively the funniest run-out in cricket history.”
Steve: “I’m going to tell Mum. You’re in trouble. I want my teddy.”
Mathews’ dismissal was the 67th time a batsman has been out for 99 in Test cricket, and the 14th time one has missed out on three-figure glory by virtue of being run out. Fourteen out of 67 – this is an extraordinary ratio, which illustrated the madness that can envelop the human soul when the tastily steaming baguette of personal triumph is within nibbling distance. Also, 20.9% of batsmen out for 99 have been run out – yet of the 59,237 Test dismissals that had occurred as of 5pm GMT on December 3, 2009, only 3.5% have been run-outs.
Batsmen on 99 are thus six times more likely to run themselves out (or, perhaps, have a sadistic team-mate run them out), than batsmen who aren’t already mentally picturing charging around with their arms in the air, kissing their helmets, waving their bats at any available camera, and cuddling the non-striking batsman.
There are statistics and there are statistics. And this statistic reveals the inherent nature of the human condition, and the potentially fatal pitfalls of personal ambition, as much as any play by Shakespeare. Arguably. Expect it to be on all school curriculums around the cricket-speaking world within months.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer