A ringer for Jesus
I have been a ringer for Jesus. Not in the sense of having a resemblance through beard and sandals; nor have I chimed the bells at my parish church. I was a ringer by playing cricket for a team when not qualified to do so – for Jesus College, which neighboured my college.
Jesus College had organised an end of term tour of Manchester, but found their cricket playing resources stretched. Four players from my college were drafted in: Captain Dunn, the Brummie Dreamboat, Sophisticated Simon and me. With the role of ringer comes an expectation – of competence and performance. How did we live up to expectation?
Captain Dunn opened the batting in the first match. It was an evening game, played in Mancunian drizzle on a pitch that a lanky left-armer made spicey. Dunn took a blow from a lifter on the end of the thumb of his bottom hand. He retired hurt from the match and competitive duties for the tour. The broken thumb meant he missed a university representative tour the following week and cancelled his bank cards when presuming them missing; they lay at the bottom of his cricket bag, which his injury made too painful to search thoroughly.
The Brummie Dreamboat was one of a number of promising young batsmen that our college turned into quick bowlers. His tour was distinguished only by antics in a Manchester club car-park that have been know to lose an England captain his job.
Sophisticated Simon bowled leg and off-cutters that were suited to the damp wickets, but excelled as always off the field with charm and a nicely turned anecdote.
On this occasion, I came closest to fulfilling the role of the ringer. A chancy 50 in that opening match seeing Jesus to victory in the loaming.
None of us came close to the ringer faux-pas of being just too good; being the bloke whom no-one knows, who dominates the match and destroys the contest. A team-mate, Mr October, played a match at a public school last season. His side was bolstered by a recent New Zealand Test batsman. The erstwhile Black Cap faced the first ball of the second innings, with 250 the distant target. He drove a length ball to the right of the cover point, who got a strong hand to the ball, from which it ricocheted to the backward point boundary. The fielder was still wringing that hand 20 overs later when the match was done. That fixture might not be renewed this year.
Cricket habits and traditions tend to trickle down from the first class game to the club and recreational sport. The ringer, in recent years, seems to be percolating upwards. As county cricket is increasingly run to the convenience of ‘Team England’, international players have started to be placed in teams that they are not ‘qualified’ to represent. Andrew Strauss, as England captain in 2011, played for Somerset against India to help prepare for the Test series. For other authority-approved ringers, the opportunity has been less propitious. Nick Compton top-scored for Worcestershire against the Australian tourists in 2013, but was dropped from the Test team. James Taylor made an unbeaten hundred in the colours of Sussex against the same team three weeks later, but has not been selected for an England match since.
International cricket also has the ‘ringer-esque’ movement of players between nations – a subject that gets ample exposure everywhere else. The 2014 Under 19 World Cup brings the story of Zimbabwe and its overage players. Administrative error, the ICC has clarified, when confirming that the five not under 19s can continue to play.
Returning to ringers in club cricket, their presence in touring teams and recreational sides has a strong tradition. Competitive, league cricket is altogether different. Players are registered to clubs and fielding unqualified cricketers is usually proscribed with matches or points forfeited.
I have come across one sanctioned use of ringers. Relatively recently, Lancashire would release players not in action for the county to play top level club cricket. Clubmates tell me of turning up at the Sale CC home ground for a match to find Ian Austin sitting on his cricket bag. “Who are you playing for?” he was asked. “Don’t know, just told to be here by midday.” He bowled for the visitors and predictably took wickets.
Other than that, the use of ringers in club cricket competitions is cheating. So, not only have I been a ringer for Jesus, but also a cheat. A couple of years after the Manchester tour, Captain Dunn and I headed to the north-west again, this time to help out our former Number 4, now skippering a club team, who found himself light of players for an end of season fixture. The opposition had won the league the week before, but a strong finish would allow our adopted team to claim second place. Batting first, the Captain clattered a half-century that had our team being very careful to be nonchalant and familiar in his presence at tea.
The champions lost wickets regularly in their reply. Our adopted club had the chance of a victory to cap their season. With nine down and an over to play, a ball was hit high to a ringer on the boundary. With hardly a step required, the ball fell to hand, but didn’t come to rest there. The catch was dropped and the match drawn.
It was my worst ever moment on a cricket field. If a team mate drops a catch, there’s an easy empathy. We all know if could have happened to us and it probably has during the course of that season or ones before. But if some bloke you don’t know, who was brought in because he’s ‘a useful cricketer’ drops the catch that denies your team the match and second place in the league, it’s different. That’s what I felt, not what my temporary teammates actually said or intimated to me.
I knew I had been one devil of a ringer.
Photo credit: George Franks, GGF Photography (george.franks@O2.co.uk)
Making up for the mistake
“That is tragedy for Derek Randall.” (Richie Benaud on commentary)
Geoff Boycott clipped the ball straight and set off for a single. Jeff Thomson intercepted the ball before it passed the stumps on the non-striker’s side. Randall, back in his crease, looked up and saw the striker’s end vacant. When he set off he was racing Thomson’s flicked throw, which Marsh collected and completed the run out.
Randall was making his first Test appearance at his home ground, Trent Bridge. A very popular local man, made heroic by his quirky, marathon 174 in the Centenary Test at Melbourne earlier in the year.
Boycott was playing his first Test in four years. A combination of personal, public, cricketing and domestic issues had kept him away from the international game. Aged 36, he was making his comeback. When he took off for the run that sacrificed Randall, he had yet to make 20. In an unusually public display of contrition – for any cricketer, not just the stereotypically pragmatic Yorkshireman – Boycott covered his face as Randall trotted off the field. What could he do to make up for the mistake? Bat on and keep on batting.
The following day, five hours of batting later, Boycott reached a century, acknowledged in subdued fashion by the still bruised Nottingham crowd. His application took England to a first innings lead of 121 which was to become a victory, and a 2-0 lead in the series with two to play.
Boycott never lacked the incentive to score runs, but he has acknowledged the mix-up with Randall made this an especially challenging and important innings. Is there any generalisable truth from this story? Do batsmen, culprits in their partner’s dismissal, become more focused and committed to playing a telling innings and make up for their mistake?
I have taken as my sample the 117 run outs in Test cricket since January 2011. I further refined the sample (footnote 1) and using Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball commentary identified 21 instances where a top-order batsman was responsible for the run out of a partner and had the opportunity to build an innings.
In that sample are two batsmen, who on the face of it, emulated Boycott by scoring centuries after running out a teammate. However, neither are achievements of the same order. Virat Kohli had scored 65 when his tardily retracted call led to Cheteshwar Pujara’s dismissal. He went on to make 119 against South Africa at Johannesburg in December 2013. Hashim Amla had already recorded his hundred when Ashwell Prince was called for a single that only Amla could see, also at Johannesburg, against Australia in November 2011. Amla lost his wicket a handful of runs later.
The most runs scored by the guilty party following a run out mix-up, in this sample, is 76 by Angelo Matthews against New Zealand at Colombo in November 2012. The distribution of runs scored after contributing to a teammate’s run out is depicted below. The large proportion (48%) who score fewer than ten additional runs suggests that the experience can act to unsettle, not galvanise the surviving batsman.
Isolating the effect of the run out on the subsequent innings is impossible. I have, however, attempted to compare the runs that were scored with the runs that might have been expected to have been scored. This involves looking at the runs the surviving batsman had scored at the time of the run out and calculating that batsman’s average score in Test cricket in innings when that score had been reached.
Taking the Angelo Matthews example – the Sri Lankan was on six when Samaraweera was run out. In all Test innings where Matthews has reached six (as at January 2014) his ‘situation average’ score has been 43 (NB this is a calculation of average innings score, not average runs per dismissal as is conventionally used in batting average calculation.) So, Matthews’ total of 84 far surpasses the average that stands as a proxy for what he might have been expected to have scored.
Each of the 21 innings in the sample is plotted below. The runs scored by the surviving batsman after the run out are the blue columns; the difference between the situation average and the total achieved is shown in orange.
16 of the 21 batsmen in the sample scored fewer runs after the run out than their ‘situation average’. The average of these 21 innings is a 15 run shortfall from what might have been expected given the runs the surviving batsman had scored at the time of the run out.
I am ready to acknowledge that this analysis does not control for match situation, conditions or opposition strength. Moreover, the sample is small. However, the findings do not encourage me to look further for evidence of batsmen rising to the task of making right their error in causing the dismissal of a teammate. If anything, the data suggest that surviving batsmen are vulnerable, they under-achieve and perhaps even compound the error. In this, as in so many other things, Boycott is atypical.
Footnote 1: The initial sample of 171 run outs was reduced by omitting cases where:
- the surviving batsmen batted at number seven or lower in the order
- the innings was close to its conclusion and so the surviving batsmen would have had limited opportunity to develop his innings
- the cricinfo ball by ball commentary placed the blame on the departing batsman for his run out.