Lucky so and so
I’m lucky. So lucky. Black cats and pairs of magpies cross my path as I make my way to the wicket across swards of four-leaved clover. I’m a very lucky batsman.
Rarely have I taken an innings beyond 20 without being dropped. More spills than BP, as many shells as a beach. A few facts: my three major innings this season:
- 66*: dropped at slip; dropped at extra-cover; dropped at deep mid-wicket in a fielding calamity that saw my lofted on-drive swatted over the boundary to bring up my 50
- 26: dropped at extra-cover; dropped at cover point
- 55: dropped at deep mid-on.
Outside of these innings, I was also dropped by a fielder in the deep, who contrived to shovel the ball into the sight-screen to gift me a six.
In total, eight catches off my bat went to hand and then to ground. Four times I was dismissed to a catch, giving me a two to one chance of surviving a lofted shot hit to a fielder. There were many other occasions when I sent the ball in a tight arc over a fielder, who flapped or swore, but didn’t intercept it.
Some context: the standard of fielding isn’t high in the cricket I play; and I do hit the ball in the air a lot. Nevertheless, I benefit more than most from butter-fingers in the field. This isn’t a phenomenon limited to the most recent season. It’s been a truth that nagged at me in each of my phases of cricket-playing: teens to 21; 25-28 and over 40.
Is it possible to be a lucky batsman for a career? One of my team-mates has that reputation earned over a career of 40 odd years. Merlin played a very decent level of club cricket and spent some years pro-ing in the north-west. So he’s well known in the county for his magic. Merlin waves his bat, mesmirises the fielders and the ball sails up and drops safely. To date, with Merlin on the team, I’ve kept below the radar.
Most would argue that any cricket career, if long enough, will have its share of good and bad luck. Things even themselves out, in other words. My experience, and the reputation of Merlin, makes me look at this random distribution of luck theory in a different way. There are so many of us batting ten, twenty times a season, that a small number will have a disproportionate share of good fortune over a career. We are the random samples of batting fortune which are placed well to the right of the Gaussian bell-curve. We may start each match as likely as any player to have catches dropped, but in the retrospect, our skiers have tended to be the ones that pop out, slide through or jar the ends of the fingers of fielders’ hands.
Of course, luck for a batsman takes more forms than whether catches are held or dropped. Other common external factors are: umpires’ decision-making, the (mis)behaviour of an occasional delivery, form of the bowlers and state of the game when batting. Of these, catching is the most visible display of good or ill fortune, followed perhaps by the decisions of the umpire.
How then, in the upper echelons of the game, should evidence that a player attracts good luck affect selection, role and career? Should a test batsman who has made runs, but always benefiting from misses in the field, be shunned as his scores overstate his ability? This appeals to our rational, analytical selves. Or should he be cultivated – at the risk of operating at the level of David Brent, whose approach to recruitment short-listing involved throwing the pile of CVs in the air and interviewing those that landed face-up. Who wouldn’t want someone lucky working for you, he reasoned.
I suspect selectors of professional cricketers pay less attention to the luck that made possible a score or a bowling analysis. It’s the end product that counts. Dropped on one, and 31, went on to score 91, is interpreted as: has made a score so has the confidence to make another next time. The other interpretations – the rational: took three innings to make 91, not good enough; or Brentian: let’s back this guy, he’s lucky – don’t feature. Despite the luck that fuels my batting, I would give full support to a selection committee that judged the process as well as the outcome; that dropped the batsman who only scores runs because he gets dropped.
Indeed – survival theory. The corporals of August 1914 commanded battalions by the time of the somme. What allowed them to dodge the bullets? What coul explain their rapid advancemen? Machine guns and Normal distribution.
I see the analogy. What’s missing is a selection decision. The corporals presumably became commanders by the fact of survival – there was no one else available. The lucky batsman will have contenders that the selectors must weigh him up against.