At this time of year almost every cricketer, from the county player to the club no-hoper, grows excited at the prospects of the season ahead. This is the small window during which dreams far outweigh reality. However bad the ability is, the imagination can still allow fleeting thoughts that this season might just be different. It usually takes only a few overs or an ugly cross-batted heave to bring the truth rudely home. But at least most cricketers get onto the field. But Andrew "AJ" Harris, the Nottinghamshire seamer, didn't even get that far before his season got off to a wretched start.
Playing in one of the traditional early-season run/wicket-fests against students which passes as first-class, Harris strained his groin. He hoped not to bat, but with team-mate Chris Read on 94 not out when the ninth wicket fell, Harris gamely limped into action. His problem was that he limped too slowly. He had hobbled halfway down the Trent Bridge pavilion steps when the Durham University players appealed that he was taking too long. The umpire agreed, and gave Harris "Timed Out" under Law 31.1a.
Harris could consider himself rather unfortunate. The law used to state that a batsman could be given out in this way if he took more than two minutes to make it onto the field of play, and also that the innings of the side would be deemed to be over on the grounds that they were refusing to bat. The wording was changed in 1980, removing the two-minute mention and instead saying that the delay had to be "wilful" and that only the offending player would be considered out.
Not surprisingly, this mode of dismissal is rare, and Harris's is only the fourth instance in first-class cricket. The first occurred in 1987-88 - playing against Transvaal at Port Elizabeth, Eastern Province's Andrew Jordaan, who was not out overnight, failed to arrive in time next morning as the roads were bad after a downpour.
The next was in a Ranji Trophy match between Orissa and Tripura at Cuttack on December 20, 1997. The circumstances were no less bizarre. When Tripura lost their ninth wicket, the umpires called for drinks. At the end of the three-minute break the Tripura No. 11, Hemulal Yadav, had made no attempt to come on and was sitting on the boundary edge chatting with his team manager. As the umpires returned to their positions the Orissa fielders appealed, and the umpires gave Yadav out and secured his place in history.
The third time was in the 2002-03 season. Vasbert Drakes, the West Indian fast bowler, is down on the scorecard as Timed Out for Border against Free State at East London: he was rather unfortunate as he wasn't even in the country at the time - his plane to South Africa had been delayed and he had not arrived.
There is one other instance to be found in first-class cricket, but the batsman is officially listed in Wisden as "absent". And this case was the most controversial of the lot.
On May 22, 1919, Somerset's match against Sussex at Taunton was heading for a gripping climax. When Sussex's ninth second-innings wicket fell the scores were tied. Their No. 11, Harold Heygate, had not expected to bat as he was crippled with rheumatism, a complaint aggravated by his time in the trenches during the First World War. He had not batted or bowled in the match. As the crowd waited to see if Heygate would emerge from the pavilion (it was by no means certain), one of the Somerset players appealed and Heygate was given out. The match was tied, and Heygate's dismissal was subsequently upheld by MCC.
Wisden, however, was distinctly unimpressed: "Whether or not Heygate would have crawled to the wicket, it was very unsportsmanlike that such a point should have been raised when there remained ample time to finish the match."
Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo