October 30, 2013

The Lord's anomaly

There's something curiously wonderful about the fact that batting's big four - Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting and Kallis - never made Test hundreds at the home of cricket

Best of four: Lara made 54 at Lord's in 1995 © Getty Images

When Sachin Tendulkar hangs 'em up for the very last time in Mumbai, the statistical tsunami can begin in earnest. We have already felt the intimations of its force, and a career of such epic scale will delight generations of numbers geeks from now until kingdom come.

But the news that the great man will not tour England next year means that one of the game's oddest numerological anomalies continues, perhaps now into perpetuity. Sachin loves Lord's - he apparently has a house nearby and sometimes uses the indoor school - but Lord's does not love him back, at least on the field of play. Nor does it love Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting or Jacques Kallis, his fellow titans of the modern age. Of the 28 Test match innings that this towering foursome have played at the home of the game, they have, between them, a single half-century, Lara's 54 in 1995. In those innings they have made a combined 510 runs at an average of 18.22.

Yes, 510 runs, from the 54,308 that they have scored, have been scored at Lord's. A group that has between them passed 50 on 235 occasions and made 170 centuries, has raised a bat just once at the most famous crease of them all. It is beyond strange.

Is there a reason for it, or is it pure chance? Is the statistic only notable at all because of the ground to which it is attached? After careers that will never be forgotten, does it matter if their names do not adorn the famous honours board alongside Ajit Agarkar, Matt Horne, Jack Russell, Big Jake Oram and all of the others less likely who are etched up there in gold?

Lord's has been described as an unusual ground to bat on. The sightlines can be odd, and there is the infamy of the slope to contend with, but these are hardly insurmountable quirks for men of such ability (Ponting has an ODI century in the books to prove the point). There is maybe a little extra pressure attached to batting at Lord's: the occasion is formal, the walk through the Long Room an unsettling experience (are they awake? Are they alive?), but these four have forged their reputations on the acceptance of pressure. Can it be the England attack? Maybe not, judging by the eight centuries that Ponting and Kallis have taken from them, or the seven each from Tendulkar and Lara.

The truth is, we will never know (and Jacques has shown no signs yet of calling time, although South Africa are not due again until 2016, when he will be almost 41).

One player, of course, has bucked the trend. Rahul Dravid, the man who rounds out this famous five of Test cricket's highest scorers, did it for all of them in 2011, when he resisted England for that entire, defeated summer. His 103 not out came in a numerically significant game too - Test match number 2000.

As Brian, Ricky, Sachin and Jacques sit around the fireside, garlanded, heralded, rightfully acclaimed, I don't suppose that this small omission from their CVs will overly trouble them. There is plenty there to keep them warm. But it would be fascinating to have the four of them discuss their experiences of playing at Lord's, and hear why they thought it never happened for them there. In a way it is wonderful that the game remains so unknowable, and as implacable to the claims of its legends. It seems determined to let no man have everything.

Jon Hotten blogs here and tweets here