Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Perfect Game

Time for some baseball.

Fantasy Bob has hugely enjoyed baseball on his visits to the USA. The gum-chewing, seed-spitting, crotch-hitching clamour of it is a cultural phenomenon.  FB is sure that as a game it is inferior game to cricket in every respect, except perhaps statistics or more correctly things to have statistics about.

On 3 June 1932 Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees hit 4 home runs. Gehrig is one of baseball's greats, he holds the record for consecutive games played (2130 - there were allegations that to extend the record management would cancel the game if he was injured). He also holds the record for the number of grand slams hit - 23.  If you don't know what a grand slam is, FB will elucidate further below. Gehrig's life however ended in tragedy as he died at the age of 38 from a form of what Europeans know as motor neurone disease, a condition which still bears his name in the US.

In the same game Gehrig's team mate Tony Lazzeri hit for the natural cycle (hitting a single, double, triple and home run in sequence). Lazzeri is one of only 14 major league baseball players to hit for the natural cycle and the only player to complete a natural cycle with a grand slam, which he did in this game. The grand slam is when the batter not only hits a home run himself but does so when all the bases are loaded bringing 3 other runs to the team.

As baseball players go these guys were Test Match Quality.  With other legends Babe Ruth and Bob Meusel, they formed part of what was called Murderer's Row, the Yankees celebrated batting line up of the 1930s.  It was the Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman of its day and the name could equally have been applied to them in the recently passed golden years.

Natural cycle, grand slam - these are great terms. While grand slams are quite regular, natural cycles are statistically very rare. Another rare feat is that of the perfect game - a game in which a pitcher (or combination of pitchers) pitches a victory in which no opposing player reaches base. This feat has been achieved only 21 times in the history of major league baseball, most recently by Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox on April 21, 2012. To add to the gum chewing romance, a perfect game is, by necessity, both a no-hitter and a shutout.

FB found himself wondering what a natural cycle could be in cricket. A batsman could not score 1,2,3,4,5,6 off successive balls in an over, because after ball 1 he would find himself at the wrong end. 2 batsmen could do it. Or a batsman could score in sequence off balls he faced which if there was no other scoring would take him all or part of 4 overs. Has this ever been done? Who knows? Is it worth finding out? Probably not since such a feat would be unlikely to have any impact on the game's outcome. But cricket could have a new concept of the full natural cycle in which 1,2,3,4,5,6 were scored followed by the sequence in reverse. Put 0 at each end and there is something of real beauty.

But if the natural cycle is of limited interest in cricket, then the grand slam is not. The equivalent - scoring the maximum available by the rules of the game from any one hit is scoring a 6 - but that is too mundane and all too common. Scoring the maximum available off an over is however less common and deservedly could be called the Grand Slam. These are very rare:
Taking the definition straight from baseball, a perfect game in which a bowler ends up with 10 for 0 off 10 deliveries would require a wicketless maiden to be bowled at the other end.  No bowler has ever taken 10 for 0.  The best Test return is Jim Laker's 10-53 against Australia in 1956.  The best ever First Class return is 10-10 by Hedley Verity for Yorkshire against Notts at Leeds.  By some coincidence this was achieved in the same year that Gehrig and Lazzeri were doing their stuff above.  1932.  Some year.

Does this mean that the concept of the perfect game is impossible in cricket?  Not at all, says Fantasy Bob.  What these baseball fans do not realise is that cricket is by definition the perfect game.


  1. For a bowler to take 10-0 from 10 deliveries it would require a wicketless over at the other end but perhaps not a maiden. Apologies for pedantry (not sure Private Eye would take this as an entry though) aimed at such an excellent blog!
    Tom Clarke

    1. Tom - FB always welcomes pedantry and practices the relevant skills hard himself. You may be right, but the perfect game wouldn't be quite perfect if there was a run scored. A yet more pedantic pedant might suggest that the dismissal of the side could be accomplished in one over if there were four no balls off which batsmen were run out or wides off which they were stumped - but then the team would not be out for zero either. So its true definition remains subject to discussion. Confirmation perhaps that cricket to be a more complex and subtle game than baseball.