On the perils of the all-run four
“Well,” he said in his slow way. “Smackin’ it first off. Off the wall, up the alley, down the line, however it goes it goes with that there crack. Then runnin’ like blazes. ‘Round first and into second and ya head for third – and ya know that throw is comin’, ya know it’s right on ya tail. So ya slide.. ya hit it – whack into that bag.. Well the best part, in a way. Standin’ up. Dustin’ off ya breeches and standin’ up there on that bag.”
In Philip Roth’s Great American Novel, the silent centre-fielder, Luke Gofannon is seduced by a seasoned baseball mistress. She asks him what he loves most in all the world and his answer is the triple. She sets about matching baseball in his affections.
“And Luke,” she asked when the act had left them weak and dazed with pleasure… “what about your triples?”
“I can’t tell a lie, Angela. There ain’t nothing like it.”
The all-run four is perhaps cricket’s equivalent, requiring power or timing to put the ball into the deep outfield and speed to complete the runs. But never could it attract the same devotion as Gofannon felt for the triple. Batsmen and fielders would, in most circumstances, be happier if the ball travelled just a little further to the boundary so the same result could be achieved (or conceded) for less exertion.
There follow two stories of attempted all-run fours. The stories connect the cricket I play to the game my Father played – while also making clear the distance between our competitive experiences.
Last month, early in our Over 40s twenty over innings, I joined Davvy at the wicket. Davvy cut a ball powerfully through a gap at point and off we set. The pitch was on the west side of the square, but the full boundary to the east was in play. It being the summer of 2012, the outfield was damp and Davvy’s cut found resistance and pulled up short of the rope. The short-thirdman fielder was trundling in pursuit and we called for a third run. As we crossed on our third run, the fielder may have had ball in hand but I drew assumptions about his throwing arm from his mobility and mention of going for a fourth was made. I turned at the completion of the third and headed down the home straight. Davvy, turning a few seconds later, about to run towards the danger end, raised hand and voice to stop me. The throw was on its way to the keeper, who, at the second attempt, broke the stumps as I turned mid-pitch and dived feet short of the crease.
I was met with hilarity and disdain as I returned to the pavilion. Mr October, who updates the play-cricket website for us, dedicated the match highlights section to this novelty: an all-run four attempted in an Over 40s fixture. It’s not embarrassment that makes me feel this is particularly harsh on teammates who scored runs and took wickets in our victory.
I was telling my Father how my over-ambition had led to this misfortune. He said, “I must have told you this story hundreds of times,” and related a tale I thought I knew well.
One weekend, in the early 1950s, my Dad returned to his club in South London (The Old Grammarians) on a break from National Service. He opened the bowling and on a damp pitch the ball jagged around without, he says, him having to make any effort. Wickets fell quickly to him and as the opposition batting fell away bringing its lower order to the wicket, the possibility of him taking all ten arose. The bowler at the other end was trying not to get the batsmen out and eventually wickets one to nine had fallen to Dad.
One of the last wicket pair had a swing and struck the ball towards the boundary. A fielder, unhurried, went after the ball, which stopped inside the rope. The batsmen ran. The fielder reached the ball, picked it up and lobbed a high, looping return towards the middle. The batsmen kept running. The keeper planted himself behind the stumps, content to wait for the ball to make its way to him. The batsmen continued for a fourth run. The ball completed its arc, bounced and hopped into the keeper’s gloves. With great reluctance, he broke the stumps, ran out the batsman and scuttled my Dad’s chance of taking all ten wickets in an innings.
I thought I knew this story, but had never registered this twist of my Dad’s ‘ten-for’ being denied not by any old run-out, but by the last pair risking an all run four. Old stories get retold for a reason.