Why statistics don't fascinate me anymore
Here are some numbers: 8032, 309, 29, 114. They should be familiar, even though they have lost their currency. For a generation of cricket fans, these represented peaks of cricketing achievement, almost impossibly inaccessible; now, they have fallen by the wayside, trampled by a rush of dazzling statistics that have made them yesterday's news.
Twenty-two batsmen have scored more runs than Garry Sobers; ten batsmen have scored more centuries than Don Bradman; 24 bowlers have taken more wickets than Lance Gibbs; 30 Test cricketers have played more Tests than Colin Cowdrey.
The awe-inspiring career aggregate records of those who top cricket's premier lists now - Sachin Tendulkar's career runs, centuries, and Tests, and Muralitharan's career wicket aggregates - are, for a variety of reasons, almost certainly guaranteed to be unbreakable for all time.
Test cricket is not likely to be played as often or as long by players of the future. Thus will the logistics of the modern game contribute to ensuring that its feats will stand the test of time. (Just as the peculiar arrangements of the past - and a World War - ensured that Bradman played only 52 Tests in 20 years, most of them against England).
But it is not clear to me - and me alone, I hasten to add - that the statistics of this era are as memorable as those they displaced. And I say this not just because I have grown older and thus increasingly blasé about cricket statistics (and about a great deal else that used to fascinate me as a youngster). Test cricket's records just don't exist in the same context for me anymore; they do not exercise the same sort of hold on my - and perhaps others' - imagination.
In the first place, because cricket always seems to be on, somewhere, somehow, in some form or the other, we do not need to occupy ourselves with cricket statistics to while away the time. More often than not, there is actual cricketing action to be watched, dissected and discussed - all the time. Crucially, we can watch a lot of cricket now. We don't need to content ourselves with imagining it or reading about it. A great deal of cricket is telecast live; we watch players in action, in high-definition, in slow-motion, in freeze-frames. We have their actions, styles and techniques analysed and broken down for us. The visual - preferably live - now often dominates the recorded, the textual. (And when the cricketing action's pace slows down, there are all the attendant controversies: the DRS, match-fixing, bowlers' actions, board shenanigans, IPL scandals, internecine conflict, and so on.)
The statistical record still fascinates, provokes and intrigues, but it is forced to compete with the primacy of the telecast. And most importantly, I think, with the pace of change. An objective one and a subjective one.
A modern cricketer - from the right countries - plays more Tests now, more quickly, than his forebears. His career attains landmarks of longevity quicker; now he is in his tenth game, and then, suddenly, in his 50th. The run- and wicket aggregate marks go by in haste: getting to 2000 runs or 100 wickets seems to matter little when so many are hitting the 4000-run or 200-wicket mark. Stuart Broad has already taken 200 wickets, and I'm used to thinking of him just getting established; the same goes for Kevin Pietersen, who has already gone past the 20-century mark, which we used to imagine as the barrier that separated the all-time greats from the also-rans. A talented, fit player in the right teams today arrives at the landmarks of old much earlier.
So a player becomes a "veteran" quicker these days. Correspondingly, the paces of our own lives have quickened. Who among us - of the right age - has not noticed with a sense of dismay that the last five or ten years have gone by astonishingly quickly? I am stunned, for instance, to note that I have already completed 11 years of full-time employment as an academic; they have whistled by, in sharp contrast to the years I spent in school.
This quickening of the pace of our lives and the compressed quality of the player's career ensures that statistics appear but as a blur, an all too easily modifiable ticker tape that whizzes past our mind's eye. There must be some rest to facilitate the close inspection of the number of interest. But in the modern era, there is none.
And so the records pile up, numbing us with their stature, leaving us stunned with their distance from those they displaced. But we have partially lost the capacity for wonder; we have become too satiated, too quickly, by the staggering, the monumental.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here