Two pieces of statistics got me wondering last week. Dataheads among you might have known all along, but I was surprised to discover that (a) Don Bradman has now slipped out of the top ten Test century-makers of all time, and (b) with Mark Ramprakash's retirement, we might well have seen the last of the batsmen to score 100 first-class centuries. Yes, I know that it was only expected, but now that these stats are in front of us, aren't they worth at least a tear or two?
The two mean drastically different things, of course.
When it came to Bradman's mark, it was a matter of time. With the intensely packed cricket schedules over the past many years, more teams - some of them good enough to flay with Geoffrey Boycott's mum's stick of rhubarb - in the fray, and easier pitches to bat on in many parts of the world, Bradman had to slip. It's improbable his mark would have stood for much longer even if Kumar Sangakkara didn't get in the kind of form he has against Pakistan. But then, with Bradman now slipping to No. 11, it's almost like a slice of our childhood has passed. The 99.94, of course, continues to stand like a colossus, as it should for eternity.
When the '70s kids started following cricket, it was all about Bradman - even if he had retired some three decades before we could be counted as serious cricket-watchers. Sunil Gavaskar going past Bradman's mark of 29 Test centuries was a big deal. Bradman's 6996 Test runs were never too many anyway; the 10,000 mark has been breached many times over the years as well. But it was in the 1983-84 series against West Indies, in Chennai (then called Madras), that Gavaskar scored his highest Test score ever - 236 not out. His 30th century. The era of The Don had ended. Much like, later, in the 1993-94 series against England, Brian Lara ended the Sobers Era with his 375.
Since then, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Matthew Hayden, Mahela Jayawardene, Sachin Tendulkar, Jacques Kallis and, now, Sangakkara - all outstanding batsmen - have crossed the mark. Maybe Shivnarine Chanderpaul (25) or Graeme Smith (24) or one of the others will do the same. But, if other names are to supersede Bradman's, they will probably belong to cricketers who are currently active. I am convinced that the number of Test matches will diminish in the years to come. Commercials, basically. Which means that, maybe, Bradman will eventually slip to around the No. 15 mark, not much lower.
But that is a thing of the future. What's happening right now is a rapid decrease in first-class games. And that's why the English press has hailed Ramprakash as, possibly, the last of the 100 first-class centurions. Ramprakash, in a list obviously dominated by Englishmen, ended with 114 against his name.
Among the names at the top of the list, only Bradman (117), Viv Richards (114), Zaheer Abbas (108) and Glenn Turner (103) are 'foreigners'. Somehow, I don't see any of the cricket boards spoiling their Twenty20 league schedules to accommodate more first-class games, just as I don't see the International Cricket Council being able to force nations to play too many Test matches anymore. I don't like the thought of it, but, call me a doomsayer, I think sooner or later that's where we will be headed.
Yes, we have been writing obituaries of Test cricket for two decades (or more) now. It's still alive and kicking. And the rise of T20s might affect One-Day International cricket more than Tests. But even if T20s don't kill off Test cricket, they will, eventually, take a chunk out of its share of playing days. No? Don't agree? Well, I hope you're right. But, somehow, I don't think so.