Why are some records unbreakable? Often, the game evolves so drastically that some feats become fossilised. Sometimes, a once-in-a-generation player has such a phenomenal performance that it’s unlikely to be bettered. Cricket’s records are possibly the most fascinating blend of these factors, triggering awe and intrigue at the same time. Can Don Bradman’s 99.94 be broken? Or Jim Laker’s 19/90? What about Sachin Tendulkar’s 100 hundreds? These seem insurmountable numbers given how cricket has changed in the last decade.
Take nothing for granted though. England will tell you why. Twice now in six years have they bettered the highest ODI total after overtaking Sri Lanka’s 443/9 (against Netherlands in 2006) with 444/3 against Pakistan in Nottingham in 2016; 481/6 against Australia in 2018 and 498/4 against a Netherlands outfit run ragged in Amstelveen last Friday. Only in March, 2006 Australia became the first side to breach 400 (434/4) before South Africa overhauled it in a famous chase at the Wanderers. That one-day cricket took just 16 years to go from eight runs per over to almost 10 per over shows you how fast this game is changing.
The mere effort that goes into setting some unusual records automatically accords them longer shelf lives, noticeably in domestic cricket. Like when Bengal declared on 773/7 during their Ranji Trophy quarter-final win against Jharkhand earlier this month, it was the first instance of nine players scoring 50-plus in the same innings in first-class cricket. The only time there were more than seven such scores in a first-class innings—eight by the touring Australians against Oxford and Cambridge Universities—was way back in 1893. Mumbai’s 725-run win against Uttarakhand, also in the quarter-final, bettered the previous biggest win in first-class cricket—685 runs by New South Wales in the 1929-30 Sheffield Shield game after Queensland were bowled out for 84 chasing a target of 770. In both the games, the intention was to bury the opposition in runs, which Bengal and Mumbai achieved with a coordinated team effort.
Some first-class records have been more confounding due to the extenuating circumstances under which they came. For example, the shortest completed first-class match by balls, which the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians (ACS) says took place in Faisalabad in 2004-05 when Karachi Blues conceded a Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (Pakistan’s equivalent of Ranji Trophy) match 85 balls into the first day saying the pitch was too dangerous after slipping to 33/4. The next two shortest matches also happened in Pakistan—121 balls between Quetta and Rawalpindi (who won by 9 wickets) in 2008-09 and 162 balls in 1990-91 that Sargodha conceded to Bahawalpur.
Age-related records too have usually come with some disclaimer given the bulk of them were set in the subcontinent. The ACS website conforms to this norm, detailing the methodologies employed to determine the age of cricketers with the rider: “The exact dates of birth of some cricketers have not been, or cannot be, verified. The details in the following list are based on the best information currently available, but especially, though certainly not exclusively, in the cases of cricketers from the 18th and earlier 19th centuries, and those from Pakistan and Bangladesh—they should be treated with appropriate caution…” All 10 youngest first-class cricketers—a list helmed by Ajmer-born Pakistan Test cricketer Alimuddin who made his debut for Rajputana in 1943 aged 12 years and 73 days—were born in pre- and post-Partition India, seven of them documented in Pakistan’s domestic circuit.
They may be incredible, but you can never guarantee these records won’t be rewritten. But the upper ceiling’s fixed by the rigours of cricket now. And that means Wilfred Rhodes’s record for the longest first-class career (1,110 matches spanning 30 years 315 days) will never be touched. Neither is the record for the oldest man to play cricket change ever. CK Nayudu, a bulwark of the modern game in India, played his last first-class match in 1963, aged 68 years and four days. Thirteen years before that game though, Raja Maharaj Singh had become the oldest first-class player in history when he made his debut as captain of the Bombay Governor’s XI, aged 72 years and 194 days, against a touring Commonwealth XI. Dismissed by Laker on four, he took no further part in the game.
Over the decades, Wisden has done a magnificent job chronicling the game through its annual almanacks. Its colossal effort has contributions from all over the world. The most curious of them probably is the ‘Miscellaneous Records’ section that has everything from largest attendances to highest partnerships and records of 10 wickets for no runs in minor cricket.
Quirkiest of them all? That came in the 19th century when Robert Percival achieved the feat of “throwing the cricket ball” across 140 yards and two feet—roughly 130m or more than the length of a standard cricket field these days—on the Durham Sands race course during the annual Easter Monday sports meeting in 1882. South Africa cricketer Colin Bland reportedly once cleared 150 yards, as has Latvian javelin thrower Janis Lusis and British sprinter Charley Ransome. Wisden though says the “definitive record is still awaited”.