Entertaining, enlightening, exhaustive
Cricket fans love making lists. Often, the lists are as eclectic as they are fanciful. Which is your all-time best XI comprising only No. 4 batsmen? How about the best leg spinners to have never played for Dunedin? We are indefatigable. We can make lists of anything, but few things make our eyes light up more than a list of great Test hundreds.
Masterly Batting: 100 Great Test Centuries, compiled and edited by Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson, arrives in the hands of list-making cricket obsessives like an early Christmas present. Combining the rigour in research befitting a scholar and the love for the game befitting of a true (list-making) fan, this is a book that will have followers of the glorious game debating, agreeing, and arguing.
Ferriday and Wilson have not merely mined the game’s archives and come up with any old list. The parameters used to judge the “greatness” of the “great” hundreds is impressive. Here is what they are: 1. Size of innings; 2. Conditions; 3. Bowling strength; 4. Score as percentage of team total; 5. Chances given; 6. Speed; 7. Impact on series; 8. Impact on match; 9. Intangibles; and 10. The compatibility of the bowling attack with the conditions
Veteran English cricket writer John Woodcock had cautioned the authors against the subtitle, ‘100 Greatest Centuries’. Hence, what we have is ‘100 Great Centuries’ as the subtitle. But it really is a list of what the authors consider to be the 100 greatest; were it not, what would be the point of ranking the innings?
Each of the centuries is accompanied by an essay: a brief one for the hundreds ranked 100 to 26; and long, mighty enjoyable ones for the tons that comprise the top 25. These 25 essays, the authors point out, are the heart of the book, and so they should be.
Spoiler alert: For those of you who can barely withstand the suspense, here are some nuggets:
Sachin Tendulkar’s 155 not out against Australia at Chennai in 1998 clocks in at No 100.
Three of Virender Sehwag’s centuries make the cut. Only Gordon Greenidge (4), Graham Gooch (4), Brian Lara (50 and Don Bradman (5) make more appearances.
VVS Laxman’s 281 not out at the Eden Gardens against Australia in 2001 is at No 34.
Lara’s 153 not out against Australia at Bridgetown in 1999 ranks second. I won’t tell you which hundred comes out on top. Read the book and find out.