Almost every captain understands the importance of milestones. Records are personal accomplishments after a life’s dedication and not something to be scoffed at © Getty Images
Almost every captain understands the importance of milestones. Records are personal accomplishments after a life’s dedication and not something to be scoffed at © Getty Images

With Karun Nair’s innings running to 303, and Virat Kohli waiting for the milestone before declaring, the debate over individual records and team triumphs could have been reopened. Ravindra Jadeja had different ideas. However, Arunabha Sengupta looks at the data to dispel some stereotypical myths, such as ‘champion sides don’t care about personal records’ and ‘Indians habitually place individual records before team accomplishments’.

Another Individual versus Team debate

With Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings batting through the first session on the final day of the Chennai Test, one could almost hear rusty pens getting sharpened on the “Individual vs Team” millstone.

It is, after all, a favourite appliance of the hacks. And while the phenomenal Karun Nair had blazed his way to 303 not out, he had almost played into the hands of the columnists with his dazzling willow.

“Indians, with their penchant for personal records, giving way higher priority to the individual milestones than Test match wins which would do the nation proud …” and so on and so forth. With striking contrasts to cherry-picked moments when champion cricketing sides like the powerful West Indians of the 1970s and 1980s and the Australians of the late 1990s and the early 2000s had put victory way ahead of individual feats.

It was mentioned more than once in the commentary box, and one can almost see the rush of sentiments across print and online media if the visitors had managed to hold on to their wickets during the final two sessions.

But then there was Ravindra Jadeja and the comprehensive rout necessitated dipping of pens in other stereotypical clichés. Virat Kohli could breathe easy again. The delayed declaration was not about to become the issue of the country.

The individual vs team theme has been repeated so often, with Indian cricketers — more precisely the men from the subcontinent — getting the wrong end of the argumentative stick, that it is now considered gospel. Don’t we remember the 194 not out and so on … Did not the great Australians play only for wins?

I can dwell on the theme that cricket is a fantastic individual contest within a team game unlike any other, which makes it so fascinating among sports.

I could write several thousands of words on how painstaking effort at perfecting the skills seeks rewards through great feats like big hundreds, five-fors or world records. About how relentless quest for perfection implies individual attainment, how the paths of any great team and the individual member overlap and are not disjoint for successful functioning, about how it is not a simple case of ‘individual-bad-team-good’ like the mind-numbing echo of the ‘four-legs-good-two-legs-bad’ chant of Animal Farm.

I could ask whether the West Indians would prefer to remember hazy images of yet another of many wins against England over the years or revel in the knowledge that Brian Lara is the only man on the planet to score 400 runs in a Test match.

I could ask uncomfortable questions on what makes the team axiomatically greater than the individual and stretch it further along academic lines and draw parallels with the concept of fascism.

However, I choose not to do all that.

I choose to question the basic axiom that Indian cricketers or men from the subcontinent have looked at personal milestones at the expense of team results. And that great sides have always put the team ahead of the individual milestones.

While harping on such individual vs team clichés, the notes are commonly generated by plucking on the strings of taut perceptions. Very few stop to analyse the data and the curious truths that closer inspection provides. Data can be very dangerous for popular sentiment.

But we decided to tread along the dangerous lines.

In the following exercise, we have taken a look at the following:

a)  Instances when a declaration has been delayed to allow a cricketer complete a personal milestone. That means a declaration has been made almost immediately after the cricketer achieved the milestone.

b)  Instances when a declaration has been made at the expense of a cricketer’s personal milestone.

c)  An analysis of which teams have done each of these on how many occasions.

For (a):

We have taken the common milestones: 100, 200, 300, 400. Additionally, we have taken the known instances of delaying declaration while allowing a player to pursue world record scores, such as Wally Hammond’s 336* against New Zealand to go past Don Bradman’s 334, Garry Sobers and his 365* which went beyond Len Hutton’s 364, and Matthew Hayden’s 380, which went past Lara’s 375.

Each scorecard has been inspected to deduce that the declaration had indeed been delayed for the milestone and came immediately afterwards.

One thing we may have missed out on is dismissals close to the milestone even after declaration had been delayed. We have concentrated on declarations carried out after milestones have been reached.

For (b) we have taken instances when declarations have been made when players have been stranded between 275 and 299, 180 and 199, and 90 and 99.

This makes a robust sample size. What is ignored here are the less universally acknowledged records (declaring at 200* when the national record was 236) etc. Also, we have ignored supposed sacrifices like Michael Clarke’s declaration at 329 not out, five short of Bradman’s 334. Bradman’s record had been overhauled several times by many men by then, including Hayden of Australia, and hence such a media-manufactured milestone has been ignored. This has been done just for simplicity.

Finally, after we have gone through (a) and (b), we have managed to go through step (c) to determine whether any team is more prone to the perceived failing of putting individual above team and whether any team is significantly free of this trait.


1. In the history of Test cricket, we have 171 occasions of declaration delayed in order for an individual to reach his milestone.
2. The table below gives a split of the teams that have been ‘guilty’ of this:

Team Declarations that immediately followed personal milestones
Australia 24
Bangladesh 1
England 32
India 20
Pakistan 31
New Zealand 9
South Africa 17
Sri Lanka 13
West Indies 20
Zimbabwe 4

3. As we can see, the English lead the table followed by Pakistanis, and the side supremely touted as the champions of the team-above-individual mentality, Australia, has had as many as 24 instances and are ahead of India in that regard.
However, we should understand that if we take just these numbers and try to form inferences, we will be following to a very common error called base-rate-fallacy. That is, we do not yet know how many opportunities of this sort had been presented to each team.
Without that knowledge, these numbers do not make sense. For example, Bangladesh has done it only once, but that does not really make them the most selfless team. They might not have had too many opportunities to declare in the first place … leave alone the co-joined opportunity of declaring when someone is approaching a milestone.
Hence, without considering (b) as given above we will be producing nothing but an imbecilic index.
However, before we tread along that road, let us look at some of the interesting details of the previous table by digging in a bit further.

4. Let us look at the batsmen to have benefitted through delayed declaration for each country. That will enable a lot of scales to fall from our eyes.
We find that the Australians of the 1990-2000s, typecast by the media as play-for-win team-over-individual brigade, have been ‘guilty’ of waiting for milestones before declaring way more frequently than any other cohort.
To me, that is very natural. They were great players and to be great cricketers they had to care about their feats, about the mark they would leave on the game.
Therefore Hayden was allowed to pursue the record and try to make 400 even though they had more than enough against Zimbabwe. That was why Gilchrist was allowed to go hammer and tongs for two hundreds and a double-hundred as the captain patiently waited. Ricky Ponting, Steve Waugh, Damien Martyn, Justin Langer … even Jason Gillespie’s ridiculous double-hundred … all appear in the list.
We have to add that while the great Australians under Waugh and Ponting never lost sight of personal milestones, seldom was the result compromised because of it. Except for the occasion of delaying the declaration a wee bit too much to force the result in order to allow Brad Hodge to get his double-hundred at Perth, they always managed to win in spite of the records. For the great sides, individual brilliance go hand in hand with team dominance.
At the same time, we do find captain Ian Chappell waiting for his own hundred as well as another from the bat of buddy Doug Walters before choosing to declare way too late in Georgetown, 1973, thereby draining the match of any possibility of a result.
We also find Joe Root and Garry Ballance scoring double- and single-hundreds respectively at Lord’s against Sri Lanka and Alastair Cook waiting for their milestones, and in the process Sri Lanka slipping through with a draw with one wicket standing.
We see Shivnarine Chanderpaul being the beneficiary of delayed declarations on as many as five occasions.

Team Batsmen for whom the captain decided to delay declaration
Australia (24) Mathew Hayden (380, 100*), Adam Gilchrist (204*, 102*, 101*), Brad Hodge (203*), Jason Gillespie (201*), Allan Border (200*, 100*), Rod Marsh (110*), Rick McCosker (109*), Ian Chappell (106*), Adam Voges (106*), Ricky Ponting (104*), Doug Walters (102*), Ian Healy (102*), Matthew Wade (102*), Jim Burke (101*), Arthur Morris (100*), Steve Waugh (100*), Dean Jones(100*), Matthew Love(100*), Damien Martyn (100*), Justin Langer(100*)
Bangladesh (1) Khaled Mashud (103*)
England (32) Wally Hammond (336*,100*), John Edrich (310*,100*), Patsy Hendren (205*), Kevin Pietersen (202*), David Gower (200*), Graham Thorpe (200*), Joe Root (200*), Ken Barrington (109*), Ian Bell (109*, 106*, 103*, 100*), Jim Parks (108*, 101*), Arthur Milton (104*), Alastair Cook (104*), Gary Ballance (104*), Denis Compton (103*), Cyril Washbrook (103*), Matt Prior (103*, 102*), Alan Lamb (102*), Peter Parfitt (101*, 101*), Michael Vaughan (101*), Maurice Tate (100*), Colin Cowdrey (100*), Mike Gatting (100*), Robin Smith (100*), John Crawley (100*)
India (20) Karun Nair (303*), Cheteshwar Pujara (206*, 101*), Sachin Tendulkar (201*, 104*), Dilip Sardesai (200*), Rahul Dravid (200*), VVS Laxman (200*), Ajinkya Rahane (108*, 100*), GS Ramchand (106*),  Gundappa Viswanath (103*), Vijay Manjrekar (102*), Mohinder Amarnath (101*), Syed Kirmani (101*), Kripal Singh (100*), Yashpal Sharma (100*) Sanjay Bangar (100*), Sourav Ganguly (100*), MS Dhoni (100*)
New Zealand  (9) Tom Latham (109*), Ken Rutherford (107*), Craig McMillan(107*, 100*), Vic Pollard (105*), BJ Watling (102*), Ross Taylor (102*), Andrew Jones (100*), Adam Parore (100*)
Pakistan (31) Azhar Ali (302*, 100*), Mohammad Yousuf (204*, 102*), Hanif Mohammad (203*, 101*, 100*), Shoaib Mohammad (203*), Younis Khan (200*, 200*, 103*, 100*), Majid Khan (110*), Abdul Razzaq (110*, 100*), Wasim Raja (107*), Asif Iqbal (104*), Alimuddin (103*), Sadiq Mohammad (103*), Salim Malik (102*, 100*, 100*),  Kamran Akmal (102*),  Misbah-ul-Haq (102*,102*, 101*), Saqlain Mushtaq (101*), Mohammad Hafeez (101*), Asad Shafiq (100*)
South Africa (17) Hashim Amla (311*), Jacques Kallis (201*, 107*, 100*), Garry Kirsten (108*), Jacques Rudolph (105*), Jackie McGlew (104*), Brian McMillan (103*, 100*), Jonty Rhodes (103*), AB de Villiers (103*, 103*), Dean Elgar (103*), Lance Klusener (102*), T Bavuma (102*), S van Zyl (101*), JP Duminy (100*)
Sri Lanka (13) Hashan Tillakaratne (204*, 105*), Mahela Jayawardene (203*, 100*), Brendan Kuruppu (201*), Marvan Atapattu (201*, 100*), Kumar Sangakkara (200*), Aravinda de Silva (103*), Thilan Samaraweera (103*), Kithuruwan Vithanage (103*), Chaminda Vaas (100*), Dinesh Chandimal (100*)
West Indies (20) Brian Lara (400*), Garry Sobers (365*, 108*, 106*), Basil Butcher (209*), Jimmy Adams (208*), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (203*, 203*, 103*, 101*, 101*), Viv Richards (110*), Carl Hooper (108*, 100*),  David Holford (105*), Alvin Kallicharran (103*, 100*), Junior Murray (101*), Joe Solomon (100*), Lawrence Rowe (100*)
Zimbabwe (4) Grant Flower (201*), Brendan Taylor (105*, 102*), Andy Flower (100*)

5. Now let us turn to the other side of the story.
How many times have captains declared with men approaching milestones?
We realise several facts just by going through the data.
The first logistic realisation is that we do not need two different tables as in the previous case, because the number of cases is pitiably few.
And many of them have some abnormality associated with it, which makes one wonder if that really was an ‘individual-vs-team’ issue.

6. As opposed to the 171 occasions of declarations held back due to the imminent personal milestones, there have been only 16 cases of declarations when batsmen have approached milestones.
There have been four declarations with batsmen above 275. Of them the two that got into the 280s rather far from team-over-individual cases.
In all, more than half of the 16 instances are curious rather than noble.
- While AB de Villiers missed out on the triple-hundred, he actually set a new national record. Graeme Smith had declared with de Villiers on 278*, De Villiers went past 277 that was held by — Smith.
- Peter May declared the innings closed at a personal score of 285 because he was dead tired, had been almost caught off a long hop and had to ask the umpire by how much England was ahead of the West Indies because he could not stand the stress of mental calculation.
- Javed Miandad was reportedly pissed for a number of years when captain Imran Khan declared with him on 280. Miandad, who named a chapter of his autobiography The Anatomy of a Declaration, had this to say: “I noticed Zaheer [Abbas] looking intently towards the pavilion. I turned around to look as well, and saw that Imran was waving us in. It was like a kick in the stomach. I remember just standing dumbfounded, not knowing what to do. Then I noticed that Zaheer was starting to walk back … Gavaskar was incredulous. He said he would never have declared had an Indian batsman been as close to 300 as I was.”
- Frank Worrell had batted extremely slowly, leaving the captain Gerry Alexander with no option but to declare at Worrell’s score of 197. Alexander had waited and waited till his patience had been exhausted. It had left little time for West Indies to force a result even though it was a 6-day Test.
Only thrice in the history of Test cricket has anyone batted longer for a score less than 200 than Worrell’s 682 minutes. Of them, both Shoaib Mohammad and Sunil Gavaskar came to bat on Day Three of a five-day Test, while John F Reid set up a win.
- Sachin Tendulkar’s 194 is a tale of miscommunication, and one over that was supposedly promised and was not bowled. The surprise of Tendulkar was perhaps expected, just because this was such a rare occurrence. Before him and since only Worrell’s painstaking 197* had been the solitary instance of a captain closing an innings with a batsman in the 190s. Only thrice have West Indians batted longer, and the innings had amounted to 400*, 375 and 291 (Ramnaresh Sarwan).
According to John Wright’s Indian Summers, the batsmen were told during the break that they had 15 overs to play before declaration. The innings was closed after 13.5. And although Tendulkar was not going berserk, he had scored 29 from 36 balls since tea, and that compared to Worrell was rollicking. Given how easily the match was won, the entire episode was perhaps avoidable through another seven balls.
- Jacques Kallis scored 189 not out at Bulawayo at such lugubrious pace that even Wisden was provoked to comment: “Kallis lumbered towards the double-century he never reached, despite batting for 580 minutes in the cushiest conditions he could have wished for.”
- Graeme Hick was so shocked at being asked to come in at 98 that skipper Michael Atherton was later forced to acknowledge that his decision had been the wrong one.
- Imran Khan’s decision to close the innings with himself at 93* at Sialkot, 1991, against Sri Lanka did not help Pakistan to force a result. Perhaps it was his way of showing a still-sulking-after-all-these-years Miandad that he could be big enough not to care for such personal records.
- Sourav Ganguly declared the Indian innings at Sydney with Dravid on 91 after the batsman had been hit on the ear. In Tendulkar’s autobiography, it is described as: “Rahul was keen to bat on for a little longer and we finally declared just after he was hit on the head by a Brett Lee bouncer when he was on 91 and I was on 60 not out. In hindsight I must say we delayed the declaration too long … when we had both been batting on the fourth evening and Sourav had sent out two or three messages asking when we should declare and Rahul had carried on batting.”
- Finally, the only Australian entry in the list was so curious that Wisden wrote, “[Bill] Lawry long delayed his declaration into the evening of the second day and then astonishingly deprived [Rod] Marsh of the chance to become the first Australian wicket-keeper to score a Test century. Lawry’s captaincy indeed gave his side little chance of squaring the series.

Country Declarations despite players falling short of milestones Scores
Australia 1 Rod Marsh (92*)
England 3 Peter May (285*), Phil Mead 182*, Graeme Hick (98*)
India 3 Sachin Tendulkar (194*), Sunil Gavaskar (182*), Rahul Dravid (91*)
Pakistan 2 Javed Miandad (280*), Imran Khan (93*)
South Africa 4 AB de Villiers (278*), Darryl Cullinan (275*), Jacques Kallis (189*, 182*)
West Indies 3 Frank Worrell (197*), Viv Richards (182*), Everton Weekes (90*)

Note: The ones marked in red are the ones “more curious than noble”.

7. Final inferences:
a. It is rare to declare when a player is approaching a milestone. The main reason is that cricket is an individual battle within a team sport and almost every captain understands the importance of milestones. Records are personal accomplishments after a life’s dedication and not something to be scoffed at.
b. The teams have had 187 such opportunities of declaration and done so on 16 occasions, 8.56% of the times. Of these, more than half are curious issues rather than pure ‘putting the team first’.
c. India do not come across as a terribly personal-record oriented side in any way. In fact, Indians have declared more often on the verge of a personal landmark than the Australians. That does not make them a historically superior team in any way. But that does prove that much of the perceptions are erroneous.
d. The data provides enough indication that champion sides merge personal goals with those of the team and that is how they become world beaters. It is ‘one for all and all for one.’ The equation does not stop halfway from either side.

Team Declaration opportunities around milestones Times teams have waited for  milestone Times teams declared before milestone Supposedly put ‘Team First’
Australia 25 24 1 4%
Bangladesh 1 1 0 -
England 35 32 3 8.57%
India 23 20 3 13.04%
Pakistan 33 31 2 6.06%
New Zealand 9 9 0 -
South Africa 21 17 4 19.05%
Sri Lanka 13 13 0 -
West Indies 23 20 3 13.04%
Zimbabwe 4 4 0 -
Total 187 171 16 8.56%