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Wrecking the records

Sporting feats that were once unthinkable are now fantastic, not fantasy. Gulu Ezekiel writes.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2011 23:25 IST
Gulu Ezekiel

'Records are meant to be broken' is one of sport's oldest adages. That may be of some comfort for Sachin Tendulkar after his one-day international (ODI) world record of 200 not out achieved in February 2010 was smashed by Virender Sehwag at Indore last week.

Some sporting records, though, are well nigh impossible to eclipse. In cricket, these include Australian batting legend Don Bradman's career Test average of 99.94 and English off-spinner Jim Laker's match analysis of 19 wickets for 90 runs against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956. In tennis no male player has achieved the Grand Slam — winning the four major titles in a calendar year — since Australian great Rod Laver in 1969. But Laver had achieved the feat seven years earlier as well. This makes his feat out of reach of any modern tennis pro.

Tendulkar, however, was the first to reach 200 runs in a single ODI innings and that achievement is his for all time, no matter how many others may follow him and Sehwag.

In track and field the four-minute mile barrier withstood all attempts to breach it for nearly 90 years since records began to be kept from the 1860s. Such were the myths built around it that some experts even began to believe that the human chest would not be able to withstand the pressure of that sort of speed and would simply explode. So the barriers were both physical and psychological.

Roger Bannister knew better, of course, being an ace athlete and a medical student. When he ran the mile in three minutes and 59.4 seconds at Oxford in 1956, the barrier finally fell and the floodgates were opened. In the decades since, nearly 900 men — though no woman or Indian athlete — have gone under four minutes.

Conquering the world's highest peak, Mount Everest, was naturally an even bigger challenge with many having lost their lives attempting the 'impossible'. That is until Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the breakthrough in 1953. They cleared the way for thousands since then, including those with physical challenges. Modern climbing equipment and running techniques as well as hi-tech shoes and artificial running tracks means the feats of Bannister, Hillary and Tenzing may appear commonplace today. But back in the 50s when sportspersons and adventurers had to make do with rudimentary gear, achievers attained almost mythical proportions.

Cricket has always been a batsman's game, now more so than ever with the advent of the Twenty-20 format. As a result, equipment and rules and playing conditions all tilt more and more in favour of the batsman. The bowler has to constantly adapt to prevent being reduced to mere cannon fodder.

Advances in bat manufacturing means even mis-hits sail over the boundary ropes, which incidentally are being brought in closer and closer to the point of many international arenas today resembling school grounds. After all, everyone loves to see bowlers hammered for boundaries, don't they? Pitches, particularly in India, are getting flatter, making life easier for our batsmen. No wonder our champions were found sorely wanting when they were trapped on the green tops in England this summer.

Modifications in rules today include the free-hit, fielding restrictions, power-plays and the curtailment of bouncers. Umpires are ever-more stringent in the application of wides. Totals over 400 — the first such was in 2006 — are no longer considered freakish. No wonder bowlers around the world are pushed to the brink of desperation.

So Sehwag should enjoy his record while he can. Chances are it won't be long before someone re-writes it. No surprises though if Sehwag does it himself.

Gulu Ezekiel is a Delhi-based freelance sports journalist and author. The views expressed by the author are personal.