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.