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Mitchell Marsh

The real story behind Australia's unlucky number 87

Revealing one of cricket's great misconceptions

When Mitchell Marsh fell for a defiant 87 on the evening of the third day in Abu Dhabi, the young allrounder was dismissed on what is widely known as cricket’s Devil number.

Considered the unluckiest number in Australian cricket, many know 87 as taboo for being 13 short of the coveted 100 every batsman pursues.

But that’s not the reason why the number 87 is said to be possessed by the Devil when associated with an unlucky batsman.

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The origin of the superstition stretches back 85 years to December 1929, when a 10-year-old Keith Miller was watching Australia’s greatest cricketer in a Sheffield Shield match at the MCG.

Don Bradman was putting on a batting master class for NSW against hosts Victoria, when out of nowhere the Don was bowled neck and crop by Harry ‘Bull’ Alexander on 87.

Miller was stunned. How could this happen to his hero? The number became a fixation for Miller, who would rifle through newspapers for club cricket scorecards in search for the unlucky figure.

The shock of Bradman’s untimely demise stayed with Miller. The legend spread when Miller was playing district cricket for South Melbourne alongside future Test captain Ian Johnson. Johnson was dismissed on 87, providing Miller the opportunity to recount the famous incident and offer his unholy theory.

The myth began circling the cricket community and became folklore after World War II when Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson heard of it.

However, as the hype around the superstition reached its highest point, Miller decided to review the scorebook of the match only to find a shocking revelation.

Bradman was actually bowled for 89.

Miller blamed the slow MCG scorecard for the error, but the damage had been done, 87 would remain forever as the Devil’s number.

Marsh’s exit on 87 was the 14th time an Australian has been dismissed on the haunting score, and it’s not the only time a Marsh has surrendered his innings 13 short of a century, with father Geoff snapped up by the Devil in a one-day international against England in 1988.

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