O runner, where art thou?
Following the ICC's ban on runners, we pay tribute to the hardworking breed of men who provided cricket with some of its quirkiest moments
Opinions are divided about the ban on runners in international cricket, but that the provision was sometimes abused, caused embarrassment, and was a source of comic relief cannot be denied. One such iffy instance was in an ODI between England and Australia at Trent Bridge, where Ian Healy, upon hurting his knee in a tight chase, requested a runner and was granted one by captain David Gower. In came Dean Jones, considered one of the quickest in the Australian team, though he soon found he had a competitor - the man he was running for. Forgetting his injury and that he had help, Healy scrambled back for a couple, almost outpacing Jones at square leg. Gower was not amused and sent Jones back. The drama didn't end there. In a game decided off the final ball, Healy sneaked a bye with two needed and sealed a tie.
The 2010 Twenty20 final between Hampshire and Somerset at the Rose Bowl summed up the chaos the runner rule had the potential to create. Daniel Christian pulled his hamstring while running back for a second off the penultimate ball of the game, and had to call in Jimmy Adams as his runner for the final delivery, with two needed. Christian swung at Zander de Bruyn off the final ball, missed, and stole a leg-bye, sprinting to the other end of the pitch in the heat of the moment, oblivious to the fact that Adams had done the same at square leg. Amid the mess, which included a strong lbw appeal, Somerset simply forgot they could have run Christian out at the wicketkeeper's end since he had left his crease. Though the game was a tie, Hampshire took the title, having lost fewer wickets. "It'll probably haunt me for a few years," said Marcus Trescothick, the Somerset captain, after the game.
There's no love lost between Arjuna Ranatunga and some well-known Australians, and his spat with Healy in an ODI final in Sydney in 1996 marked an acrimonious end to a highly controversial tour. Ranatunga wasn't known to be the fittest cricketer of his time, and when he complained of "cramp", Healy was having none of it. ''You don't get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat c***," he was caught saying by the Channel Nine stump microphone. In a recent interview with the Age, Healy said: ''I saw what the physio was doing on his leg - nothing. Then Sanath Jayasuriya was padded up, the fastest man in world cricket, to replace the slowest man. So I blew up. There was no way he was as injured as he was making out. He was nine not out or something, and he said it was cramp.'' Last we heard, the pair had had dinner together in Brisbane.
When Mark Waugh made his debut in 1990-91, it came at the expense of his brother Steve's place in the side. Almost five years later, with both having established themselves in the XI, Mark left his older twin to endure another brief phase of agony. As a runner for last man Craig McDermott, who had strained his back, in the fifth Test in Perth, Mark was expected to assist Steve to stretch Australia's score and complete a thoroughly deserved century, after having braved a tough spell of bowling for his first 50 runs. Things seemed on track, until, in a moment of mindlessness, Mark attempted an improbable single, realised his folly and turned back but was run out at the non-striker's end by Graham Gooch. Steve was stranded on 99, deprived by his younger sibling again.
In 1836, Alfred Mynn became the first batsman to score a first-class century using a runner for the entire duration of his innings. The MCC had legalised round-arm bowling in 1835 and the year after, Mynn, facing his pace rival Samuel Redgate, injured his leg so badly that doctors later contemplated amputation. He missed the first day's action for North v South with his leg strapped up, made 21 the next day batting with a runner, fought through on the third with a swollen ankle that kept getting pelted by Redgate, to finish unbeaten on 125, with wild celebrations marking his 100th run. His next first-class appearance was two years later. Mynn's ordeal is said to have led to the introduction of leg guards in cricket.
The ICC's runner ban is also a means of addressing the disparity between batsmen and bowlers. If you can have someone help you get 228 runs in a game, why wouldn't the bowler complain? In Lancashire's County Championship game against Warwickshire in 1982, Graeme Fowler, having suffered a thigh strain, inflicted a taxing ordeal on two unfortunate team-mates, who helped him score a century in each innings. David Lloyd ran 100 of Fowler's 126 in the first innings, and Ian Folley helped him out with 128 in the second. Folley, in fact, raised his own bat to acknowledge the appreciation for the landmark, to which he could stake an equal claim.
The sweltering Chennai heat took its toll on Saeed Anwar in Pakistan's Independence Cup clash with India there in 1997, and the resulting exhaustion and loss of fluid meant he had to rely on Shahid Afridi while scripting one of the great one-day innings. Anwar called for a runner at the end of the 18th over, but managed to preserve the fluency with which he had begun the innings. His timing remained immaculate, his assault against Anil Kumble in a 24-run over left a packed stadium stunned, and his stamina saw him through to what was then a record for the highest score in ODIs, broken 13 years later by the man who dismissed him in this game: Sachin Tendulkar. Afridi hung around for a while, and while his contribution was significant, Anwar managed 118 runs in boundaries.
That Australia could not get past VVS Laxman even when he was injured is a sign of how much of a nemesis he's been for them. They were on top in India's chase in Mohali last year, just two wickets away from a series lead, but Laxman, who had batted at No. 10 in the first innings due to a sore back, showed great endurance and resolve, hanging in with the tail to clinch a nerve-wracking one-wicket win. Batting with a runner, in a game of fluctuations, he kept his emotions in check, except for one instance. MS Dhoni had been run out after failing to spot Laxman's runner, Suresh Raina, who had almost got Laxman himself run out before the lunch break. When it came down to the last partnership, with decisiveness in calling the need of the hour, Pragyan Ojha, the last man, prevaricated and was at the receiving end of a tongue-lashing from Laxman. It was a rare transgression for Laxman, and one he apologised for, after the match was thrillingly sealed.
A perfect recipe for disaster, and an umpire's nightmare. One runner is a handful, imagine having two at the same time. It was probably a relief for those on the field, apart from the batsmen, that the partnership lasted only seven runs but Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ridley Jacobs, Marlon Samuels and Wavell Hinds did their bit to infuse some excitement into a losing battle against Australia in Guyana in 2003. Chanderpaul had been struck hard on the knee during his whirlwind century in the first innings, while Jacobs had damaged a groin muscle on the first day. Four batsmen consulting mid-pitch, and the umpires stepping in to decide who stands where, are sights that won't be seen again.
Another such instance, this time from county cricket and involving the late Bob Woolmer. In a Championship game at Dartford in 1983 between Kent and Middlesex, Woolmer broke his toe during the second half of a century in the first innings, and walked out at No. 11 with a runner in the second innings to set a fighting target. He joined Chris Cowdrey, who also had a runner, but the stand lasted just two runs, "rather to the relief of my colleague, Ken Palmer, and myself", said Don Oslear, the umpire in that game.
Andrew Strauss's decision to not allow a runner for Graeme Smith in the Champions Trophy in 2009 may have played a role in prompting the ban. Smith had scored a sparkling century in a big chase, but suffered cramps and duly requested a runner. Strauss, upon discussion with the umpires sent back AB de Villiers, who came in to run for Smith. Runners had been granted to batsmen for cramping in the past, but Strauss argued: "Cramping to a certain extent is a preparation thing. To a certain extent, it's a conditioning thing. I didn't feel that he merited having a runner at that stage." Abuse of the privilege could be one of the reasons for doing away with runners; inconsistency in its use is likely to have played a part as well.
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo