The Joy of Six: run-outs

Michael Atherton is run out by Ian Healy on 99 at Lord’s in 1993.
Michael Atherton is run out by Ian Healy on 99 at Lord’s in 1993. Photograph: Patrick Eagar via Getty Images
Michael Atherton is run out by Ian Healy on 99 at Lord’s in 1993. Photograph: Patrick Eagar via Getty Images

We pay tribute to cricket’s most exasperating mode of dismissal, a regular source of genius, farce, controversy, tears and ‘tragedy’

Last modified on Wed 21 Feb 2018 13.42 EST

1) Ian Healy runs out Michael Atherton for 99, England v Australia, second Test, Lord’s (20 June 1993)

Of England’s eight consecutive Ashes drubbings between 1989 and 2003, that of 1993 was arguably the most humiliating. In the first Summer of Warne, Australia outclassed England in every department, in every way, all series until the soon-to-be-customary dead-rubber win in the final Test. England at the time were somewhere between transition and utter disarray, with the old guard of the previous decade (Gower, Gatting, Gooch et al) gradually making way – amid varying degrees of rancour – for a wetter-behind-the-ears new generation. England had been rudderless at the top for a while – Graham Gooch’s leadership had become tired and uninspired, however unstinting his effort and however formidable his batting presence – and were in no way equipped to turn the tide against a rampant Australia following a grim early-year tour to India, in which England were thrashed 3-0.

It was amid these ruins that the 25-year-old Michael Atherton marked himself out decisively as the coming man. Restored to the side after a promising international start that had included 151 against New Zealand in 1990 and an Ashes century at Sydney six months later, Atherton’s stock rose as almost everyone else’s fell during the sorry summer of 1993.

By the second Test at Lord’s, the vast chasm between Australia and England was already apparent. One-nil up after a thumping win at Old Trafford, the tourists’ batsmen swiftly ground Gooch’s bedraggled team into the St John’s Wood dirt, winning the toss and amassing 632 for four declared, with Michael Slater’s sparkling 152 the pick of three Aussie centuries (it should have been four, but Mark Waugh fell on 99). England’s first-innings reply was dismal, skittled by Shane Warne (four for 57) and Merv Hughes (four for 52) for 205, Atherton supplied the only sustained resistance and was eighth man out for 80.

So as England began their follow-on early on the fourth day, hopes of saving the game were minimal. Yet some resilience returned. Gooch and Atherton put on 71 for the first wicket before the captain was bamboozled by Warne. But it was Atherton, now joined by a former captain, Mike Gatting, who led the ongoing resistance. Through those long lean years of Ashes wallopings England fans relied on the small acts of defiance – the individual milestones and small, invariably temporary, obstacles thrown into the path of the Australian juggernaut – to keep themselves sane. Atherton’s steady, fluent accumulation that afternoon was compelling viewing. England passed 150 with only one wicket down and the possibility of batting out time for a draw moved from unthinkable to slim.

An untroubled Athers was heading for a richly deserved hundred, perhaps the Man of the Match award. He advanced serenely into the nineties. On 97, he worked an innocuous Allan Border delivery effortlessly down to the square-leg boundary – an easy two was certainly on, and taken. As Hughes picked to throw in front of the old grandstand, Athers – perhaps roused by the crowd’s mounting cheers – had a brainstorm and turned to scamper a third that would take him to three figures.

The rest is well known – the slip in the middle of the pitch, the easy gather behind the stumps by Ian Healy and breaking of the bails, Tony Lewis in the commentary box wailing “tragedy! tragedy!” The hundred, and the chance of saving the match, gone in a moment of madness. In truth, England did not quite collapse immediately in the time-honoured fashion after Atherton’s dismissal, grinding their way to 365 all out, but the result was never really in doubt once the new rock of their top order had removed himself so chaotically.

Atherton’s summer got better, even if England’s didn’t: he ascended to the captaincy after Gooch quit following the surrender of the series in the fourth Test at Headingley. “Run out 99”, though, somehow seems an appropriate metaphor for Atherton’s England career. The talismanic anchor and leader of a frequently shambolic side, Atherton’s role was to supply ballast and stability while everything around him crumbled, yet more often than not it was never quite enough. We will never know what type of batsman he might have been in a different team, in a different era. TD

2) AB de Villiers runs out Simon Katich, South Africa v Australia, third ODI, Port Elizabeth (5 March 2006)

AB de Villiers is human. There are two pieces of evidence for this. The first is his prog rock career. While he’s clearly a talented musician, only someone of earth, devoid of the otherworldly skills of your David Bowies or your Princes could release an album entitled Maak Jou Drome Waar (Make Your Dreams Come True) and expect to be taken seriously. The marquee track of the same name is accompanied by a flat-pack X-Factor runner-up video of pensive looks, wistful walks and, 30 seconds in, De Villiers pulling a stethoscope from his underpants.

The second piece of evidence is that, just two years into his 30s, he has displayed the sort of frustrations that hit us all: griping about his workload and bemoaning responsibility. If a midlife crisis is in the offing, then he’s already got the guitar.

A third, if you need one: he’s also going bald.

However, you don’t need Dean Strang or Sarah Koenig to prove otherwise beyond reasonable doubt that De Villiers possesses skills beyond this realm and has done unfathomable things with a cricket bat.

Of the incredible things De Villiers has done on a cricket field, nothing comes close to outing himself as his run out of Simon Katich during an ODI at Port Elizabeth in 2006. The series is best remembered for the winner-takes-all finale at Johannesburg, when Australia posted 434 for four, Jacques Kallis did a banter, Mick Lewis became a punchline and South Africa chased it down with a wicket and a ball to spare.

Back to the third ODI, and Australia are ticking over on 96 for 1. It’s the 24th over and Simon Katich, batting with Ricky Ponting, has Andrew Hall in his sights. Having taken eight off their previous encounter, Katich gets inside the line and pushes to extra cover off. A pre-keeping De Villiers (dirty blonde locks flowing) is stationed at cover. That he even thinks there is a chance of a run out here is absurd: while Katich played the shot off the back foot, the call and response from Ponting at the nonstriker’s end is instant and De Villiers has to run away from the cut strip to intercept the ball. When he has the ball in his hand, he is diving forward, taking it on the bounce, with Katich just about halfway down the pitch. What De Villiers does next defies the laws of physics (ours that is – maybe not his).

Somehow, while diving after collecting the ball, he manages to roll onto the small of his back and throw right-handed across his chest, while using his left forearm for a split-second of stability. Because of the follow-through of his arm upon release, the ball curves out of his hand, continuing off the lush green of the closest untouched pitch. By the time the one off-side stump is struck, De Villiers is upright.

Graeme Smith, backing up the throw, loses himself. Ponting watched the whole thing unfold, turned around at the other end before being barged out of the way by a jubilant Mark Boucher. Katich, bemused and out of shot in the third umpire’s replay, keeps running off, past Andrew Hall who has dived barrel-chest first into the footmarks to back-up the throw.

De Villiers just gets up. VE

3) Geoff Boycott runs out Derek Randall, England v Australia, third Test, Trent Bridge (29 July 1977)

Geoffrey Boycott has been called many things: a man to unite a crowd or one beset by self-doubt have rarely been two of them. It would take a unique personality to alter, even momentarily, not just his public image but his very psyche; a real character, if you will.

For many a cynical cricket fan, describing someone as a “character” is an act of derision. It is a sneer used to mock someone whose idiosyncrasies – we irrationally believe – outweigh their actual ability as a cricketer. Think Graeme Swann and his “sprinkler dance”, or even the opinionated Boycott himself. Derek Randall surely does not fall into this bracket but English cricket has had few characters so idiosyncratic and almost certainly none so personable.

In 1977, playing in only his third match, Randall made what might well be the only Test century scored at the MCG that you could describe as “jaunty”. After England were bowled out for 95 in the first innings of the Centenary Test and with his side needing a monstrous 463 to win, he made 174 – the highest score of the match by a distance – as they fell just short. Perhaps this is apocryphal, but he apparently did so while singing “The Sun Has Got His Hat On” to himself and at one point doffed his cap to Dennis Lillee after being struck by a vicious bouncer. Sure, England lost by 45 runs, but the Australians were bemused and the away fans charmed by the Retford-born batsman.

Three months on, the Ashes were on the line at Trent Bridge. The third Test was A Crucial One for Randall; the hugely popular local hero – he hit 52 first-class hundreds in all for Nottinghamshire – had made fifties in each of the previous two Tests as England took a 1-0 lead, but he admitted afterwards to feeling nervous about playing in front of his home crowd for the first time in international cricket.

Not that the pre-match headlines made much mention of him at all. All the talk was of a returnee to the England side: Boycott, ending a three-year absence that had been the result of – you’ll be wholly unsurprised to hear – a falling out with the team management.

In the first innings of the match, a young debutant called Ian Botham ran through the bottom half of the Australia batting line up to ensure the tourists made a modest 243. England wobbled in response though, losing Mike Brearley and Bob Woolmer in quick succession early on day two, bringing Boycott and Randall together with the score at 34 for two, to the palpable excitement of the crowd.

Eighteen runs later, Boycott was overcome by either idiocy or bloody-mindedness. He rocked on to the back foot to a Jeff Thomson delivery just short of a length and pushed it a couple of feet to the bowler’s right, in the direction of Randall. The non-striker shuffled across to ensure he wasn’t blocking Thomson’s – rather short – path to the ball, and looked up to see Boycott almost at his end despite the palpable lack of an available run. By the time Randall set off, the ball was in Thommo’s hands and, long, long before he could reach the other end, Rod Marsh had the bails off.

Nearly in tears, Randall kept running back to the pavilion, while Boycott held his head in his hands, by his own admission distraught by what he had done. The crowd fell silent for the rest of his innings and he barely played a shot for the remainder of the first two sessions. The following morning, Boycott made his way to the ground seeing signs offering sympathy to Randall. Only when joined by Alan Knott batting at No7 did the Yorkshireman play any shots; nonetheless, he battled his way to what would be a crucial 107 before succumbing to Thomson and walked off, by all accounts, to reluctant applause.

England made 364 thanks to centuries from Boycott and Knott; an ultimately match-winning first-innings lead of 121. One of Boycott’s opening counterparts, Rick McCosker, then made 107 of his own at a near-identical rate to help Australia set their hosts a tricky, but hardly daunting, 189 to win.

Boycott and Brearley nearly won it themselves with an opening stand of 154. Fate then combined with Max Walker, who took three wickets as England added just four runs, to bring Randall to partner the demonised Boycott once more. This time though disaster was averted: Geoffrey trudged his way to a belligerent 80 from 231 balls, before leaving it to Randall to hit the winning runs, taking his side 2-0 up in the Ashes in front of a crowd that probably could not decide whether to be delighted or relieved. DL

4) Vinoo Mankad runs out Bill Brown, Australia v India second Test, Sydney (13 December 1947)

Vinoo Mankad was an exceptional all-rounder, taking 162 wickets and scoring 2,109 runs in 44 Tests at a time when India weren’t a particularly relevant force in international cricket. Of those 44 Tests, India won only five, but one of them, their first victory over England in 1952, was largely down to his left arm spin, taking 12 for 108 in the match. And yet he is almost solely known for lending his name to a form of run-out that irks and outrages the easily irked and outraged to this very day.

Early in India’s 1947-48 tour to Australia, Mankad was bowling in a warm-up game against an Australian XI in which the Test opener Bill Brown was playing. As his team chased a target of 251, Brown – while at the non-striker’s end – took to wandering out of his crease extensively in search of extra runs, presumably safe in the knowledge that it would be awfully unsporting for someone to run him out, despite being warned by Mankad twice that’s exactly what he’d do. But carry on Brown did, and as promised Mankad ran him out, whipping the bails off just before entering his delivery stride. Mankad took eight for 84, India won by 47 runs, a precedent was set.

So when the second Test match came around in Sydney a month later, you might have thought Brown would have learned his lesson but you would have thought wrongly. Once again Brown backed up too far (four feet up the pitch, apparently), once again Mankad stopped before delivering the ball and removed the bails, and once again the umpire raised his finger.

At the time, the reaction to this undoubtedly unusual act was mixed. There was some chuntering and dissatisfaction about the supposed lack of sportsmanship from the members, and some of the press wagged their fingers, but the condemnation was by no means universal. The Melbourne Sporting Globe noted that Brown had “only himself to blame … Any suggestions that Mankad took an unfair advantage of Brown are ridiculous. Brown is an experienced player and deserved all he got”, while the portentously-named Truth newspaper questioned his place in the team.

Even the letter writers of the general public, a constituency often prone to wailing and the wringing of hands, didn’t seem that cross, as correspondents to the Sydney Morning Herald compared Brown to a careless schoolboy, and one even chastised Mankad for being “too generous in this matter” by giving his opponent a warning.

And even the Australian players accepted the wicket. Brown, while initially disgruntled, later admitted he was careless, while Don Bradman wrote in his autobiography: “The laws of cricket make it quite clear that the non-striker must keep within his ground until the ball has been delivered. If not, why is the provision there which enables the bowler to run him out? Mankad was scrupulously fair that he first of all warned Brown before taking any action. There was absolutely no feeling in the matter as far as we were concerned, for we considered it quite a legitimate part of the game.”

And yet, ‘Mankading’ has caused ructions in the years since. Kapil Dev inspired outrage when he ran out Peter Kirsten in 1992, Ewen Chatfield suffered the sharp end of Ian Botham’s tongue for doing so to Derek Randall in 1978 (Botham ran Geoff Boycott out on the same tour), and in 2014 Alastair Cook accused Sachithra Senanayake of “crossing a line” when he Mankaded Jos Buttler (again, after warning him) at Old Trafford in a one-day international. Buttler should probably have been more prepared than most, as he had witnessed Somerset colleague Alex Barrow being Mankaded by Murali Kartik in a county game earlier in the year.

It remains a perceived sin, a perfectly legal method of dismissal considered an affront to the supposed gentleman’s way of playing the game, but really it might be the best example of what a thoroughly overwrought concept the “spirit of cricket” is. If the bloke it first happened to nearly 60 years ago could get over it pretty quickly, perhaps we should all relax a bit about it now.

As a postscript, Brown was actually run out again by Mankad later on in the tour during the fifth Test at Melbourne when he was on 99, this time in a more conventional manner. The next time Brown picked up his bat, he found Lindsay Hassett had inscribed a message on it which read: “Please keep me in the crease until the ball is bowled.” NM

Vinoo Mankad before a match on the All-India Tour of England in the year 1946.
Vinoo Mankad before a match on the All-India Tour of England in the year 1946. Photograph: Colorsport/Corbis

5) Phil Tufnell runs nobody out, Benson & Hedges World Series, Australia v England, Sydney (1 January 1991)

If you’d taken even a passing interest in Australian one-day international cricket summers of the late 1980s and early 90s, there’s a fair chance you maintain an image in your head of the canary-yellow Australians in the field. Allan Border is probably patrolling the inner fielding ring like a drill sergeant – flapping his arms about and barking orders, pointing aggressively to reposition outfielders and, most evocatively, swooping on any quick single a batsman dare take on the home captain’s arm and shattering the stumps from side-on. You took on AB at your peril.

So after the dog days of the mid-80s, here was a burgeoning type of Australian cricket; increasingly dynamic and skilful but grim-faced and parsimonious. The Australians were also human, so they did misfield on occasion, but Bob Simpson’s maniacal adherence to punishing training routines was already paying dividends. Their fielding gave them an edge. Most catches stuck. Throws at the stumps actually hit. Border’s men stood under caps no different to baggy greens except for their colour and played accordingly.

In the 1990-91 Benson and Hedges World Series Cup, the touring Englishmen wore baseball caps. This could be taken any number of ways but one thing is certain: not many among their squad would have lasted out an innings in the outfield of a Major League game. The most slapdash efforts were those of young Philip Clive Roderick Tufnell, the left-arm spinner who bumbled his way around like a discarded member of the Happy Mondays’ touring entourage and fielded how you’d imagine Bez might at the end of a particularly rough night.

Tufnell’s back catalogue of fielding indiscretions has been well excavated by now but the best in my eyes – and I did rewind and replay my VHS copy of it until the tape was almost worn out – was his effort that summer to give Steve Waugh one of the most comical run-out let-offs you’ll ever see.

It’s majestic, really. Eddie Hemmings pounces on Mark Waugh’s late cut and, seeing brother Steve out of his ground, floats about the most perfect relay throw imaginable over the stumps in order for Tufnell to take the bails. Look at it again. Hemmings could fire that one in another hundred times and never do it better or make Tufnell’s job easier. Hemmings assesses the situation in real time and executes his task perfectly. Waugh is three-quarters of the way up the pitch and stranded. He stops. He’s given up and so he should. But actually, he shouldn’t, because this is Philip Clive Roderick Tufnell, whose hard hands and shambolic technique see him not only drop the throw but send it bouncing metres away from the bails at pace.

How do you even do that? How perfect is it that his desperate follow-up throw fails to hit the timber that counts but instead crashes into the willow of Waugh’s bat as he scurries home? Why is Tufnell wearing blue zinc on his face? There’s more questions than answers here, so I’ve always just contented myself with replaying it over and over again and smiling. Tony Greig is right; Tufnell just “got so excited”. As do I, every time I watch it. RJ

6) Roger Harper runs out Graham Gooch, MCC v Rest of the World, Lord’s (20 August 1987)

Few things in sport are as strikingly futuristic as great fielding. That applies even more to some run-outs. The best, like AB de Villiers above or Jonty Rhodes’s short-haul flight against Pakistan in 1992, instantly broaden our understanding of the athletic and imaginative capabilities of mankind. Or, to put it another way, did that just happen?

Another such moment came at Lord’s in 1987. The MCC Bicentenary match was a celebration of the past, with a defining moment that came from the distant future. Roger Harper’s eye-widening run-out of Graham Gooch was like nothing we had ever seen before – and did not see in a high-profile match for another 28 years, until Dwayne Bravo did something similar.

The Bicentenary match was a high-scoring draw, full of gin-flavoured longeurs. The teams were comprised of the great and very good of world cricket; in 1987, that meant only one Australian. There were six West Indians, including Harper, a bionic genius in the field, an underrated offspinner and a lively lower-order biffer.

The game was taken fairly seriously by 21 players, and extremely seriously by one. Gooch knew that a place in that winter’s World Cup was probably contingent on him making a big score. He had missed the previous winter’s Ashes tour because his wife was giving birth to twins, and could not get his Test place back after starting the 1987 season diabolically, with a run of six ducks in 11 innings for Essex. The match gave him a chance to impress, which he did with an emphatic 117. He would have fancied another daddy hundred; moments later he was on his knees.

Gooch came down the track to drive the spinner, something he had done thousands of times in his career. Before he had finished overbalancing towards the off side, Harper had stopped the drive and, in one movement, thrown the ball whence it came. “I tried to dive in front of the ball,” said Gooch, “but I wasn’t even quick enough to do that.” It went between his outstretched bat and his body to hit the stumps. We know an off-spinner likes to do batsmen through the gate, but this was ridiculous.

Harper showed the reflexes of a mongoose, the lithe grace of a leopard – and the attitude of a feral guard dog, reacting as if Gooch was trespassing by leaving his crease. Then he launched into one of the angrier high fives ever seen at Lord’s. It was stunning in the truest sense of the word. The non-striker Mike Gatting followed the ball from Gooch to Harper and then back towards the stumps, before instinctively stealing a glance at Harper with the facial expression of a man who’s just been told that two plus two is definitely seven.

There was no reference point for such a moment, no way of understanding what he or we had just seen. Even the BBC commentator Ray Illingworth, who loved the past almost as much as Fred Trueman, said “you won’t see a better piece of fielding than that … ever I don’t think”. For so many of the crowd, it was the kind of moment that makes you say: “I was there, and I might have seen it but for that pesky postprandial nap.”

In the IPL age Harper might be worth a million dollars. In 1987 he wasn’t even worth £2,000. That was the amount given to the fielder of the match, selected by Denis Compton and Gubby Allen. They chose Clive Rice for two admittedly brilliant catches.

Few remember Rice’s fielding contribution. Everyone remembers Harper’s run out – or at least they think they do, such is YouTube’s capacity to trick the subconscious. Many probably saw it for the first time on the BBC video A Century of Wickets (and the second time, and the third, all the way up to the 478th time until the video was chewed up, like all the other porn).

As with all things digital, YouTube is a mixed blessing: it can shatter sacred recollections of childhood by showing that we have embellished moments of great sport in our own mind. Harper’s run-out is a rare example of something that looks as awesome on the video as it did in the mind’s eye. RS

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