Almanac Cricket: ‘Why does he need a runner?’



“Oh, no, he’s got a runner,” I mutter to my umpiring partner, Peter Davidson.


The stocky Indian batsman’s steady, assured walk to the wicket at King George VI’s Memorial Reserve, East Bentleigh, gives no hint that he may labour over 22 yards (20.12 metres) whenever he takes a run.


“Why does he need a runner?” I quietly ask the fielding captain, who will have approved this favour.


The official qualification for a runner to be provided is that the batsman’s incapacitation should have occurred in the match while play is under way. But the great game gives umpires discretion and the captain’s reply, “He’s only got one leg,” is beyond convincing.


So, Karthik Balachandar, No.5 on his East Bentleigh Central team’s list, will be batting this day with no questions asked, apart from mine.


That he is even playing in last Saturday’s South-East Cricket Association round 7 match is testament to his courage.


It was March 28, 2009, that Karthik, a production manager at L&L Products Dandenong factory, stood on a platform looking down at the spinning barrels of the carding machine below him.


How could he know that decades of metal fatigue were about to climax in the platform’s collapse, pitching the migrant from Chennai, India, into the bowels of the machine.


His right leg was wedged between spinning metal barrels which ‘card’ wool in its raw state.   (The carding process disentangles, cleans and intermixes fibres to produce a continuous web or sliver suitable for subsequent treatment and spinning.)


The barrels were programmed to stop rolling once metal is detected. The buckle on Karthik’s boot saved his life, but that life was changed forever in the three seconds it took the rollers’ revolutions to stop.


By then the metal drums had crushed his leg to a few millimetres below the knee. “Crushed like an insect,” Karthik says.


Good fortune hadn’t abandoned him entirely.


Amputation above the knee would have severely limited his post-operative options. The new leg’s attachment below the knee means the hips continue to provide balance and the impetus for walking and running.


His plunge into the machinery was just the beginning of Karthik’s agony, and it didn’t help that his only workmate present fainted on the spot!


The ringing of an automatic alarm brought human aid, including paramedics “who pumped me full of morphine,” he recalls.


“That helped me stay conscious through the ninety minutes of being sedated, removed from the machine, put on the air ambulance and flown to The Alfred hospital. But a lot of that time I was trapped in the machine thinking I might die.”
Surgeons operated for a further 13 hours.


Learning to attach and remove his new leg, to walk then jog, finally to swing a cricket bat took the determined, quick-to-smile-and-laugh Karthik all of six months after the accident.


“I’d been married only for six months when it happened,” he says. “My wife Geetha has been very strong for both of us.”
Karthik came on his own to Australia in 2002, later returning home to Chennai for his arranged marriage. Back in Melbourne with his wife, he gained a masters degree in information technology and took up his job in Dandenong.


On Saturday’s evidence, his cavalier approach to batting appears to be fuelled by enthusiasm, an enhanced energy and sheer love of the game. “Hey, settle down, mate,” exhorted a batting partner after one of Karthik’s lofts to the legside.


But he clearly knows what he’s doing. His 52 runs took just over half an hour. Karthik is also East Bentleigh’s wicketkeeper, both agile and impressive — until he lunged for a rocket ball from Rahul Chaudhary then whirled his hand in pain after having been struck on the finger he’d injured two weeks ago.


Karthik took some time off to treat the painful digit but was soon back behind the stumps. Pain? This brave cricketer knows the real thing.


Rahul reminded me of India’s Mohammed Shami, running to the wicket with the same aggressive intent and slinging them mostly in Shami’s low to mid-130kmh range.


At one point, Rahul sent the middle stump flying. Over its four metres, the pole took three loops mid-air before sticking in turf behind the synthetic pitch like a well-landed javelin.


Sometimes another’s mistake, even one made more than half a century ago, can be an invaluable teaching aid. So from the moment co-ump Peter and I were asked to approve of a runner for Karthik, I was on full alert.


A bit of extra alertness I can only ascribe to the first Test series in which I took a close interest: the 1958-59 Ashes, between Richie Benaud’s Australians and Peter May’s Poms. The series, broadcast ball for ball on my native New Zealand’s radio, included the famous “run-out that wasn’t”.


Once I’d taken up my umpiring hobby in Melbourne in 1982-83, the ‘run-out’ photo image stayed with me as a warning bell, waiting to be rung.


An important but rarely discussed nostrum for umpires when judging whether a runner has made his ground after sprinting from the crease occupied by his handicapped partner is the importance of being in correct position, vis a vis side on to the stumps to which the runner is sprinting. That way, the ump (say, on the offside) is able to keep both the runner (legside) and the popping crease – his ‘finish line’ — in single vision.


In Adelaide’s New Year’s Day Ashes Test of 1959, Mel McInnes was one of the umpires as Australian opener Colin McDonald, having pulled a thigh muscle, resumed batting with a runner. A run-out appeal made at the bowler’s end duly followed.


McInnes had moved to the same side as the runner to view the action, and after giving McDonald out to the appeal, had to reverse his decision as the runner was behind him and out of his view.


The freeze frame of a crouched McInnes staring at the bails flying from their groove rendered him irrelevant when in the same shot the runner was lunging at the crease — out of McInnes’s sight, behind his backside. Which was tantamount to a Melbourne Cup photo finish without a horse in sight.


The black and white frame also froze in my memory, reappearing in the interim whenever a runner has walked to the wicket beside the batsman he’ll be running for. Then, invariably, I redouble my concentration for positioning while silently, shamefully, hoping the handicapped batsman is here for a good time rather than a long time.


Anyway, that was it for McInnes’s 16-match Test career.


The incident returned in living colour as Kartik and his runner walked to the wicket on Saturday. In fact, Karthik enjoyed both a good and a short time before hitting the skyer that ended his 52 (six 4’s), the match’s third-highest score.
For the record, East Bentleigh Central, 7/252, beat Elwood, 10/76.



You can read more from John Gascoigne Here.



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  1. ned_wilson says

    How about that… I was working as a physio in amputee rehab and I remember meeting Karthik right as he started his recovery. He stated his goal was to return to cricket… Initially I had my doubts but after a few weeks it was clear that he could make it. Well done Karthik! No need to runner anyway if you keep smashing boundaries

  2. ned_wilson says

    for a runner…

  3. A good yarn, Gascoigne. I particularly enjoyed the opening. It reminded me of when my neighbour claimed my dog had killed his chook.
    “How do you know it was her?” I demanded.
    “Because it’s in her mouth,” he said. And it was.
    Look forward to the next episode.

  4. Fantastic story John. May Karthik keep on middling them for as long as he wants to, leg or no leg.

  5. Proud of you Karthi! Love your positive attitude!

  6. Daryl Schramm says

    That’s a good story John. Hard to imagine what Karthik went through during the rehab phase. I also wasn’t overly familiar with the Mel McInnes incident. I seem to recall a story at test level about both batsmen at the crease having runners. Any ideas?

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