The 20th anniversary of ESPNcricinfo is, without any doubt whatsoever, the showbiz event of the millennium so far. The creation of the world's only truly necessary website will surely be seen in epochs to come as being among the most significant cultural landmarks in human history, alongside such immortal iconic moments such as the ancient Greek epic poetry whizz Homer waking up one morning and thinking to himself: "I am so done with limericks. I'm going to do something longer. Much longer."
The birth of the internet's one reliable repository of undeniable fact will in time be remembered in the same glorious category of historical sensationality as the day 16th-century Polish astronomy ace Nicky Copernicus persuaded the earth to go around the sun, instead of moping around lazily at the centre of the universe as it always had done previously.
ESPNcricinfo's influence on humanity will indeed be considered far greater than, for example, that of Bertie Einstein's theorising about his relatives, or Florence Nightingale's invention of the party blower as an audible medical aid to show whether or not stricken Crimean War soldiers were still breathing, or Michelangelo's much-trumpeted interior-decorating career (his style looks rather overblown by the standard of today's trendy minimalism and sophisticated beiges).
And in the forefront of ESPNcricinfo's relentless quest for the improvement of Planet Earth was the invention of Statsguru, its number-crunching, fact-digesting, statistic-excreting Eighth Wonder of the World. Created by guaranteed future Nobel Prize winner Travis Basevi, Statsguru is one of those few inventions that makes such a permanent, immutable change to the planet that it swiftly becomes impossible to imagine life without it: the wheel, the printing press, the aeroplane, the novelty revolving bow-tie, the television, the television remote control, the threat to confiscate the television remote control, childbirth, the gherkin, and the bagel.
If cricket stands undisputed as the greatest creation in the history of humanity, which it does, then Statsguru is the talking penguin in its zoo of marvels. In a world of lies, half-truths, spin, propaganda and punditry, Statsguru can, within milliseconds, powercrank out a precious diamond of fact. Such glinting gems would once have taken the statisticricketician weeks, months even, of painstaking research, locked in a special yellow shed with only 120 years' worth of Wisdens and a divorce lawyer for company.
Let us take the recent first Test between England and New Zealand as an example of what Statsguru can do for the world and its people. It can tell us, for example, the absolutely critical fact that the seven ducks in the match were the joint third-most ever in a Lord's Test, behind the nine that were quacked in the match-fixing-besmudged Test against Pakistan in 2010, and the eight blobs in the 1888 Ashes Test at HQ, in what might fairly be described as a "bowlers' match". Australia were bowled out for 116, then England responded with 53. The baggy greens then slumped to 18 for 7 - which Statsguru informs us is the second-lowest "for 7" score in international cricket history, behind the 14 for 7 the Australians sank to in the 1896 Oval Test - before recovering to 60 all out, and setting England 124 to win. From 29 for 0, England lost all ten wickets for 33, still, our sainted guru reveals, the third-lowest total that all ten wickets have fallen for in the fourth innings of a Test.
It is sobering to think that before Statsguru such information would almost certainly have lain dormant in the annals of the game, rather than being shared with ESPNcricinfo's 7.1 billion potential readers.
Statsguru can reveal patterns, anomalies and trivialities that would otherwise have lain undiscovered like a bored, dead, unexcavated Pharaoh waiting to unleash a curse he has been keeping literally under wraps for thousands of years
Statsguru, who knoweth all things, yet is kind and merciful, also tells us that, when Hamish Rutherford followed his first-innings 4 with a second-knock 9, to go with his fellow opener Peter Fulton's double disappointments of 2 and 1, it was the fourth time that New Zealand's openers had both been out in single figures in both innings of a Test, the ninth time that England's bowlers had blasted out each of their opponents' top two for less than ten twice in the same game, and the third time they have done so at Lord's in a year beginning with "2" (Zimbabwe's Flower and Gripper in 2000, and Pakistan's Farhat and Hameed in 2010 were the previous victims).
The all-seeing Statistisaurus Rex also reveals that Matt Prior was the eighth wicketkeeper to bag a pair but still end on the winning side; that in their 27 away Tests since May 2006, New Zealand's batsmen have collectively averaged 22.8 (comfortably the worst of the top-eight Test nations, and only marginally better than Bangladesh's 22.6), and that England's first innings was the first occasion in Test history that five of a team's top six have been out between 31 and 41, inclusive. It tells us that the 81 overs bowled by New Zealand's left-armers were the sixth most that southpaw bowlers have sent down in an innings at Lord's, that New Zealand's 29 for 6 is the fewest runs added by the first six wickets in a fourth innings at the Home of Cricket, and that those six wickets constituted only the sixth time that an entire top six have been out in single figures in a fourth-innings chase in any Test.
We now know, thanks to Statsguru, that Ian Bell's 31 off 133 balls was the slowest innings of 25 or more by an England batsman in the opening innings of a home Test since Chris Tavaré antihammered 42 off 202 against West Indies, also at Lord's in 1980, and that Joe Root's match top score of 71 was the sixth-lowest highest score in a Test at Lord's, and the lowest since Colin Cowdrey's 65 was the largest innings in the 1958 Test, also against New Zealand.
Statsguru can illustrate the peaks and troughs of players and teams, and can help reveal a cricketer's quality with far more surgical precision than the often blunt and carelessly wielded scalpel of a career average.
It reveals, for example, how good Martin Crowe was, for example, between January 1985 and November 1992, when he was statistically the world's premier batsman, averaging 58.1, ahead of Allan Border, who had the second-best average in that period of 54.7. During his golden years, Crowe scored hundreds against all six other Test nations, and in every country he played in, apart from Sri Lanka, where he only played one innings.
Statsguru can also highlight the greatness of Imran Khan, who between 1981 and 1986 took 154 wickets at 14.85 in 27 Tests, and averaged under 20 with the ball in seven consecutive series (excluding a rubber in Australia in which he was unable to bowl) (eight in a row if you include a one-off Test against Sri Lanka in which he took 14 for 116).
Delve further, with a little more time on your hands, and Statsguru can tell you that, from January 1976 to April 1981, Viv Richards averaged 73, while other West Indians batting in the top six collectively averaged 36, and other top-six players from everywhere 35. It can unearth the fact that West Indies were the fastest-scoring team in Test matches in every single one of the six decades from the 1940s to the 1990s inclusive, and can guide us to the happy realisation that their post-war-to-turn-of-the-millennium run rate of 2.99 was more than 13% better than the 2.63 managed by the other Test nations collectively.
In fact, if you work it hard enough, Statsguru can prove - or disprove - almost any argument you ask it to. It can locate the informative and the irrelevant with equal facility, it can confirm the expected and divulge the surprising, it can reveal patterns, anomalies and trivialities that would otherwise have lain undiscovered like a bored, dead, unexcavated Pharaoh waiting to unleash a curse he has been keeping literally under wraps for thousands of years. It is a genie in an online bottle, and it does not ration the number of wishes it grants you. Albeit that it can only grant those wishes within the field of cricket statistics. But I scarcely need to ask, what right-thinking person would have any other type of wish?
Could the planet have coped without such arcane nuggets of information? Absolutely. But would it have been a better place without them? Absolutely not. Would I personally have spent more time with my beloved wife if I had not spent so much of the last five years communing with Statsguru in pursuit of material for my ESPNcricinfo blog? Absolutely. Would our marriage have been happier as a result? Absolutely not.
In a world where approximately 98% of real news is mind-stingingly irritating or soul-sappingly miserable, Statsguru provides a refuge in cricket's soothing galaxy of numbers, illuminating the alternative universe of sport with its glowing particles of gloriously inconsequential fact. Thank you, Mr Basevi. Thank you very much indeed.
Give it a go, cricket fans. See where it takes you.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer
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