By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published May 11, 2015
“Nonsense!” This one word uttered by sports journalist and talk show host, Orville Higgins a few weeks ago, in surmising my moot or conclusion: “Great Bowling is more critical than Great Batting for teams to dominate in Test cricket”. I laughed while having over 138 years of Test cricket data to defend my argument. My corner was bolstered by both the in-depth and superficial data analysis while his corner remained void of analysis, data, and as some may put it, a keen ear. I could easily plunge into the years of data, analysis and repeatable findings that fortify my moot or conclusion; however, that’s for another time or article.
My grandmother with her luminous acuity always repeated this byword to us grandkids, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger”. In Higgins’ infinite wisdom or lack thereof, he thought I was comparing simple arbitrary terms “bowling” and “batting” and saying one was more important. No, the level of the debate or conclusion drawn is more advanced. We are talking about “Great batting” and “Great bowling”. The word “great” had passed over his head without him realizing it was there or how it is truly defined.
Of course, both batting and bowling are important to a team’s success. Sure, you have to do both above average to succeed or stay close to the top. However, in which of the two departments does your team have to be great, by astronomical strides, above the other teams in order to not just win intermittently, but dominate Test cricket for an extended period or matches? And mind you, marginally succeeding or remaining close to the top is not dominance.
Words such as “great”, “good”, “star” and “dominant” are used so willy-nilly these days. Young journalists and fans alike are guilty of their overuse. They are especially guilty of lauding these often unworthy and unproven young players with these sacramental adjectives. With all involved, journalists, fans and players alike, void of the true meaning or essence of these words in a sports debate or comparison.
It is in these moments I often recall Conrad Hunte talking to Charlie Davis and describing Rohan Kanhai after a tour in England in which Kanhai tore into the “great” Fred Trueman. Hunte said to Charlie at a dinner function: “Charlie, Rohan is a good player, so what did you expect?” Charlie, in reminiscing, said it’s the best compliment he had ever heard from one player to another. “Good player”. “It’s one hell of a compliment”, he described.
These days, if you make a 50 in Test cricket or take 3 wickets in an innings for West Indies, you are dubbed a “star” or a “great” player. Can you imagine how they would describe Kanhai if he was playing today? Superlative: “God-like or Otherworldly!” Kanhai was a very good player; others may even argue, great. He is probably the most consistent batsman to ever play Test cricket. Was he God-like? No. Is he underrated? Yes. I often question, “Have the standards fallen so low or have these descriptive words lost their numerical and romantic meanings?”
In cricketing circles, if you averaged in the 30s as a batsman, you were average. In the 40s, good to very good. In the 50s, great. Above that, we start getting into the god-like arena. For bowling: between 30-35 was average; 26-30, good; 20-25, we start attributing greatness; and below 20, god-like.
Among cricket analysts and statisticians, this worked out to about 5-10% above average being good, 10-20% above average being very good, above 20-25% being great, and above 50% puts you in the clouds with the gods. This is how the terms ‘good’, ‘great’ and ‘god-like’ are judged statistically and sentimentally in cricket.
So, in addition to passing a statistical boundary, how far apart you have distinguished yourself from your peers can decide how great you are, or what level of greatness you have achieved. In addition, achieving this for an extended period in your era is the certification or judge. We see this in how players like Bradman and Sydney Barnes are adjudged in Test cricket; Viv Richards and Joel Garner in ODI cricket; Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in Golf; Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain in Basketball; and Pele and Maradona in Football. These are the heights of greatness or of the gods and they should not be compromised.
So I beseech these young journalists and fans of the various sports, including cricket, to not lose sight of these adjectives. Their meanings are paramount and should not be glossed over or used with scant regard.
Confucius said, “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom.” I think their minds also. So I’ll forgive my young narcissistic friend for his superficial thought and assumption, when I proposed my moot or conclusion. The potential unforeseen consequences of his aberration were not fully understood by him, or his supporters.
The adjectives good, great, god-like and others have significance and meaning. Keep their essence true or we’ll be damned with mediocrity on the field and in sport discussions. Or are we already damned? Oops, it may be too late.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
From the “Lies & Statistics” Column in the Western Mirror (Published Monday, May 11, 2015)