The Australian spin bowler Shane Warne announced his retirement from international cricket yesterday. His 699 wickets (batsmen retired) in test matches (5 day games) is the highest in the history of the game. But more importantly, perhaps, he is credited with changing the future of the game. He is a slow bowler (pitcher), meaning he bowls at around 55 mph rather than the 80-95+mph of the fast bowler. He relies on spinning the ball (his particular form of the art is called leg spin), which he does prodigiously, and most of the world’s batsmen have found him impossible to play for the last 15 years.
Since being introduced in the 1960s, cricket has been increasingly dominated by the one-day version of the game, which has more spectator and TV appeal. The traditional 5-day test match version of the game was in decline. Warne’s bowling, however, is credited with increasing the probability that a 5-day match would finish in a result rather than a draw, and thus reviving interest. If this is true, it will be interesting to see if his retirement is a set-back for the 5-day game.
Another reflection prompted by his retirement is the incidence of record breaking in cricket. In recent years a lot of cricket records have been broken simply because there is a lot more cricket being played. This in part reflects improved transportation (for what is truly a global game in scope), but more importantly increased space in TV schedules and competition for rights. Warne’s record is likely to be beaten in the next year or two by another spin bowler, Muttiah Muralitharan. The Sri Lankan has been far more controversial on the pitch, with frequent claims that his bowling does not conform to the rules; controvery over Warne had more to do with his colourful private life, although he also served a one-year ban for taking banned substances. However, while modern players dominate all the aggregates, previous generations still dominate most of the averages. A comparison between cricket and baseball might be interesting here, given some of the record breaking feats in recent baseball times.