Flying Chris Gayle
Ishita Mazumder / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd


Who travelled how much: from Grace to Gayle

Presenting the astronomical Chris Gayle and the mile-eating monsters

Devashish Fuloria  |  

Chris Gayle has clocked more than two million kilometres in the game, shuttling from one ground to the next, making him the most-travelled cricketer ever.

Think of that number for a moment. If Gayle were an astronaut, that distance would cover three round trips to the moon. It is equivalent to circling the planet 50 times. If he was just shooting up like a rocket, he would have gone way beyond any human ever has.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Starting in 1998, when he made his first-class debut for Jamaica at Sabina Park, till the start of the current season of the CPL, Gayle has featured in a total of 869 first-class, List A and T20 matches around the world.

That's not to say he has played the most high-level matches - meaning first-class (including Tests), List A (including ODIs) and T20 (T20Is, and select high-level domestic tournaments such as the IPL and the CPL). Graeme Hick holds that record, with 1214. In fact, Gayle sits quite low on that list; but his flight map (above) is a sign of the times, depicting the jet-setting life of a superstar freelance cricketer in the current era.

Compare Gayle's travels to those of a superstar from more than a century ago, WG Grace, who played almost the same number of matches as Gayle has at this stage. Grace played only one format - first-class - and that too predominantly in one country. The distance he covered over his career was only 110,000 km. Of those, at least 75,000 km were within England, on trains or horse-driven coaches. As a figure for comparison, that is not far from the 81,000 km Michael Schumacher drove on racing tracks in his F1 career.

WG Grace's travel within England

WG Grace's travel within England © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The distance calculation: as the crow flies
The itemised and historical travel plans of cricketers are, of course, not known. They do go home in between tours - to take selfies with their ponies, or then head out to explore Kamchatka. We do not know. For the purposes of this exercise, straight-line distances were worked out using the shortest distance from one high-level match venue to the next, without accounting for any stops, detours or diversions.

Another point to note here is that the shortest distance between two points on earth appears as a curved line on a flat projection (you may have noticed this on the seatback screens on flights). This is because the airplane generally takes the shortest route to its destination. These connectors, the lengths of which can be measured, are called geodesic lines. On a spherical globe, Gayle's flights would appear as in the following picture.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

How much did others travel?
As we have seen with the three cricketers mentioned so far - Gayle, Hick, Grace - no straight inference can be made between the number of matches played and the distance travelled. Hick holds the record for most appearances in high-level cricket, but like Grace, he played most of his matches within the UK, and so he has covered less distance than Gayle and many others. This is true for many English cricketers, or cricketers who have played primarily in England.

Of the 16 cricketers to have played more than 1000 matches, 13 are from England. This dominance holds if you extend the list to the top 40: 32 are from England, four from Sri Lanka, two from the West Indies, one each from India and South Africa, and none from Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand.

But the field is more even when you consider travel. Ever since the advent of limited-overs cricket, popular players have been travelling a lot more.

For comparison with Gayle, let us look at another ten star players from seven countries (eight, if you count Hick's formative years in Zimbabwe), representing different eras. What we get is a timeline of how travel has changed over the course of the last century and a half. These players could well be assembled into an all-time travelling XI that could challenge any other all-time XI.

The travelling XI: a team for all conditions

1. Chris Gayle, 2.03 million km. With all those frequent flyer miles and that record as opener, he earns the right to take first strike.

2. Sachin Tendulkar, 1.25 million km. The only player from India in the top 40 in terms of number of high-level matches. His longest journey was from Kuala Lumpur to Toronto via the North Pole, travelling from the Commonwealth Games to the Sahara Cup in 1998. He slots in as the other opener.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

3. Don Bradman, 0.24 million km. He played in only two countries, which are approximately 16,000 km apart, by geodesic calculations. In reality, Bradman would have covered more distance - about 8000 kms extra per one-way journey - sailing via the Suez Canal, which would have boosted his tally to 0.29 million km. He is our No. 3.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

4. Viv Richards, 1.32 million km. More than 1000 matches, more miles than Tendulkar, runs around the world, swagger to go along. Need we say more?

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

5. Kumar Sangakkara, 1.21 million km. One of two subcontinental players with more than 1000 appearances (the other is Mahela Jayawardene), Sangakkara is the wicketkeeper in this XI.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

6. Garfield Sobers, 0.61 million km. In a career stretching from the 1950s to the 1970s, Sobers played fewer than 500 matches - including one* at a ground in the far east of India ((Guess which one? Hint: it's not Guwahati) in 1959 - but covered enough ground to count among the top travellers in his era.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

7. Graeme Hick, 0.67 million km. He started his cricket in Zimbabwe before moving to England, and ended his career with the most matches for any cricketer ever. He slots in at No. 7, mainly to allow others above him to do the damage.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

8. Wasim Akram, 0.94 million km. He began his career in Rawalpindi and played his last high-level game in England. In between he featured in 856 matches across formats. He opens the bowling.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

9. Shane Warne, 1.05 million km. He played 685 matches across continents and racked up 1862 dismissals. He is the lone spinner in the team but has adequate back-up in Sobers if the conditions so demand.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

10. Clive Rice, 0.7 million kms. The only South African within touching distance of 1000 games, Rice clocked some important miles flying to and from India towards the end of his career. He forms the new-ball pair with Akram. A decent batsman too, he adds spunk to the tail.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

11. WG Grace, 0.11 million kms. Played only six matches of 870 outside England, but over a hundred years ago he was easily the top traveller of his time. If you add the extra miles accrued by the sea route travelling to Australia and back in 1877, Grace's total swells to 0.13 million. With a beard like his, he takes the leadership of this team, and for that honour slots in at No. 11.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Travelling umpire
Aleem Dar, 1.13 million km. Started his career as an umpire in 1999, during the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. Now one of those omnipresent faces of world cricket, here one day, there the other. He is our travelling team's home umpire.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Gayle and the advent of T20s
Back to Gayle. One reason for his inflated distance-travelled numbers is that while playing T20s across continents, he has crossed the Atlantic many times, and has been doing so for years now. The difference between his flight map and those of top cricketers from other eras is stark.

As can be seen from the graph below, Gayle is way ahead of Richards, the West Indian with the most matches, by an astounding 700,000 km; ahead of Tendulkar, the cricketer to have played at the most venues, by 780,000 km; ahead of Hick by 1.3 million kms, and ahead of Sobers by 1.4 million km. Basically, one could choose any cricketer with any credentials from any era and Gayle would knock them out with a stick made out of these numbers.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Gayle has piled these miles up on ten years of T20 cricket, and, before that, ten years of regular international cricket. The distances covered are already a major increase from the band of players - from Richards to Tendulkar - who predominantly played two forms of the game. In the era of T20 cricket, superstars like Gayle are going to travel a lot more. In fact, hot T20 properties like Kieron Pollard, Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Bravo are all just above the 1 million km mark.

But Gayle, judging by an interview with Mumbai Mirror during the 2018 IPL, has his eyes set somewhere else.

"I can still dominate the game. I have done that within the world. I need a new task, so I take the space to the Universe. And then eventually, I start to fight with the aliens up there now. I have to fight bowlers in Jupiter, Mars and in all these places now. So, I am the Universe Boss, always."

*On January 9, 1959, West Indies played at National Sports Council of Assam ground in Jorhat, against East Zone.

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Devashish Fuloria is a doctor, an engineer, a full-time entrepreneur and a part-time writer based in Bangalore