Lies, damned lies and statistics. Only these aren’t lies, however implausible they might appear on first inspection. Jo Harman and Richard H Thomas take a look at cricket’s most wonderful numerical oddities.
Which of Tendulkar and Lara can claim the title of the greatest batsman of the modern era? It’s a question that continues to divide opinion, with Shane Warne in no doubt that the Little Master claims the honour (“Sachin is the best, daylight is second”), while Ian Chappell sides with the Trinidadian due to his penchant for the super- massive innings. The debate isn’t simplified by statistics either. As if to illustrate the nip and tuck nature of their rivalry, each reached the milestone of 10,000 Test runs in their 195th innings.
As bogey scores go, 158 isn’t exactly a bad one for a batsman to have, but it’s a number that threatened to haunt Kevin Pietersen. Having scored a sparkling Ashes-securing 158 at The Oval in 2005, Pietersen equalled his highest score on two more occasions but could go no further when a maiden double ton looked there for the taking. In 2007, at Headingley against the West Indies, he finally broke the spell. “I was very happy to get past 158,” said Pietersen after his knock of 226. “On 156, I was definitely having a go at something. I wasn’t going to go 157, 158… I was going to try to go past 158 with a boundary.” A cut for four, and ‘the curse’ was lifted.
The “noblest Roman” Neville Cardus called him; as a character Archie MacLaren was only eclipsed by WG Grace in cricket’s golden age. Gerry Cotter suggested that as England captain, MacLaren could make opponents feel inferior, but “unfortunately could produce the same effect in his own players”. His 424 for Lancashire against Somerset in 1895 (including 62 fours and a six) remains the eighth highest score of all time. With a neat consonance, when he retired 28 years later he had played that exact same number of first-class games.
Warwickshire allrounder Steffan Piolet boasts a curious affinity with the number eight, having been born at 8am on August 8, 1988. The octo-coincidences don’t stop there, with bouncing baby Steffan weighing in at eight pounds. It’s a shame he’s not from China – a country in which the number holds particular significance – but fortunately he is half Norwegian, and how many digits are there in a Norwegian landline telephone number? Eight of course. Now Piolet just needs to score 88 not out from No.8 and all will be right with the world.
The story goes that avuncular paceman Bill Johnston broke Aussie tradition and had no temper, and in fairness he did just fine without one, taking 160 Test wickets at an average of 23. His batting had its moments too; none more so than the 1953 Ashes when the tailender trumped the likes of Harvey, Morris and Miller to top the batting averages with a scarcely believable 102 after being dismissed just once all tour. In truth, it was a little contrived, with Wisden reporting that skipper Lindsay Hassett – tickled by Johnson’s soaring average – gave Johnson’s batting partners “protective instructions” and requested “complicity” from opposing captains. The book never lies though.
Serial nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson’s stickability at the crease has already earned him a place in the history books. By getting off the mark in each of his first 54 Test knocks, Anderson eclipsed the record number of innings an Englishman had gone without registering a duck. It all went rather downhill when Ben Hilfenhaus cleaned him up to break the streak though, with five further blobs following in his next 13 Tests. We’ve kept the faith though. It’s just a matter of time before we see Jimmy hoisting his bat to salute that maiden fifty.
4) 47.05 & 941
It’s impossible to watch Darren Bravo at the crease without recollecting Brian Lara, and it’s no coincidence. Bravo’s grandfather and Lara’s mother are siblings and having grown up in the same Santa Cruz village in Trinidad, where Lara recalled often seeing the young pretender with “one hand holding his shorts up and the other with a bat in it”, Bravo modelled his game on his idol to the smallest detail. But here’s where it gets creepy. So intent on replicating his hero was Bravo, that after a dozen Tests he had an identical run aggregate (941) and identical average (47.05) to that of Lara after the same number of matches. Now that’s serious hero worship.
They don’t come much more meticulous than Alec Stewart: with the creaseless pristine whites, the starched collar, the elaborate bat-twirling routine. But no amount of planning could have contrived this mathematical marvel. In 133 Tests Stewie amassed 8,463 runs; an impressive tally in itself you might think, but all the more impressive when you compare his career record with his birth certificate, because, in a piece of beautiful unfathomable symmetry, he was born on 8/4/63. Spooky indeed.
Years have passed since his death but it’s still difficult to disassociate the “one eye, one arm, one leg” of Nelson from the late, great umpire David Shepherd, who would hop from foot to foot whenever the scoreboard registered the dreaded score of 111. None more so than during the Newlands Test between South Africa and Australia last November, when the clock ticked over to 11:11 on 11/11, with South Africa needing 111 more runs for victory. In scenes that would have undoubtedly delighted Shep, the Cape Town crowd stood on one leg for the duration of the minute, with umpire Ian Gould joining in the superstitious celebration for good measure.
Two games contested at the same ground, with the same winners and the same margin of victory, played 100 years apart: surely the neatest piece of symmetry in a game so full of numerical oddities. Back in 1877, Charles Bannerman became Test cricket’s first centurion as Australia defeated England by 45 runs at the MCG in the inaugural Test match. A hundred years on, the 244 living cricketers who had appeared in Ashes series were invited to the Centenary Test and watched history repeat itself in Melbourne as the Aussies emerged victorious by 45 runs.