April 13, 2004

'To play one innings of such magnitude is enough to put you high in the list of all-time greats but to produce two is one of the most remarkable achievements in sport.': Nearly ten years ago in Antigua, Brian Lara scored the highest ever innings in Test cricket, breaking a mark set 36 years previously. Yesterday, on the same ground, he reclaimed that record from Australia's Matthew Hayden, becoming the first batsman to score 400 in a Test, in a knock that lasted 732 minutes against a previously dominant England bowling attack. Since cricket doesn't get much of a mention here, I thought it was worthy of a post. But I'm also interested how people think single-game achievements such as Lara's compare to lifetime and single-season records such as those of Barry Bonds: is sporting greatness defined better by single performances or by the entirety of one's career?

posted by etagloh to other at 02:40 AM - 12 comments

Being a brit, I can't really compare Lara to Barry Bonds, but Lara's achievement was absolutely superb yesterday. He's surely one of the greatest batsmen of all time (though perhaps not as good as Don Bradman).

posted by BigCalm at 03:07 AM on April 13

Second that - considering the west indies didn't manage to get to 100 between them a couple of times this series this is a fairly remarkable achievement. One suspects, however, that this was a pitch made to bat, therefore avoiding the chance for England to become the first team to whitewash the windies at home.

posted by Brettski at 03:43 AM on April 13

A superb innings, just a shame it happened to be against England! The pitch certainly helped him but then again, England didn't do much with it when they had the chance. After all that though, I would argue that this shouldn't disguise the fact that Lara is just not a good enough captain to lead the Windies through this slump in form. They've done pretty OK during recent tours but when it's not going well it all falls apart. Lara sets a poor example as a leader both on and off the field (the stories of his behaviour at Warwickshire make Dwight Yorke look like a stay-at-home) and sometimes looks like he can't be bothered to field. All good batsman are, to a degree, selfish but Lara takes it to a new level. A superb batsman (when he feels like it) but a poor motivator and tactician.

posted by Pete at 04:00 AM on April 13

Lara was remarkable. To bat for two and a half days...

posted by dng at 04:59 AM on April 13

He's surely one of the greatest batsmen of all time (though perhaps not as good as Don Bradman). That's a good comparison in light of my question, I think. Bradman's Test average, a 'career' stat, is one of those records that I can't imagine ever being broken. That's partly because cricketers play so many more Tests these days -- you don't have to sail across for the Ashes, for one thing. So there's more room for scenarios such as the one in Antigua, where the pitch, the toss and a 3-0 series created the opportunity for such a huge knock. On the more general point, the decline of the Windies is really saddening. The allure of US sports (especially basketball) piped in on satellite TV means that the current generation tends to see cricket as neither fashionable nor lucrative. At least it's thriving in the subcontinent: the deciding Test in Pakistan is well worth a listen. Back to my question, though ;) Here's a great piece from the LRB, ostensibly on baseball, which makes an interesting comparison between Bradman and DiMaggio's records: DiMaggio's streak is anyway not the most remarkable achievement in modern sport, viewed in purely statistical terms. That accolade belongs, without question, to Don Bradman, the Australian cricketer, whose lifetime test match batting average of 99.94 towers over all others (the next best players have averages that congregate around 60). There have not been as many test cricketers as there have been professional baseball players, nor as many matches, but there have been enough for the raw data to mark Bradman out as a completely different order of run scorer from everyone else who has ever played the game... In pressing his case, Gould overstates it. He says that what truly marks out the Streak as an untouchable achievement is that, to sustain it, DiMaggio could not afford to make 'a single mistake'. This is not true. In baseball, a batter can expect to get as many as four or five chances to hit in a single game: he only needs to take one of these for the hitting streak to continue. Moreover, it takes three strikes to get him out. A few wild swishes, a couple of pop-ups for easy catches, and then a mishit squeezed past first base is enough to keep a streak alive. DiMaggio being DiMaggio, it was usually a lot more elegant than this. But just because DiMaggio was DiMaggio doesn't mean that it couldn't have happened this way as well. Which makes me wonder again about 'career stats'. My gut tells me that Ted Williams' > .400 season and Ty Cobb's .366 career average are more impressive than career HRs totals, simply because the latter is in part a measure of longevity, and doesn't take into account the number of HRs in one's career that come in September games when nothing's at stake. I suppose that the big difference between cricket and baseball in that regard is that an innings in the former is much less 'atomic' than an at-bat in the latter, and less prone to flukes. There have only been 19 triple-centuries in Test cricket, compared to 238 double-centuries and nearly 3000 centuries. That's to say, it's nearly 200 times 'harder' to score over 300 than a ton. That Lara and Bradman alone have made two 300+ innings shows an exceptional degree of endurance as well as skill.

posted by etagloh at 05:23 AM on April 13

Thanks for the link to the LRB piece, very interesting. I agree about the comparisons between cricket and baseball. I'm coming to baseball pretty new and don't really know my DiMaggio from my Gehrig as it's not much covered over here but I do find it really interesting. It does seem to have some of the same qualities as cricket, particularly the love of stats and the long and proud history (as well as the fact that it is being eclipsed by other flashier sports such as football (both sorts). I've got the Gould book on order from Amazon and would like to hear about any others you can recommend (plus I think I should find a good MLB team to support).

posted by Pete at 06:02 AM on April 13

I think lifetime achievement is a better definition of greatness than a single game/match/moment. Example: Carlos Delgado recently hit 4 home runs in one game. That's a near impossible feat to perform (fifteen times in over 110 years of recorded major league baseball). That said, no one would dare say his greatness is beyond that of Hank Aaron (who never did it).

posted by grum@work at 07:31 AM on April 13

doesn't take into account the number of HRs in one's career that come in September games when nothing's at stake. Not being a cricket fan or familiar, this innings of Lara's seems like an amazing achievement. OTOH, it came during what seems like garbage time with his team already having lost the series. Not quite in the class of Michael Strahan's 22nd sack a couple of NFL seasons ago but not exactly a worldburner.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:21 PM on April 13

OTOH, it came during what seems like garbage time with his team already having lost the series. True to some extent, but remember that the bowlers had no incentive to offer up soft deliveries for shits and giggles. Every hour that Lara's innings continued -- and it continued for over 13 hours -- meant another hour that the fielding side had to spend out under the Antiguan sun, rather than sitting in the pavilion sipping iced water. And if you're pale English types, that's not something you relish. So it's not quite the same as, say, hitting a homer from a AAA call-up who's tossing BP fastballs in a late September game. Remember too that this was probably England's best chance to sweep a West Indies series, and gain some sort of revenge for the 'blackwashes' (yes, they were called that by the Windies themselves) of the 80s. I saw an interview that Lara gave just after declaring, and the slightly spaced-out tone of the conversation suggested that he'd basically been running on fumes during the third day. Which isn't surprising, really.

posted by etagloh at 07:58 AM on April 14

If you don't mind me being completely 100% ignorant, could one of you point me in the direction of a clear description of how crickett is played? One that explains it as if it were being told to a small child? Thanks. My Google search skills have turned up nothing but descriptions that baffle me.

posted by Joey Michaels at 07:15 PM on April 14

Joey, I just posted this a few weeks back which, especially with the comments and other linked articles, ought to do the job.

posted by billsaysthis at 09:00 PM on April 14

bill: Awesome. Thank you and sorry I missed it the first time.

posted by Joey Michaels at 07:01 PM on April 15

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