Marnus Labuschagne lived an incredibly charmed life in the first innings of the Adelaide Test recently. He was dropped at least thrice (four if you count a very tough chance missed by Ben Stokes in the 51st over of Australia's innings) on his way to 103.
This wasn't the first time Labuschagne was reprieved thrice in an innings. In his short Test career, Labuschagne has been at the receiving end of such good fortune on one other occasion. In the Ashes Test at Headingley in 2019, Labuschagne was reprieved three times on his way to 80 in Australia's second innings. In two other innings, he has been let off twice.
Which made us wonder if he was indeed the luckiest batter going around in Test cricket.
A batter could get lucky in many ways in cricket. However, in this piece - which is more of a chronicle than any sort of analysis - we look at only dropped catches and missed stumpings in Test cricket since Labuschagne's debut.
ESPNcricinfo classifies drops into three categories - regulation chances, tough chances, and half-chances, in increasing order of difficulty. Half-chances are the ones where, for example, a catch goes through a vacant second slip that was recently removed. Or when a ball falls short of a fielder from a skied shot, with reasonable expectations of athleticism from them. These chances may not be held against the fielder, but are instructive of how many chances a batter gives in an innings. Similarly, missed stumpings are also classified into three categories depending on how difficult they were to execute. Obviously, some amount of subjectivity is involved in recording such events, but they are almost never individual calls and comply with the general opinion. In this exercise we have ignored the half-chances, and only considered the other two categories.
Data since Labuschagne's Test debut, in October 2018, suggests that he has indeed been dropped most often in Test cricket in this period. There are 16 instances of him being dropped (or not stumped). He has been caught or stumped 25 times. So, of the 41 times he has offered chances to the fielding team, only 61% have been taken. He has been lucky the other 39% times. Among batters who have offered at least 20 such chances since his debut, only Mushfiqur Rahim has a higher reprieve rate. Mushfiqur has offered 22 chances of which only 12 have been taken, for a reprieve of 45.45%. Abid Ali, R Ashwin and Usman Khawaja make up the top five.
It's popularly held in cricket that batters who are not in form don't get lucky too often. It can't be truer in Virat Kohli's case. Kohli finds himself among the bottom five of the unluckiest batters. Kohli has offered 33 chances during this period and has been reprieved only three times. David Warner is at the bottom of this list with just two reprieves out of the 23 catches he has offered. KL Rahul is also in the bottom five. Kraigg Brathwaite and Dinesh Chandimal complete the list.
Getting lucky is one thing and making use of whatever luck comes your way quite another. Warner may have got only two chances, but he has made use of them like few others have. He offered a very tough chance to short leg that was spilt when he was on 48 in the first innings of the 2019 Gabba Test against Pakistan. He went on to score 154. Whatever luck that has come Warner's way seems to have come at the Gabba, for that's where he got his other chance too. Rory Burns dropped him in the slips in the recent Ashes Test off the bowling of Ollie Robinson. Warner was on 49 then, and went on to score 94.
Among 48 batters who have had at least five chances missed off them in this period, Tom Latham has cashed in the most. On an average, Latham has added 68.8 runs after the reprieves. This is calculated by averaging out the runs added by the batter after the reprieve until the end of the innings or the next reprieve. Since a batter could be reprieved quite close to the end of a team's innings, thus limiting the extent to which they can make use of the opportunity, this average is just instructive of how the batters have done on such occasions. Dhananjaya de Silva, Babar Azam, Khawaja and Mayank Agarwal are the others in the top five.
The bottom of this list has a few bowlers, but at 46th place (out of 48) is Haseeb Hameed, whose additions are 3, 17, 8, 4 and 0 (each in different innings). Marcus Harris is the next batter, ranked 41st, with an average addition of 10.8 runs. Steven Smith has also not made his five reprieves count - scoring only 62 runs for an average addition of 12.4 runs. For Smith, four of these five chances were after the 2019 Ashes. Not surprising, since Smith has not even been half the batter he was in the five-year period until that Ashes series. Imam-ul-Haq, with an average addition of 15.8 runs in six innings, completes the bottom five among proper batters.
We can only speculate about how these batters would have done if they had not been reprieved at all (and, of course, assuming hypothetically that they got no other chances in the innings before these reprieves). Who would have lost out the most? Or conversely, who would have gained the most?
Turns out, the biggest gainer in terms of absolute runs added is Labuschagne, who has got 567 of his 2220 Test runs (25.54%) after the chances in nine different innings.
So, in an alternate universe, Labuschagne is averaging 42.4 instead of 56.9, and has three fewer centuries and four fewer fifties.
At No. 5 in this list is Khawaja, who made 419 of his 916 Test runs in this period after being reprieved in eight of his innings. That's 45.74% of the runs he has now ended up scoring since October 2018.
In contrast to these batters, is Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane has been reprieved in more innings (as against most times) than anyone else during this period. He got at least a second chance in 15 of his 53 innings but could score only 274 additional runs. Less than half of what Labuschagne managed from less than two-thirds of Rahane's count of innings. As the cliché goes, you make your own luck.
Graphics by Girish TS