Monday, 13 July 2003
World Records
W.G. Karunasena

Today Sri Lanka holds records for the highest team test score, the highest team one-day score, the highest partnership for any wicket and the most sixers in a game.

We also boast Asia’s highest alcohol consumption per capita of the last decade and the world’s highest suicide rate of 1998. We’re even credited with inventing the suicide bomber. You’re welcome.

“Some records are utter nonsense,” says Ari and maybe he is right. Not that he can talk. I have before me one of his pink notebooks open at a random page.

• Shortest bowler to take 300 wickets – Malcolm Marshall. Height: 5’9” • Best bowling without conceding a run – Richie Benaud 3-0 vs India 1959
• Best career bowling average – W. Barber (Eng 1935) – 0.00
• Best career bowling strike rate – W. Barber (Eng 1935) – 2.00

It was an unremarkable ugliness. A succession of half-baked rhythms and movements. All sign, little fury.

The run-up is curved and spider-like. Mathew skirts in sideways across the pitch. The arms wag as the ball is passed from left to right. The leg extends, the foot clamps down, the back arches. Arms weave inward like tentacles. Left wrestles right for the ball, and rolls over.

“Who the hell is this W. Barber?” “Wilfred Barber. Played two matches. Bowled two balls. Took one wicket. Never played again.” “You can’t count that, men.” “I know, I know. But interesting no? Statistically, if he had bowled 1000 more balls, maybe he would’ve taken 500 wickets.” Sometimes my dear friend can be an idiot.

This notebook has a page dedicated to Pradeep Mathew:

• Best ever Test bowling 10-51 vs NZ at Asgiriya. (Record disallowed) • Best ever One day bowling 8 – 17 vs Gibraltar in 1987. (Not recognized by ICC)
• 14 deliveries – Chinaman, Googly, Orthodox, Boru Ball, Undercutter, Floater, Leaper, Speed Ball, Carrom Ball, Skidder, Darter, Top-spinner, Arm Ball, Double Bounce Ball.
• Top P. Sara Trophy wicket-taker 1986-7, 1989-90, (For Bloomfield) 1993-94, 1994-95 (For NCC)
• 7 wickets in 7 balls vs Saracens. (Accused of ball-tampering)
• Took 49 wickets in 7 tests. If he had played 100 tests, would’ve taken 700 wickets.
• Longest 0 not out. 132 minutes. President’s XI vs Pakistan 1986.

These days, records fall at alarming rates. Not just in cricket. In six years, the 100m record has gone from 9.93 to 9.79. This is nothing short of incredible. It took 35 years to bring it from 10.2 to 10. Baseball’s 60 home run record, conquered by only two men (Babe Ruth and Roger Maris) over the last century has, as I write, been plundered four times in the last six seasons by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

The record for highest test total (903-7 Eng vs Aus 1935) stood high and handsome for 60 years before being felled by the axes of Jayasuriya and Mahanama. By the time Lara and Tendulkar are done, untouchable records set by Hammond, Sobers and Bradman will be all demolished.

It took bowlers until the 1930s to reach the 200 wicket mark, and until the 60s to reach 300. The last decade has seen several bowlers charge past 400 and 500 wickets. I know not how long Akram, McGrath, Kumble, Murali and Warne will carry on for. I do know that one or more will almost certainly pass 800, maybe even 1000.

Records that stood for decades now change hands every year. This should not surprise us. The world is faster. Lives are more crowded and tightly packed. We play exponentially more cricket. The players are fitter and arguably playing under easier conditions against less formidable opposition. Soon every record will belong to 21st century players. The likes of Trueman, Hutton and Bedser will be buried along with their forgotten deeds.

But, as with most things, there are three exceptions.

The Don’s batting average of 99.96 will stand forever. So will George Lohmann’s bowling average of 10.75, set in 1901, the good ole days when ball dominated bat, despite the LBW rule having not yet been invented. Today the very best bowlers average in the low 20s. The cream of batsmen only average in the 60s. No one has come close to these records or ever will.

In 1956, Jim Laker set the record for best bowling in an innings, the infamous 10-53 in a matchbag of 19-97. Most pundits will place this along with Bradman and Lohmann’s unmatchable deeds. Not Ari and me. Many would describe Laker as the only bowler to take all 10 wickets in a test match innings. Not us. Many would say that Laker’s feat will never be beaten. We say that it already has been.