It is the season of runs in Test cricket. And double hundreds are the name of the game.

Consider this. Three series are being played across the world and five individual scores of 200 plus have already been recorded. Australia’s Michael Clarke has belted two in succession against South Africa while Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels of the West Indies have one each to their names against Bangladesh. Also in the list is our own Cheteshwar Pujara whose unbeaten 206 helped India beat England at Ahmedabad last week.

I wonder if this has happened before in the history of the game where five double Test tons have been scored in less than a fortnight. Of course, there is a lot more cricket being played now which only means new records can be set at faster intervals and existing ones broken with relatively greater ease. Further, cricket today is all about batsmen, which then throws up uncomfortable questions about the quality of bowling.

This does not take away the achievements of someone like Michael Clarke who has been in stunning form through this year. He notched up two double tons against India and has had an encore with a tough opponent like South Africa which has some terrific bowling in its arsenal. Pujara has the English bowlers at his mercy here but his real test will come on faster pitches overseas. Likewise, while there is no doubting the grit of Samuels and Chanderpaul, the fact remains that an opposition like Bangladesh does not quite pose any serious bowling threats.

Set the clock back by some decades to the 1950s and 1960s and speedsters like Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Wesley Hall and Charlie Griffith come to mind.

Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s and you have the likes of Jeff Thomson, Dennis Lillee, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham and, of course, the West Indian quickies of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. India’s first genuine quickie was Kapil Dev who paved the way for others to follow.

To get big scores off these heavyweights (and there are many more who have not been mentioned) was considered a momentous achievement then. Today’s current batsmen would have found them quite a handful even with all the protective gear going around. It calls for tremendous courage which someone like Mohinder Amarnath displayed in 1983 against the mighty Windies on the fast pitches of the Caribbean.

This is not to remotely suggest that today’s batsmen are having it easy. With so much of cricket being played, there is a need for enormous fitness levels. Further, one has to constantly adapt to different formats be it T20 or a 50-over game and going all the way to five-day Test cricket. This would have been a tall order even for some of yesteryear’s greats.

Yet, amidst all these huge runs and records falling by the wayside, some feats will still be remembered in the years to come. My personal favourite (thanks to YouTube) is Gary Sobers’ 254 for the Rest of the World against Australia in 1971.

To watch a 35-year-old give a young, fiery Lillee the pasting of his life is a sight to behold. No wonder Don Bradman said it was the best innings ever played Down Under. Sobers was the ultimate genius on the cricket field, and this knock tells you why.

murali.gopalan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 24, 2012)
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