The milestones that look out of reach but are closer than we think December 26, 2006

A ton of tons, and other improbable dreams

Sidharth Monga
Increased fitness levels and career longevity and the changing nature of cricket means landmarks like Warne's 700 are more easily attainable

About four years ago, it seemed improbable that Shane Warne could reach 700 wickets. At 33, when many cricketers think of calling it a day, he'd tested positive for diuretics and was banned for a year. He'd taken 491 wickets by then, 28 less than Courtney Walsh's 519; the Magnificent Seven seemed a very distant dream. Yet such is the nature of sport that the improbable became possible almost as soon as Warne returned to cricket, prompting Walsh to predict Warne's getting 700. What Walsh had predicted was improbable - at least it sounded so - but not beyond Warne. So we've done a Walsh or two for you: Milestones that look improbable, maybe even ludicrous, now, but are quite possible, for several reasons: the amount of cricket played, increasing fitness levels and career longevity, and the game becoming more result-oriented.

Can Muttiah Muralitharan strike 1000? © Getty Images

100 International Hundreds When Sunil Gavaskar reached his 34th century on December 21, 1986, statisticians would have started looking for preserving agents to keep the name safe in the record books for a long, long time. But around the same time, three kids, in their discrete universes, were getting ready to stretch the definition of what was possible. Twenty years hence, Sachin Tendulkar has overtaken Gavaskar, Brian Lara has caught up with him and Ricky Ponting a step behind - and they've also got impressive records in one-dayers. Ponting has scored 13 centuries in 24 Tests over the past two years; had he struck such form earlier in his career, who knows what his tally of 53 international centuries would have read? Tendulkar has scored 75 centuries so far, of which only 11 have come over the past four years. Had he not slowed down, he'd have been closer to the hundred. Lara made his debut at 21 as opposed to Tendulkar at 16. He also took a sabbatical, because of which his 53 centuries sound like an underachievement. You can bet there are kids today watching them, getting ready to stretch the definition of what is possible - and they will also have a shot at Twenty20 centuries, which will qualify as international tons.

200 Test caps Over a career that spanned a shade more than 18 years, Steve Waugh wore his beloved baggy green 168 times. That makes it more than nine Tests a year, and he had started in staid, steady 1985. None of the current players on a ton looks set to convert that into 200; Warne's 144 will increase by one, Tendulkar's 133 by a score or so. Adam Gilchrist, a late starter, has played 88 Tests in little over eight years. But someone like Michael Clarke, who defies the Australian prototype of a late starter, could make it; he's already played 25 Tests in two years and his game is suited to a lengthy innings with the baggy green.

1000 Test wickets Richie Benaud had famously urged Warne not to retire before the return Ashes campaign in 2009. Had he listened, his progression and momentum - 204 wickets in 36 Tests since returning from ban in early 2004 - would have propelled him towards 1,000 wickets. So the obvious favourite is Muttiah Muralitharan, currently on 674 wickets. He has a better strike rate and gets more opportunities to take wickets, given the rest of the Sri Lankan attack - and isn't the retiring type. Murali has one concern, though: his fragile shoulder has caused him to miss 19 Tests since his debut.

5000 runs and 500 wickets This is the odd one out, in that it's actually become more difficult than before. Main reason being, of course, that good all-rounders are in short supply - and even if they pop up, they simply won't be able to perform both functions over a sufficiently lengthy period to reach that figure. The closest anyone came to this was Kapil Dev with 5248 runs and 434 wickets. Andrew Flintoff, by the way, has scored 3196 runs so far and taken 193 wickets; had he matured a bit earlier, there would have been more conviction than hope in stating that he could come close to the magic mark. He should still go on to get 5000 runs and, given the quality of other England bowlers, he should get a high percentage of wickets too. He has played 65 Tests already, and might need another 65 extraordinary ones to come anywhere close, which would mean good six to seven years. It's a brittle body we are talking about here. In terms of this magic figure, the start to Flintoff's career will remain a sad what if. Cheeky fact: Warne has scored 3043 runs too. Not bad at all.

Sidharth Monga is staff writer of Cricinfo Magazine