Samir Chopra February 25, 2010

The unsurprising double-centurion


Truth be told, it seemed like there was only person who could pull it off: Tendulkar © Getty Images

I tend to be a bit obsessed about cricket statistics. And given my vintage, it's entirely understandable that Test statistics tend to reign supreme. Indeed, to this day, one of the reasons that I don't get so hung up on the results of one-day internationals is that I started off thinking of them as unofficial games. But official they are, and their statistics are recorded faithfully. And there was one one-day statistic that I did spend some time thinking about: would a batsman ever make a double-ton in a one-day game?

I first entertained this thought not because of Viv Richards' 189 against England in 1984 but because of a glorious innings that preceded it: David Gower's 158 off 118 balls against New Zealand at Brisbane during the 1982-83 WSC triangular. For the time, Gower's innings was a true paradigm subverter; that rate of scoring was unprecedented, his domination complete. Indeed, that innings stood out even more than Richards' did, because, well, Viv was Viv, and you expected him to do that sort of thing. But Gower amping it up at a strike rate of 133, hitting four sixes, and all of the rest made me think that perhaps someday, someone could pull it off. (For the record, Viv's strike rate was 111 so Gower had one over the great Viv in that regard!)

When the modern era of one-day internationals got underway, the 200 became a real possibility. Of the ten 180-plus scores in one-day internationals, there are only two from the 1980s. And yes, both of them are by the great Viv. All hail the King! Folks like Anwar, Hayden, Jayasuriya, Kirsten, Ganguly, Dhoni, Tendulkar, and, er, Charles Coventry, racked up the rest. I did think for a while that the 200 would come in a World Cup game against one of the minnows.

And Sehwag's feats seemed to make him the logical choice to put your money on when it came to the business of going past the 200 barrier. But Sehwag doesn't make big scores in ODIs. His name features nowhere in the list of big-scorers in that variety of the game for whatever reason. I've given up trying to understand that particular genius.

It seemed to me that if 200 was to be made, it would be made by an opener, someone who would score quickly in the first 15, settle down in the mid-section, and then have enough nous and stamina to play through the inevitable acceleration to the end. And truth be told, it seemed like there was only person who could pull it off: Tendulkar.

For if there is one thing that seems to come easily to Tendulkar, it is the kind of innings I've just described. They are a dime-a-dozen for this man. He does it effortlessly, shifting gears when he wants, racking up runs, not letting his strike-rate drop. It always seemed like a matter of time before he would not lose his wicket in the final acceleration and simply go on to the logical next destination of the double-ton. 200 runs off 150 balls (a strike rate of 133.33) always seemed eminently doable for this master of the limited-overs game. No one else seemed to have the full package.

And on February 24th, he did it. Indeed, he seemed to have calculated it perfectly: 200 off 147 balls. The initial acceleration, the quick, expert farming of well-run singles and doubles, the final acceleration. It was a masterpiece of attack and accumulation (and the brilliance of shots was something to behold). And he did it against South Africa on an appropriate stage, a ground at home, in front of thousands of his ever-adoring fans.

The genius of this man is that such a singular feat should always have seemed so well within his reach, that his final breach of the barrier should come as no surprise.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here