Thank goodness I remembered my walkman, mon. Otherwise, as I walked home from the station, I would have missed the Prince of Trinidad pull the third ball of the 88th over to the shortish Adelaide Oval square boundary, to bring up his 200. His sixth in Test cricket. Lara’s innings today was many things: A return to form, salvation for his wallowing team (the next best score being 34), a master class, his 11,000th Test run and an unexpected opportunity to pass Allan Border’s world record of 11,174 runs. It was all things Lara. I arrived home very happy.
It seems such a short time ago that Warne passed Muralitharan as the world’s highest wicket taker. And a short time before that when Murali sweet aside Courtney. And when the great McGrath became the just the second fast bowler past 500.
We make much of milestones. Is it too much? During the first Ashes Test, some batsman passed so many thousand runs. I think it was Martyn passing 4000. I little later I think Ponting went past 7,000. One of my good friends contested that recognising these “occasions” was pointless and altogether made too much of a meaningless statistic. Though I’m not sure that he said it so well. Spirited discussion followed as I did not altogether agree. Things became quite heated, I like to think because of sleep deprivation. But all was well.
My opinion is that if and when Brian Lara passes 213 tomorrow, that will be an occasion worth celebrating. That many runs is a rare and wonderful achievement. Border’s mark has stood for more than 12 years. And Gavaskar’s mark for six years before that. The fact is that Lara will have scored more runs at Test level than any other batsman. Ever. But that doesn’t make him the best batsman of all time. It is a fact that Bradman is the best batsman ever. Bradman has had no peer and never will. I recall Greg Chappell being a little embarrassed when he passed Bradman’s Australian mark of 6,996. I don’t know why – it meant that Chappell was a bloody good player, that cricketers get to play more cricket these days and that having your career disrupted by a terrible war didn’t enter the modern players’ minds. It didn’t mean Chappell was a better player. Nobody would think that. And I’m sure Bradman would have been pleased. To him, more runs was always a good thing.
The true statistical measure of the best is his average – in batting and bowling. It is largely reflective. Of course, there will always be some allowances to be made such as lower middle order batsmen having a higher number of not outs and openers having to face the new ball with every innings. Perhaps strike rate is a factor. I’ve heard plenty of discussion over who was better: Lillee or McGrath? Miller or Sobers? Warne or O’Reilley? Not once have I heard it argued that McGrath must be better then Lillee because has taken far more wickets. All cricket lovers understand these concepts. The best part about cricket is that Bradman aside, there is no clear cut best. Batsman and bowlers are so different in so many ways that we all get to choose our favourites. And of course, there is nobody alive who has seen all of the greats.
So why celebrate these milestones? Because cricketers and cricket fans alike are human beings. And humans like to accumulate – for better or for worse, in the human race, we like to build our empires – money, property, cars, shoes, toys and handbags flow on to wickets and runs. Why do we celebrate birthdays? Beginning a new year doesn’t change our lives. We don’t become a better or worse person with the passing of another year. A 100 year old may have lived a good or a bad life but 100 years is always worth celebrating. Anyone who has made it to 100, by whatever means, as long as they are legal, deserves to have a fuss made. It’s not an easy thing to do. Any cricketer who can make 10,000 runs or take 400 wickets is special, for whatever reasons. Who could think of more contrasting players than Waugh and Lara. But they are both exceptional in their own ways.
The other obvious reason for celebrating statistical milestones is that almost every true lover of cricket loves the stats. We love records. We love to analyse all of those numbers. We care when the seventh wicket for Australia versus the West Indies at Bellerive Oval is broken. I know it’s sad, but I get excited when my car’s odometer clicks over the from, say, 79,999 to 80,000 km. All those zeros – it’s beautiful. Of course we celebrate when three zeros come up (well, I suppose that the English supporters were not celebrating much when three zeros came up in rapid succession last night). So what if it’s meaningless – perhaps it is. But celebrating is good!!
I hope Lara pushes on tomorrow, past the magic 214. I hope AB is there to see it. Perhaps he will be out early or will lose his partners. Who knows. One thing that you can be sure of: Brian Lara will not walk to the crease tomorrow morning wearing red shoes.