Endurance Test: The last of the Centurions? | Crickit
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Endurance Test: The last of the Centurions?

Mar 06, 2024 11:19 PM IST

Four players will soon join the 100-Test club but future additions could be few and far between.

In two days, the 100-Test club is set to become 80 with four additions—Ravichandran Ashwin, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson and Tim Southee. Ben Stokes made the cut at Rajkot last month after starting his Test career in 2013—18 months after Bairstow, two years after Ashwin, three years after Williamson and more than five years after Southee.

Ravichandran Ashwin, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson and Tim Southee are set to join the 100 Test club
Ravichandran Ashwin, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson and Tim Southee are set to join the 100 Test club

The game is perhaps most unkind to fast bowlers, so Southee becoming the first pacer since Stuart Broad (in 2016) to play 100 Tests will always stand out as a testament to the will and fitness to rough it out for this long. But there is very little reason otherwise to downplay the fact that not many—batter or bowler, leave alone a specialist allrounder—may have the drive to reach this landmark in the future.

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There have always been exceptions. Like Brendon McCullum who didn’t miss a single game between his debut and 100th match, or Alastair Cook who missed just one match in his debut series in 2006 but then featured in 159 Tests without a break—the longest in cricket’s history. AB de Villiers played 98 Tests on the trot, Adam Gilchrist 96, Rahul Dravid and Mahela Jayawardene 93 Tests each but they also happened to be phenomenal batters spending bulk of their careers in the 2000s when bilateral cricket was in the pinkest of health, with even India and Pakistan touring each other frequently.

Between 2000 and 2009 alone, 29 cricketers had got to the 100-Test mark. Since then, though, the numbers have taken a sharp plunge. Seventeen players in the 2010s and 14 (including these four) so far in this decade, there isn’t much to suggest the numbers could spike in future. Of the current players, Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne and West Indies’ Kraigg Brathwaite (both on 89 Tests), Australia’s Mitchell Starc and Bangladesh’s Musfiqur Rahim (both on 88 Tests) could get there. But after them?

The next highest capped for other nations are Tom Latham for New Zealand (79 Tests), Usman Khawaja for Australia (72 Tests), Ravindra Jadeja for India (71 Tests), Shakib Al Hasan for Bangladesh (66 Tests) and Chris Woakes for England (48 Tests). More precarious is the situation at South Africa and Pakistan, with Kagiso Rabada (62 Tests) and Babar Azam (52 Tests) currently leading that column.

The expansion of cricket has played a crucial part in this growing gap of experience. With the prevalence of triseries and quadrangulars and the ICC still sticking to just the ODI World Cup and a lightly tested Champions Trophy, the format-wise distribution of cricket was equitable in the 2000s. Till of course the ICC decided to enroll in the madness of Twenty20 with the inaugural World Cup in 2007. With the BCCI starting the IPL next year, nothing remained the same. Financial remodelling of cricket occurred in due time, with India, Australia and England emerging as the Big Three.

Two changes were quietly ushered in: India, England and Australia started playing each other more than ever as other nations started getting the raw end of the scheduling deal. In time, it began to reflect in the numbers too. Of the 14 players (including these four) to get to 100 Tests this decade, 10 hail from India, Australia and England.

And that has only further skewed the overall ratio, with the Big Three accounting for 46 of 80 players in this club now. Which is why it’s even more commendable that apart from Brathwaite, Kemar Roach (81 Tests) too is in the running for 100 Tests despite West Indies getting fewer big tours.

Still, it’s more about physical endurance than anything else. It can’t be coincidental that only 11 cricketers to have made their debut since 2007—the year the T20 bug essentially bit world cricket—have made it this far. That too, with Ishant Sharma, Broad, Cheteshwar Pujara and Nathan Lyon playing a major phase of their careers as Test specialists. Of the four additions, Ashwin and Southee too have been sparingly used in shorter formats.

With more and more cricketers choosing formats to preserve themselves, Test longevity may soon be redefined in years, not by the number of games. And that will only make this 100-Test club even more august than it already is.

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