September 3, 2013

Finch offers a glimpse into the future

Of all of the records in the game, T20's are the most breakable, because the format is the youngest and its limits are not yet in sight

Finch's 63-ball 156: a mad footnote in an ever-changing format © PA Photos

The evening after Aaron Finch's bravura knock at the Ageas Bowl, a commentator on the radio - and I can't remember who, or I'd name and shame - said that Finch had set "a record that might never be broken".

The reality is, it's a record that'll be lucky to survive five years. It might fall the next time there's a T20 international. Rarely has there been a record that has felt less permanent. That's not to impugn Finch's achievement. It's just that an innings like his is simply a hint at the future, a visionary glimpse of what batting in the most concentrated format might become. If a man can face 63 deliveries and hit 14 of them for sixes in 2013, what will the slugger of 2023 be capable of? Or the bruiser of 2030?

Of all of the records in the game, T20's are the most breakable, because the format is the youngest and it is also self-contained, suggestive of a future of specialisation. The limits are not yet in sight (although the maths is: perhaps we will talk one day of "perfect" overs, where each ball goes out of the ground, a feat not commonplace but certainly viable for the batter who dedicates his career to it).

In this way, T20 is a little like the very early days of the first-class game, with Chris Gayle as its WG, the man pushing against its limits, demonstrating the possible. Just as Grace invented modern batsmanship, so Gayle has been T20's conceptual force, hitting the ball further and more often than the game played before him had suggested anyone could. And just as Grace now exists in antiquity, his feats hard to measure against those of men who play in a different and newer world, so Gayle and Finch will one day seem as distant as the faces that stare out from a sepia photograph.

The Test match single-innings record offers a kind of blueprint as to how a mark matures and peaks. Andy Sandham made the first triple century, 325, in 1930, a record passed by Bradman within months, and which Wally Hammond in turn bettered within three years. Len Hutton's 364 came half a decade later, and stood for twenty years until Garry Sobers took it. His remained the mark for 35 years until Brian Lara, and then came a strange and brief interregnum, with Matthew Hayden's 380 against barely first-class opposition, and Lara's glorious response, the full point on his greatness, just months later. His 400 not out has towered for almost a decade, and probably is a record that will now never be beaten.

That's because time and changes in the way we live and play mitigate against it. Grace's career lasted 44 seasons, until he was 59 years old. In addition to all of the runs, he took 2809 wickets. These were feats of his era, his lifetime, that aren't repeatable now. Similarly, the records of Sachin Tendulkar and Lara (and Murali and Shane Warne) are products of circumstances that will most likely never be surpassed. Who else will play that number of Test matches and ODIs? Their brilliance will remain undimmed, but as the years roll by, they will become harder to understand or set in context.

In all likelihood, Mark Ramprakash will remain the last man to score 100 first-class hundreds. Times change, and our measures of excellence and greatness change with them.

Perhaps the biggest surprise during the rise of T20 is its lack of impact on 50-over batting. One day, Chris Gayle or Shikhar Dhawan or one of their heirs will go loco in the last days of that dying form and reset its boundaries, probably forever. T20 though, has a long time left, and we are only at the edges of what is possible there. Aaron Finch will be a mad footnote in its relentless progress.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here

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