Across Time: Ravichandran Ashwin and Babar Azam

“It is amazing how quickly Ashwin has become the fastest to reach 200 Test wickets, he is going to break many records,” said my dad.

Across Time: Ravichandran Ashwin and Babar Azam

Across Time: Ravichandran Ashwin and Babar Azam

“Not fastest, second fastest,” I corrected him.

“You are talking about people like (Clarrie) Grimmett. Son, cricket has changed a lot from back then,” he said.

I couldn’t argue.

He recalls watching a Test match in Karachi where 95 runs were scored in a full day’s play. He reminisces the time when during Test matches players could casually interact with friends, family and even with privileged fans.

He says, “Asif Iqbal would sit next to us and chit chat, with his pads on, waiting for his turn to bat”.

He remembers Hanif Mohammad riding a bicycle to the National Stadium on the morning of a Test match in Karachi.

The Mohammad brothers often got their lunch from home, as their mother packed tiffin for them, he says.

As money poured into cricket, its social fabric changed too.

Laws, regulations, bat technology, pitches, quality of oppositions and many other components that have fundamentally altered the sport are in a constant state of evolution.

Fielding restrictions and power play arrangements change so fast that even avid cricket followers have to stay up to speed to keep pace with frequent modifications.

It can sometimes take an extra second to recall how many fielders are allowed outside the circle in the last ten overs of an ODI.

In such a dynamic environment, how accurate can it be to compare players from different eras?

How destructive would Virat Kohli be if he were to go into bat carrying the willow of Dilip Vengsarkar?

How scary would Harold Larwood be if he were restricted to bowl his desired number of bouncers?

Could a modern day cricketer bat without a helmet, on uncovered pitches?

When Younis Khan became Pakistan’s highest run-getter, murmurs of him being arguably the best Test batsman his country had ever produced started to surface.

And, with every innings like his recent 175 in Sydney, he finds new converts.

But ‘ever’ is a very long time.

I, for one, grew up believing that Javed Miandad was Pakistan’s greatest batsman.

Younis has a better average, more runs and hundreds, in fewer games than Miandad, in addition to his herculean 4th innings average and a massive appetite for runs.

Yet, many would still argue Miandad’s case.

Ceteris paribus, with batting average as a measure, there have been 44 Test batsmen with an average of over 50 since the game began in the 19th century.

20 of those have played cricket in Younis Khan’s time; ie, after the turn of the millennium.

In comparison, during Miandad’s era (through the ’70s and ’80s] there were only four other batsmen in the world that boasted a 50-plus average: Greg Chappell, Sunil Gavaskar, Alan Border and Sir Viv Richards.

No matter how many runs Sachin Tendulkar scored, Sunil Gavasker was held in special admiration for an entire generation that came before Sachin’s time.

No matter how many wickets Ashwin gets, they can never be measured against the 619 taken by Anil Kumble.

It is not how great you are when compared through time, and with players from a bygone era; what matters is how far ahead of the pack you were in your own generation that counts.

That is why the batting of Vivian Richards is held in such high esteem.

He boasted an ODI strike rate of over 90 with an average of 47.80, in a time when most batsmen averaged in the 30s and no pure batsman could boast a strike rate of even 80.

Viv’s level of stroke play was way above his peers and far ahead of its time.

22-year-old Babar Azam smashed the quickest 1,000 runs in history in just 21 innings at Perth during the 3rd ODI against Australia.

He became the joint-fastest player to reach the record first set 37 years ago by Sir Viv Richards and later equaled by Kevin Pieterson, Jonathon Trott and Quinton de Kock.

Babar has already played ODIs in five different countries, Pakistan (against Zimbabwe), Sri Lanka, UAE, New Zealand, England and Australia.

He has shown signs of genuine talent, and coach Mickey Arthur has gone so far as to compare him to Virat Kohli at the same age.

In reality, Babar Azam is young and emerging talent that has gotten off to a dream start in white-ball cricket. And Ravichandran Ashwin is currently the number one Test bowler in the world.

But how do Babar’s first 1,000 ODI runs or Ashwin’s 200 Test wickets measure against the records that were made before they were even born?

In the words of Dhoni (India’s greatest captain ‘ever’), “Our biggest problem in the cricket fraternity is that we try to compare. How cricket is played has changed drastically.

“We can’t compare a Sehwag with a Gavaskar. Even approach in a Test match has changed a lot. It is unfair to compare.”

In a world where top edges go for six and most Test matches have results, runs and wickets come in abundance. And, when a cricketer hits a purple patch, they come even faster.

The run of form for Viv spanned five years — completed his first 1,000 ODI runs in 1980; Kevin Pietersen equalled the record in less than 12 months when he burst onto the scene in 2005.

Clarrie Grimmett retired at the age of 45 and had played a total of 37 Tests in his entire career; Ashwin has played 40 in the last 5 years.

Cricket is a sport with infinite changing variables; so it is not only inaccurate, but also unjust to compare players across eras, as it either diminishes or amplifies the real value of their accomplishments.

While a world record by Ashwin or Babar might not necessarily put them above the greats of a bygone era, it does ensure ascendance over the competition in their own time.

And in true cricketing essence, it is all that really matters, or can be measured.

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