August 15, 2013

Why statistics don't fascinate me anymore

Even though today's batting and bowling records are more unbreakable than they have ever been, the corresponding feeling of awe is missing

Garry Sobers' (batting) and Colin Cowdrey's (at slips) Test records at one time seemed insurmountable © Getty Images

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohammed on August 17, 2013, 15:05 GMT

    Samit is spot on.Excessive amount of cricket has taken away the romance of the cricket numbers, which was a fascinating subject, for someone getting to grips with them in the period 1975-83. In the 1970s and to a degree in the 1980s there seemed to be more courage and charisma in cricket and every Test series was a joy to follow in news reports. now a days it is all about quantity and aggregates and not necessarily quality and class. With all due respect to the likes of Anil Kumble, Muttiah Muralitharan or Danish Kaneria, despite outstanding stats against their name, will never quite be in the list of all-time great slow men. Gaining success at home and against B grade opposition masks their overall influence on the game.

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2013, 13:57 GMT

    Among stats averages do count. Even selection or rejection is often done on their basis. Murali's stats signify as he took too fewer matches to acquire them. And it's especially notable that he announced retirement in advance before getting to that number. Bradman was a miracle. No argument by his detractors is explaining why the second best even in his era stands so much below him. However, there have been some awesome players whose stats don't exactly reveal how formidable or exceptional they were.

  • Dummy4 on August 17, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    People who don't like stats have poor ones themselves. Or their favourite players stats don't shape up to others. I'm not talking aggregate. I will wholeheartedly pick a player with 8,000 first class runs at 60 then a player with 12,000 first class runs at 40. Average is by far and away the biggest number to look at. Stats do mean a lot. It's cricket, its stats. Always has been, always will be.

  • Virat on August 17, 2013, 3:23 GMT

    Also it is staggering how kohli who seemed to have come just yesterday has already played a 100 matches and looks ste to make more odi records than tendulkar

  • siddhartha on August 17, 2013, 1:51 GMT

    Statistics are measure of consistency. However they can be highly deceptive at times.Let's see the stats of Jaywardhene for example. His test average is nearly 50.Got 31 100s. Now lets have closer look at his his stats. He averages 61 in Sri lanka and 56 is Asia.His average in Australia is 31.42,In New Zeland 27.71 ,In England 34 and in South Africa 27.87.Apart from Tendulkar and Sangakarra most of Asian players stats are built in dead Asian pitches only.

  • Peter on August 16, 2013, 19:49 GMT

    Batting averages and bowling averages are still relevant, the number of runs you get or the number of wickets you take largely comes down to how long you stick around.

    The averages don't lie though.

  • Dummy4 on August 16, 2013, 13:40 GMT

    A hundred is a statistic. A fifer is a statistic. Cricket is all about statistics. Individuals perception of greatness will be subjective and records will be broken. Perhaps not Bradmans. The statistics are however all enduring. In the end thats all that will stand!

  • Pravin on August 16, 2013, 13:25 GMT

    Its only in cricket and cricket alone, that one finds articles upon articles about the 'good old days', how all the previous greats were larger than life. articles outnumber written about players of today. Rod Laver, who if not for the years missed in between would have had a better record than Roger, Borg would have had so many more grand slams had he just traveled to Australia more and played for a few more years...these greats still stand up and applause Roger. In any sport the greatest players are much more recent but not cricket.

    We just won't let go of the past. While people argue that had Bradman played more he would had so many more records.....I disagree totally. Playing in an unchanged field whole day, hardly any opposition of note, not played against the west Indies quicks, or great Pakistani bowlers or against spin in India, or a warne, mcgrath, no innumerable matches to play, no injuries to deal with and countless others...but no in cricket greats exist only in the past

  • Ali on August 16, 2013, 8:12 GMT

    Absolutely loved this article. So different from other pieces going on at cricinfo. I too have felt the same and was thinking the exact same thing that Samir points with regards to Stuart Broad's 200th wicket. I think it has to do with celebrities in general. Those of yesteryear seem like so much larger than life compared to those of today. Maybe it has something to do with the proliferation of media nowadays. The aura of mystery of the old world is being lost.