“First man on the planet to reach 200... and it’s the Superman from India!”
Every now and then, a day comes along in your life, that you will never forget as a sports fan. Your brain registers millions of sporting moments as you grow older and only a select few stand the test of time. Only a select few make you remember what exactly you were doing when said moment unfolded.
February 24, 2010 would be one such for every Indian cricket fan.
When Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, 36 years old, bent low, stretched his bat outside offstump and squeezed a ball to the fielder at point off Charles Langeveldt’s bowling at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior, a nation celebrated. The cricketing world stood up and applauded. The South African bowlers had no answer to the magic that was being wielded by Tendulkar’s willow.
The Master Blaster had scaled yet another cricketing peak.
Eight years later, however, a 200 in ODI cricket - though still rare - is not as jaw-dropping a feat as it felt that night in Gwalior, thanks largely to one man - Rohit Sharma’s three such feats. Saeed Anwar’s record 194 stood for nearly 12 years, before Charles Coventry (yes, the Zimbabwean had also scored 194*, against Bangladesh) joined him in 2009.
As The Field’s Angikaar Chaudhary had written after Sharma’s third double ton, no ODI batting record is quite safe anymore.
Fixing that day as a completely arbitrary reference point, here’s a look at how batting in ODIs has evolved since Tendulkar raised his arms aloft and celebrated.
Before Sachin’s 200
In the 39 years that elapsed between the first one in 1971, there had been 2961 recognised ODI matches in history. The first ever 100 was scored by England’s Dennis Amis in the second ODI that was played. There were 1050 centuries between that and Sachin Tendulkar’s 200 against South Africa. Tendulkar’s 200 was the 1052nd time a batsman had crossed 100 in ODIs. That is a century every 2.82 matches. The average score of the centuries before Tendulkar’s 200 was 116.15.
Scores of 150-plus were even more rare, obviously. Only once in every 51.9 games did batsmen cross a century and a half. Every now and then there would come an innings that threatened to break the 200 barrier. Gary Kirsten’s 188 in the 1996 World Cup against UAE. Anwar’s 194 against (when he actually got out in the 46th over, with enough time left for a double ton). Herschelle Gibbs’ onslaught in the record chase of 434. Tendulkar himself came close on a couple of occasions with his 186* against New Zealand and that painful 175 against Australia just a few months prior to the unbeaten double century. These are part of the 57 occasions the 150-mark was crossed.
After Sachin’s 200
And then it all started to change. Consensus on that February night when Tendulkar scored the 200th run in the 50th over was that the first double century in ODI cricket was fittingly scored by the man who redefined batting in the shorter formats in many ways. And from then on, it was only a matter of time before the records were rewritten.
There was a sense of inevitability to Virender Sehwag and Chris Gayle going past that landmark - they eventually had to, didn’t they? But Rohit took it a notch higher to the point where every time he is well set opening the batting, you are expecting him to score a double century.
The numbers reflect that as well.
The number of centuries have, of course, gone up considerably. While a century was scored in almost every third matches before then, it has come down to a century in every 1.71 matches since.
An increase, yes. But doesn’t convey a stark change, does it?
Then sample this:
While only 57 scores of 150-plus were made in the 2961 ODIs preceding Tendulkar’s 200, already 54 have been made in the 1018 ODIs since. That’s more than double the rate. Where a 150 was scored once in every 51.8 matches before Gwalior, it’s since jumped to a remarkable one in every 18.8 ODIs.
In fact, a look at the highest individual ODI scores (as of February 24, 2018) tells you it’s own story. Out of the top 50 scores, 21 were made in the 39 and odd years preceding Tendulkar’s landmark while 28 have come in the 8 years since.
While Tendulkar’s 200 came in 147 balls (studded with 25 fours and 3 sixes at a strike rate of 136.05), the advent of T20 cricket has ensured that the number was only going to increase rapidly. From a batsman opening the batting and scoring a double century in the very last over of the innings, we have had AB de Villiers walk into bat in the 39th over and smash a 44-ball 149.
And similar to the number of 150 scores, the speed with which the big centuries have been scored have been on the up since Tendulkar’s 200 as well.
As we began this by saying, Tendulkar’s 200 is an entirely arbitrary reference point to see how big-hitting in ODIs has evolved. This is not to insinuate that the numbers have sky-rocketed in the past decade because of that majestic double century in Gwalior.
But one thing is for sure, batting has never been the same since.
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