The magic of getting all ten
One bowler taking all ten wickets in an innings is a rare event. I've never seen it happen at any level - not in a match I've been playing in, nor watching, whether spectating from the stands or following it live on television.
Writing in 10 for 10 - Hedley Verity and the Story of Cricket's Greatest Bowling Feat, a gem of an account recalling the momentous game, author Chris Waters delights in figures "so flawless, so symmetrically stunning", and describes a performance that "has an air of amazement that glows to this day".
Speaking to the press about his first ten-wicket haul in a single innings, when he took 10 for 36 against Warwickshire at Headingley a year earlier, Verity acknowledged the degree of luck required for a lone bowler to dismiss an entire team: "It was one of those rare days when everything is set right for the bowler at one end, but not for the man at the other end."
Waters notes that offspinner George Macaulay, who bowled in both of Verity's ten-for games, was heard to mutter to a team-mate during the Nottinghamshire record, "If he's good enough to get nine, let him earn the tenth. I shall get it if I can."
Verity was good enough to earn that tenth, and with it a place in the pantheon of cricket icons, along with those other player-heroes who perished in the two World Wars.
Yorkshire's Macaulay wasn't quite as generous as Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas, who bowled outside off stump so Muttiah Muralitharan could try to pick up his tenth wicket against Zimbabwe in Kandy in 2001-02. The hapless tourists had made 234 for 9 at the close of play on the first day, and Murali went to bed that night with Jim Laker's Test record of 10 for 53 in his sights. Alas, the fairy tale was firmly grounded the next morning, first by Russel Arnold, who grassed a bat-pad chance, and then by umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan, who turned down an lbw appeal against Travis Friend. Despite Vaas' efforts to gift that final wicket to his pal, Henry Olonga threw a bat at a wide one and Kumar Sangakkara pouched the edge. Yet the ever-noble Murali was magnanimous about his team-mates' fielding, and after the game he was optimistic about another chance to dismiss a side all by himself. "It depends on how my bowling goes, but getting [all] ten wickets is still achievable."
No, he never did. And yes, nine wickets is truly spectacular, but I wonder whether Murali, in his retirement, still thinks about bagging that tenth. Or is the need to achieve the ten-wicket feat by fair means more important than a number?
Interviewed by Richie Benaud for a "career retrospective", Richard Hadlee recalled his 9 for 52 versus Australia at the Gabba in 1985-86. After he had demolished the first eight of the Australian line-up, Vaughan Brown floated one up to Geoff Lawson, who skied it towards Hadlee at midwicket. "Some people said to me, 'Why didn't you drop it?' I said, 'The game of cricket's not like that. You take every chance that you can.'"
Hadlee took the catch, Brown took his maiden Test wicket, and all ten scalps to one name in a single innings was again thwarted.
The full ten has to be earned, not only by great bowling but by good fortune too - or bad luck, if you're the dud bowler in that deadly attack.
I've played in one nine-fer game, back in the early nineties, during the summer I was picked to open the bowling for Leicestershire Schools. It was a gusty day, and I remember fighting my way through a run-up into a stiff wind - note how I'm setting up my excuses early - while at the other end a gangly inswing bowler, who possessed a lethal legcutter, seemed to sail on the breeze into the crease. And into the stumps. I can't remember how far he got into the ten before someone grabbed that one wicket to spoil his day, but it did seem that a spell had been cast by the gods of cricket, or wind. I must confess it would have been a more joyous episode for me to be part of had I not been battling for my place in the side.
A performance I can take unfettered joy in is Big Devon Malcolm's 9 for 57 against South Africa at The Oval in 1994 - the best return I've witnessed by an England player. He got to seven before Darren Gough crashed the party and denied him the whole team.
I've met Devon a couple of times, and for a man who put the fear of death into batsmen, he's about the loveliest fast bowler you'd wish to meet - off the pitch, at least. The Oval fireworks are the subject of his stock after-dinner speech, and although we know the script, and wait for that "You guys are history" line, we listen, revelling in the remarkable spell, along with Devon, who is still as enthralled by his performance as the audience. Although, I do wonder if he dreams of Graham Thorpe dropping Daryll Cullinan, and getting his name on that second-innings scorecard ten times.