Cricket is a game to be relished not an account to be scrutinised, writes Peter Roebuck
Cricket needs to extract itself from the cold embrace of its statisticians. Over the last few seasons these calculators on two legs have wielded an inordinate influence.
Far from retaining the dignified silence befitting those whose main attribute is an ability to count, allied to an abiding fascination with the peripheries of the game (the discovery that Tom Bloggs twice scored 74 on a Tuesday afternoon in Derby sends them into raptures), these numbers men roar like agitated bulls whenever something displeases them.
In recent weeks, these dismal creations have complained about Jason Gillespie and the authenticity of the World XI matches played last October. The fact that no sensible person cares a hoot about matters of this sort passes them by. True cricketers concentrate on the game itself, with its majesty and its follies, and look forward to the next match without fussing about trifles.
Obsessed with figures
Gillespie's mistake was to score a double hundred in a Test match played against minnows Bangladesh.
No sooner had the pace bowler performed his mighty feat than those obsessed with figures started pointing out that the South Australian had put himself alongside, or not far behind, two of the greatest batsmen of the era Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis.
Neither the Indian nor the South African has been prolific in the matter of huge scores. Plenty of chances have come their way.
Obviously these historians and bean counters believe that the records have been distorted by easy runs collected against weak attacks representing nations prematurely awarded Test status. So what? As the schoolboy saying goes "get over it!" Cricket is not answerable to figures collated by some poor soul whose youthful dreams were crushed by endless days at third man.
This reverence for figures provokes resentment at every change that compromises them. Cricket may delight mathematicians but to put them in charge is akin to allowing traffic wardens to form a government.
No one in his right mind relies entirely on figures in his assessment of a cricketer. Gillespie's mum does not imagine that her off-spring can bat half as well as Tendulkar or Kallis, or Brett Lee for that matter.
His innings against Bangladesh was a marvellous effort, nothing more, nothing less. No need arises to point out, or to regret, that the South Australian has achieved something beyond much better players. Everyone already knows that.
Admittedly, the status of the World X1 is, or was, a valid topic for discussion. It does seem odd, though not objectionable, that matches between a country and a scratch outfit can be put in the same category as a contest between the best two nations. It is not so much a question of standards as legitimacy. The Australians were representing something substantial. The world was a shadow.
Let's move on
However, the decision to award Test status to the matches was taken by the responsible body and it is time to move on. Only those obsessed with status work themselves into a fury about these things.
Apparently a scorer by the name of Bill Frindall has refused to include these matches in his book of records, and never mind that his figures will be wrong. Here is an instance of the cart pulling the horse.
No other game assigns such a significant role to historians or statisticians. Cricket needs to put them back in their box. It is a game to be relished not an account to be scrutinised. To concentrate on averages is to miss the power, the poetry and the passion.