Run-Out Squad: A new concept is born
Fact: No batsman likes getting out.
But a few times in your life, like sickness, it is inevitable that it will happen to you. Think about it -not even the 99.94 dude could avoid it in his last Test innings, so what chance do lesser mortals have?
Batsmen don’t even like talking about it, much like you and I avoid discussing mortality. But if you can raise the taboo topic about their least favorite way of getting out, with any batsman at any level of cricket without being subjected to physical retribution, the answer will be unanimous – the dreaded run out.
Wouldn’t it be a lark I thought, if we got together a team of specialists in the field? If multiple dictators and tyrants in history could put together far deadlier squads, surely we could put together a group that caused mayhem and destruction, but confined it to the 22-yards and harmed no one but themselves?
Thus was born the ‘Run-Out Squad‘ – Test cricket’s most dangerous XI, a squad that is guaranteed to rain down misery and destruction upon themselves and their partners.
Setting the Ground Rules for Selection
So how would one go about choosing the ‘best’ fits for such a squad?
One approach could be to look only at the players who had the most number of run-outs in their careers. While this would no doubt strengthen the team by including some greats of the game, it would be inherently unfair to those who played a large number of Test matches, as the probability of them getting run out would also go up by definition, the longer they played. So this clearly could not be the only approach.
Another approach could be to look at players who ran out the most batting partners during their careers. While this is an important parameter for inclusion in our elite list, once again it is unfair to the cricketers with the longest careers who would by definition also have had the most number of partnerships, particularly if they were batsmen.
Perhaps the fairest approach then is to look at it in percentage terms. The most obvious qualification criteria for our squad in that case would be twofold – those players for whom the run-out as a mode of dismissal in percentage terms was higher than others, and those who ranked highest by virtue of running out the most partners versus number of innings played. With them, we could then throw in the guiltiest in the first two discarded approaches, i.e. those with the highest absolute number of run outs, where the victim was themselves or their partner.
To open the batting for this team we need look no farther than Vijay Merchant, one of India’s leading batsmen through the 1930’s and 1940’s. With an average of 56.75 opening in Test matches at a stage where India was a new Test playing nation finding its feet and facing the big boys for most part, Merchant walks into this team on the strength of his batting ability. It was not for nothing that CB Fry once made a remark about Merchant that would surely be frowned upon today: “Let us paint him white and take him with us to Australia as an opener.” Unfortunately, like many cricketers of the time, the prime of his career was taken away by the Second World War.
He cements his opening spot however with his penchant for running out his partners, which he managed once every 13 partnerships that he was involved in during his career.
To partner Merchant, we stay on in India and get in touch with Rahul Dravid to check his availability for this touring party, given his busy schedule grooming India’s Under 19 talent. While Dravid stood as ‘The Wall’ of the Indian batting line up for the most part of his career, he did open the batting on 23 occasions with a very respectable average of 42.47 and four centuries to boot at this position.
It is perhaps because of the selfless nature and the immense dedication and talent that Dravid brought to the table while he quietly went about becoming the most dependable player Indian cricket has ever had, that his contribution often gets underplayed when one talks about India’s greatest players.
Jarrod Kimber said it well in his Test Cricket: The Unauthorised Biography when he described Rahul Dravid thus: “Rahul Dravid will never get the respect he deserves. There were too many other players in the same period who were as important, or more important to India than him. Sourav Ganguly was the leader who gave them confidence. Virender Sehwag gave them runs at speeds that test cricket shuddered at. And VVS Laxman gave them Kolkata 2001. Dravid was the best number two India ever had.”
But it is as much his calm demeanor and ability to play the anchor role at the top which gets Dravid into this special team as his enviable record of run outs. While Dravid would never give his wicket away to a bowler without making him work hard for it, his running between the wickets gave the opposing captain that whiff of hope which the edge of his bat did not. On no less than 13 occasions in his Test career, Dravid would run himself out. If one thinks that number is not significant given his long career, it is worth considering that the next most successful opponent after ‘Mr. Run Out’ was Shane Warne, who managed to dismiss Dravid all of 8 times. Of course, this being Rahul Dravid, he would average 62.30 on these 13 occasions, making sure the pleasure for the opposition is somewhat muted.
What seals Rahul Dravid’s position in this team however is the fact that he cannot be measured merely by his undoubted expertise in running himself out. On no less than 12 occasions in his career Dravid also succeeded in running his partner out. Let’s think about this – once every 11 innings when Rahul Dravid was out in the middle, one of the two partners would depart without dependence on the bowling abilities of the opposition.
Soon, but not before our talented opening pair has put on a century stand, the not unexpected misunderstanding between them has occurred and (in all probability given the combination of his and his partner Merchant’s records in this regard) Rahul Dravid is walking back dejectedly through the gate.Running past him and eager to get to the middle, we find one of the most gifted cricketers of our time, the second most successful captain of all time,Ricky Ponting. In line with his captaincy record, Ponting assumes the vice captaincy of our elite squad.
Ponting is a shoo-in into any team at the No. 3 slot given the almost 10,000 runs he scored at that position with 32 centuries at an average of 56.27. But he was much more than that. Once again Kimber describes him perfectly when he says: “Ponting was the gravel in the gut of Australian cricket. He might have been an academy boy, a professional cricketer from his teens, and one of the new generation. But Ponting was hard. Willing to face Curtly Ambrose with a helmet off even when the rest of the world had theirs firmly on…When Ponting was batting, it wasn’t for records or style, it was to win the match.”
What makes him particularly attractive to this team, beyond his batting, is his world leading ability to engineer his own dismissal. On a mind numbing 15 occasions Ponting ran himself out, admittedly not before averaging 52 on those instances. Not even Harbhajan Singh who managed to dismiss Ponting on 10 different occasions can hope to come close to ‘Mr. Run Out’, who was Ponting’s biggest bogey throughout his career.
With Merchant and Ponting at the crease, two men with immense batting talent and ability to score runs at will, this should be an entertaining partnership indeed. The partnership is also likely to end with a bang accompanied by much recrimination between onepartner who is among the foremost exponents of all time in the art of running his partner out, and the other a league topper in running himself out. But given Ponting’s superiority in the numbers game on this count, the chances are it will be Merchant who walks back to the pavilion at this stage.
Replacing Vijay Merchant at the crease will be one of the most competitive Australian cricketers and captains of all time, Allan Border.Border was the man who took over the Australian team when it was in the throes of despair in the mid 1980’s and laid the foundations based on which his able successors turned it into a side that would for the next couple of decades rule the cricketing waves.
Greg Baum summed it up best when he described our new man at the crease thus: “Allan Border parlayed three shots and a fanatical zeal about not giving away his wicket into the most durable career that cricket in his time had known. At his retirement he had featured in more Tests, more consecutive Tests, more Tests as captain and more catches than any other player – and a batting average of 50 as well.” Baum neglected to mention that Border had also scored 27 Test centuries while going about his business.
What makes Border’s selection in this team a cinch however is not his record as a player or as a captain or indeed as a combative competitive player, but his high rankingin the list of players with the highest number of run outs in their career at 12. To add to his appeal for our selection committee, Border also occupies the No. 2 position in the leader list of players guilty of running out their partners, with an incredible 17 instances against his name.
With two supremely competitive and talented batsmen at the crease, both of whom hated losing their wicket, we are certain to be blessed with a long partnership between Ponting and Border. But all good things must come to an end, and so must this partnership. Given their records, there is no doubt whatsoever that the only way one of the two will be dismissed will be a run out, and we can only hazard a guess as to who that is. Pontinghas been out there for a long time and his tiredness will undoubtedly be a factor in him falling victim to Border’s superior record in engineering the dismissal of his partners.
The fans of this team will be sad to see Ponting depart, but rejoice when they see the captain of our team, replace Ponting at the crease. With a batting average of 51 from 168 Test matches, 32 centuries and 70% of his career runs coming at the No. 5 position, there can be no better man one could want in this situation than Steve Waugh.
Waugh would walk into any team on the strength of his batting and would be the automatic choice to lead the team given his 72% win record in Test cricket. So it is no surprise that he is the captain of our team. What really puts his selection for this team beyond reproach however is his incredible record of running out partners during the course of his career. The 23 partners that he watched depart in dismay are testimony to the fact that Waugh is a ‘must have’ for this side.
In the event that the fielding side is not good enough to dismiss either of our stalwarts, the onus must fall back on the proclivities of our two batsmen to hasten the other’s departure from the middle. We are fortunately singularly blessed from that perspective in having the two best men out on the 22-yards who would engineer just such a dismissal. If I was a betting man, my money would be on Waugh to finish on top given his unmatched record, so it will have to a seething Border that walks back through the gate.
Walking in through the same gate to join Waugh is an interesting selection. Joe Solomon from Guyana played 27 Test matches for the West Indies in the 1950’s and 60’s finishing with a creditable average of 34 and most of his runs having come at the No. 6 position. But what immortalized Solomon in the annals of Test cricket was not his batting but his dazzling fielding.
Brydon Coverdale in an excellent article in The Cricket Monthly summed up Solomon the cricketer: “As a batsman he lacks flair. As a fieldsman he is dazzling. His aim is true, honed by years of pelting stones at mangoes as a boy back home in Guyana. Last over he threw down the stumps from midwicket to run out Alan Davidson.”
Coverdale is referring to that magical day in Brisbane in 1960 when Solomon’s name was recorded for posterity as the man who ran out Australia’s Ian Meckiff and was ultimately responsible for the first Tied Test in the history of cricket.
Coverdale describes the moment thus: “He sees the ball coming his way; he has no time to think. He acts on instinct, runs to the ball, picks it up, aims at the one and only stump he can see. And, like he did in the previous over, and like he did with all those stones aimed at mango stalks, he hits. His team-mates leap in joy. Kline’s partner, Ian Meckiff, is run out. History has been made, and Joe Solomon made it.”
That moment may have made Solomon famous, but what convinces our selection committee to add him to the team, besides his fielding prowess, is his league table leader position in running himself out. Joe Solomon, for what is surprising (but also evident in the case of other good fielders like Sobers) given his quickness on the field, managed to run himself out every seven times that he walked out to bat. That is an incredibly high percentage by any standards and results in his royal welcome into our team.
One hazards a guess that after a short partnership, it will be Solomon who sacrifices his wicket after a mix up with his captain, and gives way to an excellent all-rounder from South Africa, Peter Pollock. Pollock led South Africa’s bowling attack in 28 Tests picking up 116 wickets at just above 24 runs apiece, and had a batting average around 22. South African cricket is also grateful to him for siring an outstanding all-rounder and future captain, Shaun Pollock. But Pollock of course picks himself for this team with a reasonably high proportion of partners left stranded while he was at the crease.
Keeping wickets for the team and walking in next to replace the fuming but tiring Steve Waugh is Affie Jarvis, one of the leading Australian wicketkeepers from the last two decades of the 19th century. Jarvis, like numerous keepers before and after him in Test cricket that operated behind the shadow of a dominant keeper who was also captain (Wriddhiman Saha will undoubtedly sympathize), waited for his chances and when he got them, performed extremely creditably keeping to bowlers like Fred Spofforth. But neither that, nor his reasonable batting skill draws him into this team ahead of a couple of other candidates. Instead, it is again his skill in running out his partners which is at par with Pollock’s that seals the issue.
Now we come to the interesting task of deciding who should fill the rest of the slots, keeping our prime criterion in mind but making sure that when our team does take the field after a record number of self-inflicted run-outs, the bowling attack is enough to cause serious damage to the opposition.
Fortunately, cricket archives allow us a wide choice of excellent bowlers who pass all the severe tests that our selection committee put before them.
Sauntering in at No. 9 is one of the best leg break bowlers of the modern era, who like many before him, was unfortunate to be born in the same era as the most successful spinner in Test cricket history. Stuart MacGill’s ESPN Cricinfo profile says it all: “An old-fashioned operator with a gargantuan legbreak and majestic wrong’un, Stuart MacGill had the best strike-rate and worst luck of any modern spin bowler. His misfortune was to play alongside Shane Warne in an age when Australia, the land of Grimmett and O’Reilly, paradoxically frowned on the concept of fielding two wrist-spinners at once. After showing they could work in tandem with 13 wickets against Pakistan at Sydney in 2005, MacGill hoped – almost pleaded – for more double-act opportunities. Playing seven matches in 2005-06, he dismantled the World XI with nine victims and accepted 16 wickets in the two-game series against Bangladesh.”
If it is of any comfort to MacGill, nine years after he laid down the red cherry, we welcome him into our team with open armsand no Warne to challenge his place in the team. MacGill may not be thrilled that ultimately it was his success in running himself out more often than most bowlers that tipped the scales in his favour, but he can be rest assured that this time around he will be Steve Waugh’s first choice spinner when the pacers have had a go.
Following MacGill in to the center will be Peter Pollock’s opening partner when our team takes the field to commence bowling. Blond, aggressive, blindingly fast and every so often staring batsmen down with his icy blue eyes, Rodney Hogg was one of Australia’s most aggressive fast bowlers. His quirkiness was exemplified by his insistence that his wife erase a videotape of his soft dismissal in a Test because he didn’t want his son thinking him a coward. That quirkiness is still amply evident today in his daily tweets that are entertaining to say the least. Needless to say, Hogg’s allure for the selectors of this team is immeasurably enhanced by his undisputed No. 1 position as the bowler who most often ran himself out while batting.
Given the ensuing confusion among the tail-enders at the crease, it will not be long before our last batsman makes his presence known to the umpires. Iqbal Qasim was one of the foremost left-arm spinners of his age. Operating alongside Abdul Qadir and often in his shadow, Qasim would go about causing destruction with his penetrative turn and flight, almost surprising batsmen with his quite angled approach between the umpire and the stumps. With a record that parallels Hogg and MacGill’s as far as running himself out is concerned, Qasim fits in well with the other exponents of this rare art.
While they don’t make it to the first XI in this instance, clearly our team will find a lot of takers eager to have a go at them in the misplaced belief that the single weakness that defines the side makes it vulnerable, so our reserves Geoffrey Boycott, Thilan Samaraweeraand Carl Hooper are likely to have their time in the sun at a later date.
Geoffrey Boycott with an average of almost 48 from 108 Tests and boasting 22 centuries against his name would normally be the first choice opener in such a team. His record of running out 13 partners while guarding his own wicket with his life also makes him a natural fit. It is only his superiority in percentage terms that pushes Abid Ali into the first XI. But Boycott’s presence ensures that Abid Ali remains on his toes and can expect to switch places with the Englishman in future tour matches.
You would not perhaps hitchhike from Kandy to Colombo to watch Thilan Samaraweera bat, but if you were a Test match aficionado and enjoywatching Rahul Dravid, then Samaraweera would be your kind of man who you would trust to bat on if your life was at stake. With an average of 49 from 81 Tests, no one can question his right to be in the squad, but it is however his record of running himself out once every eight innings that confirms his appointment as a replacement for Steve Waugh in the XI were our captain to decide that he needs a break from his rigours.
Wrapping up our squad of 14 is a man they called ‘Cool Carl’. Carl Hooper was undeniably guilty throughout his career of being inconsistent and true to his immense talent. Mike Selvey eloquently stated: “A mid-thirties average is a dereliction of duty for a batsman of his exquisite charms and ability.” Nonetheless, he cements the final slot in our team as a man who excelled in running out partners. While not in the class of someone like Border or Waugh from a run-out perspective, nor in the league of Sobers as an all-rounder, he promises to be a more than adequate replacement for many of the players on this team when they need a much deserved rest from all the running.
The Run-Out Squad
- Vijay Merchant (India)
- Rahul Dravid (India)
- Ricky Ponting (Australia)
- Allan Border (Australia)
- Steve Waugh (Australia)
- Joe Solomon (West Indies)
- Peter Pollock (South Africa)
- Affie Jarvis (Australia)
- Stuart MacGill (Australia)
- Rodney Hogg (Australia)
- Iqbal Qasim (Pakistan)
- Geoffrey Boycott (England)
- Thilan Samaraweera (Sri Lanka)
- Carl Hooper (West Indies)
Our deadly ‘Run-Out’ squad is now all padded up and ready to face all comers –Watch this space to find out what happens next as our team goes on tour!