Rory Burns is a cricketer

“If you can’t be a cricketer, at least look like one” was what my father — and coach — would say at least once every training session. It…

“If you can’t be a cricketer, at least look like one” was what my father — and coach — would say at least once every training session. It wasn’t always to me, but he said it so often and so aggressively that it felt aimed at everyone on the ground. Those with our shirts untucked, put them in, baseball caps turned the right way, and collars straightened.

I get the sentiment, it was about respecting the game and taking it seriously, but I think the knock-on effect for me affected my performance. I started looking towards the perfect match because I didn’t want to take a wicket with an ordinary ball. It had to be a perfectly placed ripping leggie or a non-picked wrong’ un. My runs had to be smoked boundaries that showed I was on top of the opposition.

The weird thing about all this is my footwork as a kid was non-existent, and my bowling action was stiff and not always fit for purpose. Yet, here I was, trying to look like a cricketer, and rarely being one.

When I made runs after being dropped, I found it hard to accept my innings. If the ball didn’t come out of the middle, or the bowling was weak, I downgraded the results. In a poor season of batting I blocked the ball for two hours one day, barely got it off the square, it was a crucial innings for the team, and yet I didn’t like or rate it. I made runs, but not the way I wanted too.

My first wicket haul included one lucky bowled. The batsmen had come down the wicket to hit me over mid-off, but my leggie didn’t turn, and he played for what he imagined I had done and was gone. Everyone thought it was a great work to deceive him, but I knew I’d tried to spin it and it’d gone wrong. That is the wicket I focus on the most from that spell, the accidental straight one that started it. Which is ridiculous, as the greatest spinners in history have received many wickets from unintentional straight balls, and yet somehow this wasn’t good enough for me, but it was for Shane Warne.

This feeling has only ever been insular, watching batsmen grind or bowlers dig a trench I find huge amounts of respect for them. Maybe I like them more because I internalise it and think I could never do that. As many people in cricket have told me before that “It’s now how, but how many”.

Rory Burns made how many today. And there was a time when I think I would have been in awe of a player making runs when he’s quite clearly struggling. Maybe I couldn’t do the whole make the most of your luck thing, but it’s what I was taught. And that is what Burns did. He should have been out LBW, but the umpire disagreed, and Australia didn’t refer it. And the rest of the time was him edging the ball or missing it. That’s a good lad, tough it out.

If you can’t look like a cricketer, then at least make some fucken runs.

But now I’m a team analyst for hire, and I think about these things differently. Today Rory Burns had over 60 balls where he was not in control. Now in some ways not in control is a bit of a junk stat, like unforced errors in Tennis. What is your ‘not in control’ may not be my ‘not in control’. But the one truth in that is that if the ball’s not going where the batsman wants it to go constantly, that batsman is usually fucked. And that was certainly the case with Burns today.

If it was over 60 times, in Test cricket a batsman is dismissed once for every 12 occasions he was not in control. That means Burns was over five times luckier than a regular batsman. Five times. FIVE TIMES.

There’s much to like about Burns. Anyone who makes the highest level of a game with a technique cobbled together from bits of chewing gum from train seats is something special. Getting past the coaches, experts and former players who think only players with pretty techniques who have plenty of time should be chosen is difficult. Near on impossible at times. So respect the hustle, work, doggedness and ability to back yourself it takes to be this unorthodox and still make it to the top.

As for this innings, I also want to add that it takes a tough player to continue to work and survive when you know you’re close to a 50/50 shot of getting within eight inches of the next ball. That innings separates an amateur with talent from a top-level professional. It is your job to make runs, then you make runs, by any means.

And openers are better than anyone at making runs when they shouldn’t. The new ball is a dangerous motherfucker, and it will slap you in the cock, shit in your helmet and take your pocket money. To survive you have to work out how to make runs in an apocalypse. Openers do edge more, play and miss more and struggle more. The soft hands, the quick singles from jammed inside edges, it’s part of their DNA. Burns is more opener than man. But even allowing for the opening skills he has, the near cockroach in a Nuclear hellscape he can be, this was a startlingly lucky innings.

This knock was like putting your hand in a barrel of venomous snakes and routinely finding a ten pound note without being bitten.

This innings was about as bad as you can bat consistently without getting out. I’m not sure Burns, or any batsman, could ever play an innings like this again and make over 40 runs. In his 90s he had a third man, not because he’d been steering the ball there with ease, because he was still edging. It just never looked like his day, all day.

So I am at once full of admiration for his ability to continue to guts it out and almost appalled at the fact his innings continued to be this lucky.

At this stage in my life, I’m positive it’s not essential to look like a cricketer. But I’m also not as sure it’s always how many either. There’s more nuance there; more we can learn, other things that tell a truer story, more to discover. But having been around cricket for a long time I know that most cricketers don’t share this kind of thinking, a bloke makes a hundred, and they say well done.

Or as my father also used to say, “check the scorebook”.

RJ BURNS, 125*