I was watching the cricket today (Australia versus India at the SCG) when I happened to glance at the scoreboard and realise Michael Clarke was on 87 not out. It sent shivers down my spine. And I don’t mind telling you I crossed my fingers as he faced the next ball.
Why? Because as any cricket tragic would know, 87 is our ‘Devil’s Number’; the score at which, apparently, our batsmen fall more than any other.
Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to discover today – how did this superstition arise and is there any truth to it?
Some pundits have suggested the omen lies with it being 13 runs short of a century. But digging around it seems the theory really began with late cricketing legend Keith Miller, who went to see The Don (surely I don’t need to spell out his name?) play a Sheffield Shield game for New South Wales against Victoria when he was just a boy.
When Bradman fell, the young Keith thought the score was 87 (although he later discovered it was actually 89). And from that moment on he had it in his head that the figure was unlucky.
As Keith started out on his own (ahem) marvellous cricketing career, he fielded in slips for South Melbourne with Ian Johnson (a future Australian captain), where the pair would make reference to how many players got out on 87. The focus continued as they rose through the ranks to play for Victoria and Australia and was eventually picked up by commentator Richie Benaud and then the fans.
Today, of course, the malevolence of 87 is an integral part of cricketing lore. But for the record, it is a myth. In fact the numbers around 87 are actually more fatal to batsmen.
And again today the superstition also failed, as Clarke went on to score an unbeaten 251 (play continues tomorrow). A very impressive captain’s knock.
BTW the Aussies aren’t the only ones with numerical superstitions around their cricket. The Poms, for one, aren’t terribly fond of 111, aka a ‘Nelson’. Your turn to find out why. . .