Jasprit Bumrah © AFP
Jasprit Bumrah © AFP

This is a thought that has been bothering me for some time now, more so since Australia had decided to rest their frontline bowlers during the ODI series in South Africa, roping in Scott Boland, Chris Tremain, Joe Mennie, and Daniel Worrall. Australia lost the series 0-5. More recently, Jasprit Bumrah was pulled out of Gujarat’s first Ranji Trophy final in 66 years for international commitments. Of course, this has precedence. Players have been picked out of domestic matches when there have been international call-ups. Barring Lord Hawke, few domestic captains have protested (perhaps “been allowed to protest” is a better choice of words here): international matches, for obvious reasons, get preference.

What makes it even more incredible is the fact that the Ranji Trophy final got over on Saturday. The first ODI, scheduled on Sunday, was a day-night affair. A non-stop flight takes 80 minutes, which means Bumrah could have made it to Pune by Saturday evening (assuming the match went the full way). That would have given him a full morning to adjust himself.

What is more, Bumrah’s international commitment this season will involve a maximum of 42 overs of bowling over a span of 17 days. In the recently-concluded Wellington Test, Neil Wagner bowled 44 overs in the Bangladesh first innings. At The Gabba last month, Josh Hazlewood bowled 42 overs in the fourth innings (Mitchell Starc bowled 38 and Jackson Bird 33). Bumrah’s workload is not going to be anything extraordinary.

The Bumrah incident reminded me of Jim Laker’s famous story. To state the obvious, Laker took 19 wickets — 10 of them in the second innings. He did not leave Old Trafford that day before 8 PM. He returned to London that night.

On his way back, he halted in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He had “a couple of very stale cheese sandwiches” and beer in a pub, watching himself bowl on television and overhearing others comment on his spell. It was not surprising, for recognising a player based on grainy newspaper photographs was not the easiest of tasks.

Let us do some basic arithmetic now. If one takes the M6 motorway today it takes him two hours to cover the 131.8-km stretch between Manchester and Lichfield. The M40 will take him another 2 hours 40 minutes (212.6 km). Remember, M6 operated only since 1960, and M40, much later. Also remember that the speed is calculated according to 2017 cars. It would have taken Laker much longer (add to that the time spent at the pub).

What if Laker had travelled by train? The fastest train today takes 97 minutes (Manchester to Lichfield) and 99 minutes (Lichfield to London Euston). However, this excludes time taken to travel from Old Trafford to Manchester Station and from London Euston to Laker’s place. We have still not added the pub time.

Even by conservative estimates, it would have taken him over six hours. Laker did not reach home before 2 in the morning. He had a conversation with his cricket-agnostic wife Lilly. Having received several congratulatory messages earlier that day, Lilly famously asked her husband: “Jim, did you do anything good today?”

Let us assume Laker went to bed by 3 in the morning. Here comes the punch-line: he had to play a match the next morning, for Surrey against the touring Australians at The Oval.

Apart from Laker, the match featured Peter May (England captain) and Tony Lock, both of whom had played the previous day. For Australia, Colin McDonald, Jim Burke, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, and Ian Johnson (Australian captain) all made it the next morning.

Australia had followed on in the Test and lost by an innings. Laker had bowled 68 overs in the match (51.2 in the second innings) and Lock 69 (55 in the second). The next morning Laker bowled 18 (4 for 41) and Lock 11 (1 for 32). Australia were bowled out in 55.3 overs.

Miller, 35 at this stage (he had not lost his nip), then took new ball and took the first four wickets. Do you still think Bumrah was being overburdened?

But then, this may be a one-off. Let us do some more research.

The Don of cricket

Let us begin with the greatest touring side of them all. Don Bradman’s Invincibles played 34 matches on the tour, 31 of which were given First-Class status. These also included 5 Tests. Bradman’s side remained unbeaten throughout the tour, winning the Test series 4-0.

Let us, however, start from the beginning. The Australians played two practice matches in Tasmania, winning both by an innings. The first match at Hobart was scheduled to end on March 6, while the other, at Launceston, started on the 8th. Ten Tasmanians played both matches as well.

The distance between the two cities (198.8 km) takes 2 hours 27 minutes to cover if one takes Tasmania National Highway 1 in 2017. There are two things to remember here: the cars were not as fast, and the roads were nowhere as good.

The other practice match, at WACA, started on March 13, and ended in a draw. They left Fremantle on RMS Strathaird on March 19 and reached Tilbury on April 16. That meant 28 days of travel. They halted in Ceylon on March 27, but there was no respite: they had to play a one-day single-innings match that ended in a draw.

Now for the fun bit: the Australians started their first match on April 28; their last match ended on September 18. That is a stretch of 144 days.

What was the schedule like? The Australians were supposed to play 34 matches in all. The 5 Tests accounted for 25 days; the 26 other First-Class matches, another 78 days; and the 3 Second-Class matches, 6 more days. That is a total of 109 playing days.

Thankfully, they were given the 20 Sundays off. If there was a Sunday during a match, that was counted as a rest day.

That makes it 125 possible days. During this period, they were scheduled to play 109 days of cricket. They were scheduled to get 35 days of rest (including Sundays) in a 144-day span. That amounted to 1.7 ‘leaves’ a week.

Do modern cricketers play more? IPL 2016 lasted for 51 days. The most a team can play is 17 days (14 league matches and 3 playoffs, only applicable to sides that lose Qualifier 1 but win Qualifier 2). That is 3 hours of cricket every three days. For a bowler, that would be a maximum of 4 overs of bowling every three days — of course, travel excluded.

Contrast this with the 1948 tour. At Southend-on-Sea, the Australians hammered Essex to amass 729 runs in a single day. Despite all the leather-hunt, the Essex bowlers sent down 129 overs in a single day. Essex were bowled out for 83 and 187. They faced 115.1 overs across the two innings — which Australia sent down in less than a day’s play. Keith Miller bowled only in bursts, but Ernie Toshack, bowling medium-pace, had figures of 27.5-4-81-7 — all within a day’s play.

The first 12 matches were played without a gap. Let me elaborate a bit on this. The tourists played Yorkshire at Bradford from May 5 to 7. The following morning (the 8th) they played Surrey at The Oval.

It takes 4 hours 12 minutes (thank you, Google Maps) to traverse the distance between the two cities — in 2017. Add a couple of hours to that. This went on for, as I have mentioned above, 12 consecutive matches. The first break — sans the Sundays — was scheduled on June 9 (the first match had started April 28), for there was a Test the day after.

Of course, the Australians had to travel 4 hours 33 minutes (2017 standards, again, add another two hours) after their last tour match (at Hove) before the Test at Trent Bridge.

Australia in England and Scotland, 1948 (The Invincibles tour) schedule

Length includes Sundays

Gap indicates no. of days before the match

H:M (hours and minutes to travel) and route are as per 2017, can be adjusted to 1948

Start

WD

Length

Sun

End

WD

Against

City

Gap

H:M

Route

28/4

Wed

3

30/4

Fri

Worcs

New Road

1/5

Sat

4

1

4/5

Tue

Leics

Leicester

0

1:51

A46

5/5

Wed

3

7/5

Fri

Yorks

Bradford

0

2:8

M1

8/5

Sat

4

1

11/5

Tue

Surrey

London

0

4:12

A1

12/5

Wed

3

14/5

Fri

Cambridge

Cambridge

0

1:35

M11

15/5

Sat

4

1

18/5

Tue

Essex

Southend-on-Sea

0

1:33

M11

19/5

Wed

3

21/5

Fri

Oxford

Oxford

0

2:58

M25 M40

22/5

Sat

4

1

25/5

Tue

MCC

London

0

2:4

M40 A40

26/5

Wed

3

28/5

Fri

Lancs

Manchester

0

4:2

M40

29/5

Sat

4

1

1/6

Tue

Notts

Nottingham

0

2:16

M1

2/6

Wed

3

4/6

Fri

Hants

Southampton

0

3:22

A34

5/6

Sat

4

1

8/6

Tue

Sussex

Hove

0

2:3

M27 A27

10/6

Thu

6

1

15/6

Tue

England

Nottingham

1

4:33

M25 M1

16/6

Wed

3

18/6

Fri

Northants

Northampton

0

1:36

M1

19/6

Sat

4

1

22/6

Tue

Yorks

Sheffield

0

2:3

M1

24/6

Thu

6

1

29/6

Tue

England

London

1

3:42

M1

30/6

Wed

3

2/7

Fri

Surrey

London

0

3/7

Sat

4

1

6/7

Tue

Gloucs

Bristol

0

2:27

M4

8/7

Thu

6

1

13/7

Tue

England

Manchester

1

3:27

M5 M6

17/7

Sat

4

1

20/7

Tue

Middlesex

London

3

4:7

M40

22/7

Thu

6

1

27/7

Tue

England

Leeds

1

3:41

M1

28/7

Wed

3

30/7

Fri

Derby

Derby

0

1:34

M1

31/7

Sat

4

1

3/8

Tue

Glamorgan

Swansea

0

3:35

M4

4/8

Wed

3

6/8

Fri

Warwicks

Birmingham

0

2:52

M4

7/8

Sat

4

1

10/8

Tue

Lancs

Manchester

0

2:6

M6

11/8

Wed

2

12/8

Thu

Durham

Sunderland

0

2:57

M62 M19

14/8

Sat

6

1

19/8

Thu

England

London

1

5:14

A1

21/8

Sat

4

1

24/8

Tue

Kent

Canterbury

1

1:38

M2

25/8

Wed

3

27/8

Fri

Gents

London

0

2:38

M20

28/8

Sat

4

1

31/8

Tue

Somerset

Taunton

0

3:3

M4 M5

1/9

Wed

3

3/9

Fri

South

Hastings

0

4:10

A303

8/9

Wed

3

10/9

Fri

LG’s XI

Scarborough

4

0:0

A1

13/9

Mon

2

14/9

Tue

Scotland

Edinburgh

2

4:28

A1

17/9

Fri

2

18/9

Sat

Scotland

Aberdeen

2

2:42

A90

Obviously, these needed some strategising. Bradman rotated his men brilliantly, making sure none of them played more than 23 of the 31 First-Class matches. Obviously the biggest crowd-puller of them all, he played 23 matches himself, while six others played 22 each.

Let us focus on Bradman for now. Bradman played all 5 Tests (25 days), 18 other First-Class matches (54), and the 2 Second-Class matches (4). In other words, he took field on 83 days. Take away the 19 Sundays, and he got 40 days off in 19 weeks that included 32 inter-city travels (two consecutive matches were played in London).

That amounts to 19 consecutive four-day weeks of cricket for the oldest man in the squad. One must remember that Bradman, at 40, was the greatest name of the side along with being the captain, a selector, and member of the Board of Control (later Cricket Australia), thus bearing more burdens than probably anyone else in history.

There was more: almost before he landed in England, Bradman had announced that he had arrived to return undefeated. Of course, this meant that he had to contribute heavily with bat himself. He scored 2,428 runs at 90 on the tour (2,578 at 92 including Second-Class matches); in the 5 Tests his 508 runs came at a ‘mere’ 72.57.

Though Arthur Morris topped the batting charts in Tests, he was not even within a 500-run range of Bradman’s. The others were not even in the horizon.

But that was not all.

Bradman almost did not make the tour. He and his wife had taken over a broking firm a year back.

Worse (and this is more relevant for the article) Bradman suffered from severe back spasms. Fibrositis (fibromyalgia), the doctors had said. Before that, a torn rib cartilage had forced him to retire hurt during the last Test against the Indians at home.

In other words, he was not one hundred per cent fit.

Contemporary mortals

But that was Bradman, who was, well, Bradman. What about his English counterpart, the (for obvious reasons) unheralded Norman Yardley, a man whose stature as a cricketer was not within miles of The Don?

Yardley played 28 matches that summer, 26 of which were First-Class. One of the two Second-Class matches was in Ireland, which involved crossing the Irish Sea.

The first Test at Trent Bridge got over on June 15. The Ireland match started at Belfast the day after (Yardley was leading Yorkshire). After the two-day match got over, Yardley had a day’s rest before going all the way north to play The Australians for Yorkshire at Bramall Lane.

Thus, Yardley had three days between two matches against the strongest team in the world, between which he played a two-day match across the Irish Sea.

Yardley’s summer began two days before the Australians’ and ended the same day. He played 5 matches more than anyone on the Australian side. Denis Compton played 2 matches more than Yardley; Len Hutton, 1 more than Compton; Bill Edrich, an astonishing 4 more than Hutton.

I can go on, but I guess I have made my point. Edrich played 113 days of cricket (excluding rest days, mostly Sundays). In other words, he played five days of cricket a week. Then there were Sundays, which you had to spend in the city where you played the match. And then, there was travel. Remember, Edrich also bowled; in fact, he often took new ball…

Do you really think cricketers these days go through more stress?

The other champion 

Despite scanning his career several times, I would never have spotted this, had Charles Davis not mentioned it. To be fair, the dates seem fairly innocuous. Sobers was playing for South Australia. He scored 2 and 251, and took 3 for 51 and 6 for 72: in other words, he did a Sobers.

The match ended on February 13, 1962. On the 16th, he took 2 for 28 in a Test, against India. He followed this with 40 and 4 for 22.

What is the catch? Here we go: the first match was at Adelaide; the second, at Port-of-Spain.

Let me quote Davis verbatim: “In between, he made a 55-hour flight on three airlines, covering 12,600 miles and arriving in the middle of the night of the first morning of the Test. Without the time difference, he would not have made it. The final drive to the cricket ground was an additional two hours. From Adelaide, the West Indies is one of the most distant places to travel to by air. That is true to this day.”

Later men

Let us move closer to the place in question. After all, Bumrah did not grow up in the cold of England, where you perspire less and the heat does not exhaust you. Let us move over to Kapil Dev.

Between the seasons 1982-83 and 1983-84, Kapil played 21 Tests: 1 against Sri Lanka at home, followed by 6 in Pakistan, then another 5 in West Indies; once India came back, he played 3 more against Pakistan and 6 against West Indies in the home season. There were also 24 ODIs, which included the small matter of winning a World Cup.

That is 127 days of international cricket alone, between September 9, 1982 and December 29, 1983; in other words, almost two days of international cricket a week.

Of course, this workload did not keep him away from domestic cricket. Kapil played Indian domestic cricket, tour matches in Pakistan and West Indies, and also for Northamptonshire that summer.

That is three days a week of cricket in four countries across three continents.

Kapil also bowled 8,426 balls during this period. In the 21 Tests alone he sent down 4,210 balls, which amounts to over 33.3 overs per Test. Also note the fact that he bowled, on an average, 9 overs per ODI. Remember that he was also one of the greatest all-rounders in the world at this stage.

Never was Kapil’s stamina tested more than the Ahmedabad Test of 1983-84. Roger Binny bowled 6 overs before hobbling out and did not bowl again in the Test. Kapil sent down 27 overs, taking 1 for 52, at 1.92 an over. His teammates went for 2.79. West Indies got to 281. He smashed 31 when he came out, scoring more than eight batsmen in the line-up.

Then came the real test. Kapil bowled unchanged for 30.3 overs, taking a career-best 9 for 83, bowling out West Indies for 201. India lost the Test by a massive margin, but there was little Kapil could have done about it.

To put things into perspective, Virat Kohli, India’s busiest cricketer, has played 102.5 days of cricket over 471 days (Kapil played 199 in 476). I have assumed half a day’s cricket for T20 matches. Even if I consider them full-day, the count goes up to 120.

In other words, Kapil played serious cricket once every 2.39 days, and Kohli, once in 3.46 (3.97, if T20s are considered half-day cricket).

It is essential for us to remember that Kapil remains India’s greatest new-ball bowler and all-rounder, which should have made him injury-prone.

Kapil Dev, 1982-83 to 1983-84

Virat Kohli, 2015-16 to 2016-17

M

Days

Balls

B/M

M

Days

Days2

Tests

21

105

4,210

200

Tests

16

80

Other First-Class

15

45

1,847

123

Other First-Class

0

All First-Class

36

150

6,057

168

All First-Class

16

80

 

ODI

24

24

1,284

54

ODI

16

16

Other List A

18

18

827

46

Other List A

0

All List A

42

42

2,111

50

All List A

16

16

 

T20

T20

17

8.5

17

T20I

T20I

16

8

16

All T20

All T20

33

16.5

33

Others

7

7

258

37

Others

4

6

7

Total

85

199

8,426

99

Total

69

118.5

136.0

What stress?

The Doctor

What about the old-timers, then? What about, say, WG Grace? Let us begin with 1876, his golden year, the year when he famously scored 839 runs in eight days. He played 26 First-Class matches that season, scoring 2,622 runs at 62.42 on pitches that were probably more suitable to agriculture than cricket.

One must remember that Grace also bowled 6,313 balls that season, which amounts to 242 balls a match (40.2 six-ball overs or 60.2 four-ball overs), taking 130 wickets at 18.90. One must remember that Grace played in an era when overs bowled by a bowler were often not recorded, which meant that he invariably bowled more than that.

He also held 46 catches, mostly at “short point”.

But that was not all. There were 12 other matches as well. His entire year amounted to 3,669 runs at 59.17, 211 wickets at 16.98, and 77 catches — from 38 matches.

Remember, several of these matches were ‘odds’ matches: in other words, Grace played for sides consisting of (almost always) 11 players while their opposition fielded 15, 16, 18, or even 22 men. Grace opened batting, and often bowling, and (in case of 22-a-side matches) had to stay on field till 21 wickets fell in each innings. All this happened in the span of 135 days.

At three days a match that amounted to 114 days of cricket in addition to relentless travel on primitive roads and slow trains.

Consider his last match (remember, his 38th, at the end of the season). Grace opened batting for United South of England XI and scored 35 out of a team score of 68. Then he bowled unchanged through the Glossop XXII first innings, taking 12 for 68 from 43 overs (28.4 six-ball overs).

Unperturbed, he opened batting again. This time he got 13. Requiring 51, Glossop were reduced to 36 for 11 before they won the match. Grace took 6 for 30 and held 2 catches.

What about those magical eight days? Grace played a 12-a-side match for MCC in the Canterbury Festival Week. He first bowled 77 four-ball overs, taking 4 for 116. He failed in the first innings, getting out for 12. Kent asked MCC to bat again.

By stumps on Day Two Grace had raced to 133. He fell for 344 (the first triple-hundred in history) the next day. At that point it was the highest score in First-Class cricket. He broke the record of William Ward, who had scored 278.

Then he travelled 304 km (Google Maps) to Clifton to lead Gloucestershire against Nottinghamshire. Thankfully, there was a day in between. He won the toss, promptly decided to bat, and scored 177. Then he sent down 34 four-ball overs in each innings, taking 1 for 69 and 8 for 69. The target was 31, and he sent out his brothers, EM and GF, to polish them off.

Rest? What rest? There was a match next day, against Yorkshire at Cheltenham, 68 km away. Grace won the toss, batted again, and got 318. Then he bowled 36 overs out of 84, taking 2 for 48…

Grace did not merely score 839 runs in eight days. He scored 851 runs in 12 days AND bowled 181 overs (120.4 six-ball overs) AND held 6 catches AND travelled 372 km (as per 2017 roads).

This streak began on August 10. In a match that started on July 6, Grace had taken 5 for 76 and 5 for 73 (bowling unchanged in each innings) and scored 17 and 33. This was for Gentlemen against Players at Chelsea.

There was a day’s gap before the next match began at Grimsby (336 km) against 22 local men. Grace opened batting and went on till the third day, remaining unbeaten on 399 (and bullying the scorer to add a single run) — then the highest score in any cricket.

His son was born during the innings, but he left for Huddersfield (147 km), for there was a match next day, at Yorkshire…

Grace was the most in-demand cricketer of the era. Ticket prices soared when he played, which meant there was little respite. Despite being an amateur, he was as money-minded as anyone in cricket history, and the United South of England XI was his main source of income till 1879, the year in which he became a doctor.

Till then he demanded hefty sums everywhere he toured, paying his hired professionals £5 per match and pocketing the rest (as per Robert Low). Thus, “ADMISSION 6d; IF WG GRACE PLAYS ADMISSION 1/–” was not an uncommon signboard outside cricket grounds in the 1870s.

Note: In case you are wondering, a shilling was equivalent to 12d (pence). Hence, they charged twice if Grace played.

When Simon Rae wrote in WG Grace: a Life that “W.G. not only scored more runs than anybody else, he travelled more miles than any other cricketer and probably consulted Bradshaw as often as Wisden,” he was not exaggerating. Grace had to travel distances that may come across as impossible to subsequent generations, more so because he travelled on substandard roads and ill-connected railway routes.

But then, Grace celebrated his 28th birthday during this phase of insane cricket, the same as Kohli is now.

Nineteen years later, at 47, he had what historians refer to as his Indian Summer. Grace was back among the runs again, his 2,346 runs at 51 from — 29 matches. He bowled less (31 balls a match) with age, but 52 wickets still made him a valuable option.  He played two other matches as well, taking his tally to 91 playing days.

There was another spell this time as well, though not as spoken-about. Against Somerset at Bristol Grace sent down 45 five-ball overs and scored 288. He did not bat or bowl any further in the match.

He travelled to Cambridge (269 km). There was a day’s gap. He opened batting, scored 52, and had match figures of 37-8-119-6.

There was no gap before the match against Kent at Gravesend (115 km). Grace took new ball and had figures of 43-13-115-2. Then he opened batting and slammed 257 out of a team score of 443. He did not bowl in the second innings, but when Gloucestershire needed 103, he came out and guided them to victory with an unbeaten 73.

Ten days, 670 runs at 223.33, 13 wickets at 24.69 after bowling 125 overs (104.1 six-ball overs): not many 47-year-olds can manage that.

Other giants

Are the numbers involving too much English cricket, which, according to most, has the most hectic schedule? Let us check Australian cricket as well, especially one of those whose careers spilled over to the new millennium.

Before he broke through the league of all-time great batsmen, Steve Waugh used to be a bowling all-rounder. The migration came at around 1990, following which he bowled less and batted higher up the order.

Steve Waugh, 1988-89 to 1989-90

M

Days

Tests

21

105

Other First-Class

28

112

All First-Class

49

217

ODI

34

34

Other List A

6

6

All List A

40

40

Others

9

9

Total

98

266

In a 606-day period from 1988-89 to 1989-90 Waugh played 266 days of cricket across 564 days in Pakistan, Australia, England, and New Zealand.

In other words, Waugh played once every 2.12 days, which was more frequent than even Kapil’s. Of course, Waugh did not bowl as much, but he still did.

I should perhaps remind here that IPL, the most frenzied month in contemporary cricket, allows a cricketer to play a maximum of a match (40 overs) of cricket every three days.

That is less frequent than what Waugh played, and in case of Waugh we are discussing full days of cricket.

Cricket is perhaps more intense today. Or maybe it is not. That is a subjective matter. But they certainly do not play more cricket.