How many have you seen? The question prompts thoughts of childhood moments in the school playground looking at a friend’s stack of football stickers whilst metronomically saying “Got, got, need, need, got…..” Cricket does not possess such a sticker book heritage but still remains a sport in which one can maintain any number of collections. One such compendium that could be compiled is of the bizarre instances that are intrinsic to the sport. For cricket is a game where oddities, noteworthy moments and peculiarities are part of the beauty and rich tapestry of the sport at large. Thus, like either watching or actually achieving a hole-in-one in golf, one could easily compile a check list of rare occurrences that have either been seen or need to be seen.
The egg and bacon types at Lord’s witnessed a bona fide rarity a couple of summers previous when Ben Stokes attempted his best Gordon Banks impression. The Australian fielders believed otherwise though and appealed to the umpires who duly dismissed the Durham allrounder. The only real issue was whether Stokes was out ‘handled the ball’ or ‘obstructing the field,’ the latter winning that particular contest. Twelve months prior to Stokes’ application for entry into Wisden’s Index of Unusual Occurrences Jos Buttler achieved his own noteworthy moment courtesy of being mankaded by Sri Lanka’s Sachithra Senanayake. On an overcast Midlands afternoon and with England dawdling to a mediocre total the moment provoked much consternation. Somewhat disappointingly, the dismissal is recorded for posterity in Wisden, and other literal and virtual repositories, simply as a run out. Nevertheless, it provided an ‘I was there’ moment for Birmingham’s cricket cognoscenti.
All of which perhaps highlights a salient point regarding these vignettes of rarity. Watching a bizarre moment isn’t quite as collectable as seeing it live at the ground. There’s something more memorable when experiencing those few moments of confusion as to what has happened before word begins to circle around the spectators regarding reality. Such an occurrence took place amid the beautiful surrounds of the Arundel Castle Cricket Ground a few summers previous when Sussex wicket-keeper Ben Brown erroneously failed to collect a delivery from fast bowler Steve Magoffin, the ball caroming off of the lush sward and cannoning into the navy helmet located behind the gloveman. For a few moments the natural rhythm of the day ephemerally terminates as all playing and watching process the series of events that have just taken place. One instantly ponders whether the umpires have spotted the intervention of the helmet and, post a few seconds of cogitation, the umpire at the bowler’s end crosses his chest with his right arm and taps his shoulder twice to confirm the offence. Magoffin looked particularly unamused even though his figures would not be affected. Those watching guffaw gently at such an amusing occurrence.
Conceding penalty runs can also prove just as hazardous in the limited overs format of the game. During the same summer Hampshire were engaged in a tense chase against Essex during a T20 contest at the Ageas Bowl when the visitors were penalised six runs, in the form of increasing Hampshire’s score, for a slow over rate, much to the delight of the boisterous Friday evening crowd. Such an award proves to be the most memorable moment of that particular trip to Hampshire’s headquarters.
Indeed, a number of the rare occurrences generate moments of great amusement to those in attendance. Of particular delight is the overthrow, an error normally accompanied by raucous cheers at the bonus runs gifted to the batsmen. But how delightful to experience overthrows that lead to the rare totals of five runs and seven runs. Or how intriguing to see a scorecard detailing such an anomaly, particularly if one hasn’t attended the match in question. Either instance provokes a certain though process: was it a two and three over throws, or the other way round? Or even a single and an overthrown boundary? (The instance most likely to achieve the highest guffaw rating) There’s no doubting a seven though; surely no player is bad enough to surrender a maximum from an overthrow?!
Runs taken away can prove just as amusing as extra runs offered as charity, although the former at least affords the guilty some anonymity as they do not appear on a scorecard. Nevertheless, the sight of an umpire touching his right shoulder with his fingers to signal ‘one short’ still provoked a modicum of banter from the Berkshire players toward their Lincolnshire equivalent during the second morning of the Minor Counties Championship final last August.
Amusement can quickly lead to bemusement and such a state enveloped a contest in which I was playing a few years past. No more than a lowly Hampshire League game at the eccentric, quirky surrounds of Swan Green in the New Forest, said contest was gambolling along when a herd a cows appeared from the copse of trees behind one end of the undulating playing surface and proceeded to stage a bovine sit-in. The pitch invasion didn’t quite muster the enthusiasm of the defecating dog during the test match between India and England at Visakhapatnam last winter but still memorable and unexpected nonetheless.
So what remains on the list? Despite watching a litany of matches over many a summer no batsman has yet to hit his wicket whilst I have been in attendance. Such a dismissal is rare but there is a slowly growing instances in T20 matches where batsmen clatter there stumps with an attempted swipe whilst retreating into their crease and backing away to the leg-side. There are also the small matters of ‘hit the ball twice,’ ‘handled the ball,’ (think Graham Gooch during the 1993 Ashes series) ‘timed out’ and ‘retired out,’ the former very much as rare as hen’s teeth with the latter only likely in warm-up matches. The proliferation of T20 matches each summer offers the potential for seeing a batsman timed out though. One hopes that, across a long summer of cricket spectating, that one or two more can be ticked off the list.