Wednesday, July 29, 2020

A philosophical question: Did I miss seeing Geoff Boycott run out Derek Randall?

Forty-three years ago today I was locked out of the second day of the Trent Bridge Ashes test.

On the first day England had bowled Australia for 243, with a young player called Ian Botham taking 5-74 on debut, and closed at 9-0.

The result of my being turned away the next day was that I missed seeing a notorious run out. Derek Randall, a Nottinghamshire hero, was stitched up like a kipper by Geoffrey Boycott.

That reduced England to 52-3, which became 82-5. At this point Alan Knott came in and began batting with his usual impish brilliance. This had the effect of waking Boycott, who had seemed genuinely distraught at Randall's demise, and the two of them put on over 200. England made 364 and went on to win the test.

Me? I went trainspotting and heard much of Boycott and Knott's partnership on my transistor while sitting on a parcels trolley on Nottingham station.

These days it seems silly to imagine you could turn up at a test and pay on the gate, but I had done just that for the past three years. That included the first day of the first Ashes test at Edgbaston in 1975 when I got to see my hero John Snow opening the bowling for England.

But can I say that I missed Randall being run out at Trent Bridge in 1977?

I have always worried about a statement like this because it seems to imply that it was already inevitable the run out would happen when I turned up at the ground.

True, being run out by Boycott was more predictable than most events in cricket, but even that depended on an infinite number of contingencies. How can it possibly have been preordained? (Note that my worry is not that I might somehow have affected events on the field by being in the ground.)

There is an essay by Gilbert Ryle that discusses this sort of question - you can read the whole of It Was To Be online - but his point is different.

He wants to reassure us that, though the statement "Randall will be run out by Boycott" was true before play started, that does not mean the event was inevitable.

I am perfectly clear it was not inevitable, but worried that the way we talk about such events implies that it was.

The answer, as I am sure Ryle would say, is that we need to analyse the things we say in such circumstances carefully.

For instance, I have no trouble saying "Randall was run out by Boycott and I was not there to see it."

I suspect the difference is that this is true of almost everybody, whereas "I missed seeing Randall being run out by Boycott because I was turned away from the ground" feels as though it is about me alone.

So is my error that I am making myself the hero of the day rather than Alan Knott?

1 comment:

John Pugh said...

Probably through my own stupidity I do not quite grasp why this so problematic.

There are no conceivable circumstances in which the statement that troubles you "I missed seeing Boycott running out Randall" and "Randall was run out by Boycott and I was not there to see it." would not both be true. The referenda or truth conditions are identical and some might be inclined to dismiss any apparent difference as what Frege called "Farbung".

However,those inclined to a coherence theory of truth might point out that the problematic sentence could be read as implying that you had the intention of seeing that exact event as in "I missed the train". The second statement has no such connotation.

It is hard though to see how any description of an event or sequence of events could by itself imply that it was inevitable which is probably why theologians and possibly cosmologists manage to keep the Predestination debate going...and it's not a trivial debate.

I apologise for not reading Ryle. I normally need the strongest persuasion to do so.