England players doff their hats to Don Bradman in his final Test innings

Bradman himself never seemed to mind that he failed to finish with a perfect 100

Hulton Archive / © Getty Images

The Jury's Out

The most significant number

From periods of dominance to missed milestones and false legacies, cricket's history can be told by its key numbers. Five writers pick theirs

Bradman's average
By David Frith

Don Bradman's Test average of 99.94 is possibly the most famous piece of flotsam in the great ocean of cricket statistics. It remains the subject of quite a lot of ongoing lament too. I've lost count of the number of people who have shaken their heads in irritation and frustration, almost disbelief. If only…

I was around at the time. In August 1948, as a schoolboy in north-west London, I remember seeing a man standing as if in shock by the Rayners Lane railway station exit while he read his evening newspaper. It was something about England's Test-match collapse. Australia had humiliated them: all out for 52 runs at The Oval (Len Hutton 30). Late that afternoon, after Arthur Morris and Sid Barnes had posted 117 for the first wicket, in went Bradman.

Australia's captain and king of run-makers received a stirring ovation from the Oval crowd and the England players. He played legspinner Eric Hollies' first ball to mid-off. Newcomer commentator John Arlott was on air, and described how the Bradman drive went in the direction of the Houses of Parliament, though the ball didn't go quite that far, of course. Of course. Pity it didn't, for Bradman would then have been guaranteed a lifetime Test average of 100.

It took a while for the Bradman lifetime average of 99.94 to touch public consciousness. The game was so much simpler, almost naïve, in those days

Hollies bowled again (not around the wicket but over: that famous newsreel sequence is manipulated). If DG Bradman had a weakness it was against quality wristspin. He played hesitantly forward. Bowled him! There was a stunned pause. The Don quickly turned on his heel, tucked his prolific bat under his arm and set off back to the pavilion, where he sat down, removed his pads and said, "Fancy doing a thing like that!"

When his former team-mates and now journalists Jack Fingleton and Bill O'Reilly saw Bradman's wicket disturbed, according to EW Swanton, they shrieked with delight, tastelessly revealing their feelings about their former captain, at a time, too, when the press box was maintained as a cathedral of decorum.

It was not a statistically minded age. There was, as far as I can recall, no forewarning that he needed only four runs to sustain a lifetime Test average of 100. It took a while for 99.94 to touch public consciousness. The game was so much simpler, almost naïve, in those days.

The mystique of that figure lives on. In Australia it was embedded in the address of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, when cricket-loving supremo Sir Charles Moses made it the ABC's postal box number. It has been the subject of quiz questions galore. Despite the futility of it, some desperate zealots have even trawled through the fine print of Test cricket's records to try and find Bradman four more runs: perhaps a boundary of leg-byes that had really come off the bat edge, or a bad umpiring decision (Bradman did quietly claim that one of his double-centuries in England ended with a caught decision when the ball had merely brushed his shirt).

Maybe it's not the Greek tragedy that many consider it to be. Bradman certainly never moaned about it publicly or to friends, as far as I know. I always steered clear of talking to him about Bodyline, for obvious reasons, and can't recall ever bringing up this business about his Test average. He himself simply wrote: "I had a rather sad heart about my own farewell as I wended my way pavilionwards." Strange as it may seem, there was no reference to that wretched 99.94.

David Frith is a leading cricket historian and author


West Indies' unbeaten run
By Fazeer Mohammed

As numbers go, 15 is pretty innocuous. It doesn't figure when measuring on a scale of one to ten, and when giving marks out of a hundred, it is so low that it barely deserves a mention.

But when it represents the number of years that West Indies remained unbeaten in Test cricket at a time when the standard of the game was unquestionably high, 15 becomes absolutely staggering. And when positioned against the 20 years of decline and struggle that have immediately followed the era of invincibility, it is entirely bewildering.

Mean in maroon: West Indies took hold of the Test crown and didn't give it up for well over a dozen years

Mean in maroon: West Indies took hold of the Test crown and didn't give it up for well over a dozen years © Getty Images

First, though, the facts.

From the start of the five-match series in England in the northern summer of 1980 to the end of a two-Test jaunt in New Zealand in February of 1995, West Indies played unbeaten through 29 rubbers, 16 of them away from home. There were also one-off first-ever Tests against South Africa, in which the hosts pulled off a stunning come-from-behind victory on the last day at a deserted Kensington Oval, and against Sri Lanka, a soggy draw in Moratuwa.

There were stretches of unprecedented dominance even within that 15-year period, with 1984 often identified as West Indies cricket at its most fearsome. Australia, all of Allan Border, Dean Jones, Terry Alderman and company, were brushed aside 3-0 in the Caribbean with the home team, amazingly, not losing a single second-innings wicket through the five matches. England, notwithstanding the presence of Ian Botham, David Gower, Allan Lamb and other notables, then endured the humiliation of a 5-0 "blackwash" on home soil, a treatment that was to be repeated two years later in the Caribbean.

Then, just to rub the Aussies' noses deeper into the red dirt of their own homeland, Clive Lloyd's awe-inspiring troops closed off 1984 by taking the first three matches of the five-Test series down under, stretching their winning streak to a then record 11 matches, forcing a tearful resignation from the Australian captaincy by Kim Hughes in the process.

At a time when the likes of Imran and Gooch were among the giants of the game, it would have been incredibly difficult to not lose a series for even three years

Curiously, though, the invincibility in Tests did not extend to the 50-over World Cups - although the stunning upset suffered at the hands of India at Lord's in 1983, when a hat-trick of titles seemed there for the taking, was the spur for a 3-0 domination of India at the end of the year.

This recollection is not about unfurling once again the record of majestic innings by Viv Richards et al, or the devastating exploits of the fearsome foursome of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner, but reinforcing that they, and so many other outstanding players of that era, were able to establish and sustain a record of almost complete dominance. It is a standard that will surely remain as elusive as the Don's 99.94.

Yes, there were some notable capitulations, like being routed for 53 by Pakistan (who fought West Indies to three high-class 1-1 series draws from 1980 to 1990) in Faisalabad in 1986, and the utter destruction wreaked by legspinner Narendra Hirwani, who claimed 16 wickets on debut in Madras in 1988. And there were also a few notable escapes: controversial umpiring in Barbados in 1988 ensuring a drawn series against Pakistan, and blatant time-wasting in Trinidad preventing England from going 2-0 up in 1990, just to name two.

Rather than stain West Indies' record, though, they reinforce how incredibly difficult it would have been, at a time when the likes of Imran Khan and Graham Gooch were also among the giants of the game, to not lose a single series for even three or four years. To have remained unbeaten for all of 15 then, when surrounded by so many champion opponents, is truly astonishing.

Fazeer Mohammed is a Trinidad-based broadcaster and journalist who has been covering West Indies cricket for 25 years


The duck
By S Rajesh

Cricket's most significant number has to be 0. It's the number every batsman dreads, the number almost none can avoid. Even the greatest have had their tryst with the duck. In all international cricket, 2569 players have combined to contribute 14,041 ducks, which works out to an average of five and a half per player. Compared to that, only 5194 centuries have been scored - that's a ratio of 2.70 ducks per century. Only 831 batsmen have experienced the feeling of scoring an international century, compared to 2569 who have made international ducks, again a ratio of 3 to 1. The low of getting out for 0 is an experience far more common than the high of scoring a century.

Poultry farmer: Chris Martin was one of cricket's most celebrated tailenders, with 38 ducks to his name

Poultry farmer: Chris Martin was one of cricket's most celebrated tailenders, with 38 ducks to his name © Getty Images

Some players - not necessarily specialist batsmen - have experienced that feeling of walking back without scoring a run many more times than others. Three players have passed the landmark of 50: Muttiah Muralitharan, Courtney Walsh and Sanath Jayasuriya.

For some it's a badge to be worn proudly, the ultimate proof of a true tailender. In modern times, no player has done justice to the No. 11 tag as New Zealand's Chris Martin has: in 112 innings he had 38 ducks.

However, it isn't just the lower-order batsmen who are remembered for their inability to get off the mark. Some top batsmen have had unforgettable 0 moments: anyone who follows India-Pakistan cricket will never forget Shoaib Akhtar's perfect first-ball yorker that flattened Sachin Tendulkar's middle stump in the Kolkata Test of 1999; and what about Marvan Atapattu's sequence in his first six Test innings, which read 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0? Similarly, Ken Rutherford made six ducks in his first 12 Test innings, and yet managed to stretch his career to 56 Tests, during which period he also scored three hundreds and 18 fifties (and ten more ducks).

At the other end of the spectrum are players who have never experienced scoring an international duck. Their careers are clearly incomplete (and in the cases of those who have retired, they will stay that way). Among those who belong in this group are Brijesh Patel (47 international innings), Brendan Nash (40), Chris Rogers (39), and Dirk Wellham (28). There's only one player who has batted more than 50 times without yet experiencing the joy of a zero: he isn't a big name from any of the big teams, but Afghanistan's Samiullah Shenwari, who has batted 57 times in international matches without getting a duck (though he has been out on 1 six times). Clearly, he is still some distance from achieving greatness.

For batsmen it's a list to avoid, but for some others it's a badge to be worn proudly, for it's the ultimate proof of being a true tailender

Shenwari might want to pick up a lesson from AB de Villiers' Test career. De Villiers waited 78 innings to record his first duck in Tests, but in hindsight that was a mistake: before he scored his first duck, he averaged 41.08; since getting that zero, he has averaged 63.67 in 83 Test innings.

Unarguably, though, the most famous zero of all was made by the greatest batsman of all. As David Frith writes, without the duck there would be no 99.94.

Stats up to January 25, 2015

S Rajesh is ESPNcricinfo's stats editor


365 not out
Sobers' record
By Steven Lynch

Three-sixty-five. The number of days in a year. Nice and easy to remember. And, for most of the adult life of any cricket follower aged from 30 to 70, it's the number we associate with probably the most redolent statistical table of all - the one for the highest individual Test score. Early in 1958 in Kingston, Garry Sobers extended his first Test century to 365. It was 365 not out, in fact; the asterisk somehow makes it so much better.

Even now, more than 20 years after Lara, when I think of that list it's Sobers and his 365 not out that comes to mind first. Then I have to factor in Brian Lara (twice), and Matthew Hayden. Oh, and Mahela Jayawardene's 374.

It was a remarkable innings by Sobers, who was just 21, even if he had a bit of help: the pitch was one of those Sabina specials, polished and prepared until you could almost see your face in it. It was a great batting track, on which Pakistan had made a middling 328 in the first day and a half.

Sobers, Lara: the highest Test score has been a West Indian monopoly for 57 years, save for about six months in 2003-04

Sobers, Lara: the highest Test score has been a West Indian monopoly for 57 years, save for about six months in 2003-04 © PA Photos

Pakistan's attack was soon up against it: seamer Mahmood Hussain ran in to bowl the first over, and limped off after five balls with a pulled thigh muscle. He didn't return: it's probably unfair, but I can't help imagining he wasn't that keen to get back out there. Abdul Hafeez Kardar, the tourists' autocratic captain, had gone into the match with a cracked finger, and the 16-year-old left-arm spinner Nasim-ul-Ghani soon broke his thumb.

Sobers came in at 87 for 1 and put on 446 with Conrad Hunte, who was 40 runs short of his own triple-century before he was run out. Everton Weekes made 39, and when he was out, Clyde Walcott - not a bad man for a crisis - strolled in at 602 for 3. Not long afterwards, Sobers broke Len Hutton's old record, and West Indies declared at 790 for 3.

Those injuries had left Pakistan with only two fully fit bowlers (Kardar still managed 37 overs, and Nasim 15). Fazal Mahmood, their great medium-pacer, trundled through no fewer than 85.2 overs, in immense heat, to take 2 for 247.

At the other end Khan Mohammad, a bit quicker than Fazal but with fewer variations, sent down 54 overs, and finished with 0 for 259, still the most expensive wicketless analysis in Test history. Later in life, he shrugged it off as one of those days: "Everyone always talks about that 0 for 259. They never ask me about the time I bowled Len Hutton for nought at Lord's in 1954." That was probably Khan's finest hour… although almost as notable a Lord's achievement came much later, when he persuaded the notoriously eagle-eyed MCC membership office that he lived abroad - and thus qualified for a much-reduced subscription - while actually running a travel agency down the road in Ealing.

Mahmood Hussain limped off after five balls and didn't return: it's probably unfair, but I can't help imagining he wasn't that keen to get back out there

The record would last till Lara made 375 against England early in 1994: fittingly, Sobers was there in Antigua to congratulate the new standard-bearer. Sobers had held the blue-riband record for 36 years, longer than anyone else has managed. Hanif Mohammad, who had made a triple-century himself earlier in that 1957-58 series, paid tribute. "It was an unblemished innings, full of delightful strokes - though we, who were on the receiving end, could perhaps be excused for not sharing in that delight," he wrote. "It was an innings that was indicative of Sobers's brilliance, which continued to shine even brighter as his career progressed, making him an incomparable player."

Steven Lynch is deputy editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack


Sri Lanka's twisted inheritance
By Vithushan Ehantharajah

A "World Cup legacy" is a strange thing. It is a magnanimous yet malleable entity that can be forced into any shape to fit a particular narrative, often one of an everlasting love brought about through the healing power of sport.

It is, ultimately, nonsense.

The sight of Aravinda de Silva, sleeves billowing in the Lahore evening air for an unbeaten 107, taking Sri Lanka through to their maiden World Cup win, even now takes me back to 1996. I was crouched, battling with a cousin for floor space next to the radio, which was doing its darnedest to spit out what it could of this faint, long-wave broadcast. This isn't a side-street cobbler in Jaffna, by the way - this is St Stephen's Road, Ealing.

Heady and hellish: Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup win brought glory and sowed the seeds for endless politicking

Heady and hellish: Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup win brought glory and sowed the seeds for endless politicking © Associated Press

"It really changed the fortunes for Sri Lanka cricket," said de Silva, in an interview in 2013. By that point, he had taken on a number of roles within Sri Lanka Cricket, including chairman of selectors, in a period that saw the relationship between the country's players and administrators at an all-time low.

The reason? Greed and corruption stemming from that World Cup victory. It was Sri Lankan cricket's tipping point.

The team members became marketable assets and there was money to be made. The board, run by volunteers up to this point, was suddenly part of a multi-million dollar organisation. Gradually the well-intentioned were eased out and the politically savvy, self-motivated moved in. They have yet to be displaced.

Almost 20 years on, there has been little drive or consistency from those on the countless selection panels and interim committees. They simply line their pockets, boost their profile and move on. Voting was often rigged for the highest bidders, and AGMs could be violent affairs, with intimidation frequently the strongest currency.

Financial impropriety meant the government had to step in and dissolve its own appointed interim committee, as the board found itself saddled with US$23 million of debt after the 2011 World Cup.

Prior to that competition, which Sri Lanka co-hosted, just as they had done in 1996, Kumar Sangakkara had offered his resignation as captain, having become disillusioned with tasks that included negotiating the contracts of other players and battling constant political interference. He eventually relinquished the role after Sri Lanka's defeat in the final to India, but his gripes featured prominently in his MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lord's, delivered later that year.

In 2012, Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain in '96, condemned the state of the SLC after their first elections in seven years ended in controversy, with one of the two groups contesting withdrawing because of political interference in the process. During Ranatunga's brief tenure as SLC chairman in 2008, he felt the effect of that interference when he was sacked by then sports minister Gamini Lokuge without any hearing.

Almost 20 years on, there has been little drive from those on the selection panels and interim committees. They simply boost their profile and move on

Perhaps most galling of all is the transformation of Sanath Jayasuriya, Player of the Tournament in '96. In 2010 he became an MP, representing the party of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the United People's Freedom Alliance - the same government suspected of serious war crimes within Sri Lanka by UN and human rights organisations.

Jayasuriya was then appointed as national selector by sports minister and fellow UPFA member Mahindananda Aluthgamage. Since then he has been embroiled in countless disagreements with players, ranging from contract disputes to quarrels with Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, who have used their profiles to aid the team over their national board.

The glory of that March evening at the Gaddafi Stadium inspired a nation. Unfortunately, it also created an administrative monster that shows no sign of changing its ways.

Legacies aren't all they are cracked up to be.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a freelance sportswriter. In 2014, he was named the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Young Journalist of the Year