June 21, 2014

The dreaded run-out

No matter how elegant your strokeplay, the clumsy dive into the crease that fails to save your bacon is forever graceless

The day Trott and Prior were at the same end and neither was eventually run out © Getty Images

Forget the raised finger for the ball you did not feather, or the missing off stump where your cover drive should have been. There is no worse dismissal than a run-out. After a decade away from playing the game I love (blame a globetrotting romance) I stepped back onto a cricket pitch, donning new pads, gloves and an unblemished bat. Without facing a ball, I immediately returned to the pavilion, hoping their skipper might call me back after the bowler had kicked a straight drive onto the stumps and run me out. Alas, he was too busy high-fiving to see my forlorn expression.

The run-out is the cricket equivalent of being caught with your pants down. Occasionally it is lightning fielding, a thunderbolt arm that strikes down a single stump, or the panther in the covers, sprinting in and pouncing on your waddling rear. But usually it is simply your fault, or more often than not, your partner's. Either way, incompetence and bad judgement are to blame, and no matter how elegant your strokeplay, the flowing whites and gleaming bat, that clumsy dive into the crease that fails to save your bacon is forever graceless.

My own particular fury at being run out stems from the disdain my junior coach, former Yorkshire player Peter Booth, gave this method of dismissal. Proper cricket meant proper running, backing up (watch that line, Jos Buttler) and good communication. Thursday night nets always included shuttle runs with bats sliding over the crease, and nothing would irk coach Booth more than bad calling. Yes, no, wait, two or three were the only words necessary to navigate that perilous 19-yard strip. Bellowing "Go, go, go," is easily misheard as "No, no, no", and that is actually one of the less cryptic calls used by some of my current team-mates.

But I can hardly criticise my amateur brethren, considering the circus run-outs that have occurred in professional cricket. Still at the top of my list is the Geoff Boycott assassination of the beloved Derek Randall before his home crowd at Trent Bridge in 1977. Boycott rolled one into Jeff Thomson's hands, and then bullocked up the pitch to strand poor Randall in no man's land. The locals booed as Boycott stood there with his hand over his face. Testament to Sir Geoffrey as he did go on a make a ton that he still recalls as one of his best.

A quick YouTube search for "Cricket's worst run-outs" reveals endless comic displays of two men simply trying to run from one end of the wicket to another. One of my favourite missed run-outs has to be during the fourth ODI of the 2010-11 series, when Brett Lee, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott manage to convene around the ball on the popping crease. The three actually seem to huddle for a moment before Lee mangles the throw to the bowler's end and Trott dashes home, incredulous at his survival.

The run-out is the cricket equivalent of being caught with your pants down

Topping the table for most YouTube hits is the Inzamam-ul-Haq 23 run-outs montage, garnering a whopping 2.4 million views and counting. We see Inzi fall over, lie down, throw his bat, obstruct the field and hip-swerve a Steve Harmison throw. But mostly we see him run-out.

The surprise stat from my Zaltzman-authenticated research has to be that the scurrying Ricky Ponting is the most run-out batsman in Test cricket. Then again, he did fail to make his ground in two key Ashes moments, the first in 2005, when super-sub Gary Pratt splayed Ponting's stumps, and again in 2009 when the Flintoff swansong included slinging Punter back to the hutch after a disastrous quick single called by Michael Hussey.

For the right or wrong reason, a run-out is memorable. Speaking to Frank Keating nearly 70 years on from his county debut, Harold Larwood recalled a daring throw at Yorkshire's Edgar Oldroyd, who was "kidding the new kid" and feinting to run. "He tries it a fifth time or so, and I'm in on it fast and let fly - and knock all three down from square leg." Yet skipper AW Carr wasn't so impressed. "Never do that again," he instructed Larwood. "Try it nine more times out of ten, you'll miss and it'll be four overthrows."

Carr was right. I recall a North Leicestershire league game where the non-striker goaded the cover fielders by dangling his bat. Two of my red-blooded team-mates tried to throw down the stumps, and twice that non-striker made four runs for his partner, who had played no more than a gentle forward defensive.

Beyond the slapstick there is the dazzling arm, the Gary Pratt game changer or a Jonty Rhodes swoop. Although Sir Viv Richards failed with the bat in the 1975 World Cup final at Lord's, he ran out three Australians, and as umpire Dickie Bird confirms, "He turned the match with his brilliant fielding."

Once upon a time I was that lithe fielder who threw down the stumps. Tearing in, picking up and launching exocets. Apart from one run-out last season, a ball that I actually bowled in from the boundary, I'm more likely to be that cursing batsman, rolling in the dust after a dive for survival, only to find the bails off and the umpire looming.

Still, there's always the bloke at the other end to blame.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His first novel, Show Me the Sky, was nominated for the IMPAC literary award