Cricket Star Breaks an 'Impossible' Record

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Gurinder Osan / AP

Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar reacts after scoring a double-century during the second one-day cricket match between India and South Africa in Gwalior, India, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010

You may have been concentrating on the ice dancing in Vancouver. Or you're one of those people who can't tell a silly mid-off from a backward square-leg. So it's possible you missed the breaking of one of sport's long-standing barriers: India's Sachin Tendulkar scored a double-hundred against South Africa in a one-day match on Feb. 24, 2010. For the 1.5 billion people who follow cricket — making it, by some reckoning, the world's second most popular sport after soccer — it was a moment to match Roger Bannister's 4-min. mile in 1954.

To understand why the mark was long thought impossible, consider the odds against it happening. In a one-day game, each side gets to bat 50 six-ball overs — that's 300 balls or, in American baseball terms, "pitches." It's rare that a single batsman gets more than 150 pitches, so the batsman would need a hit rate higher than 100% to get to 200 runs. Tendulkar got his 200 runs in 147 pitches, a hitting rate of 136.5. Very few players have scored at a faster rate, and none had the combination of patience and skill to score fast and stay on the pitch long enough to get to 200. Only one other time in the past 10 years has a batsman gotten to 190. In a career spanning 21 years, Tendulkar himself had just three scores in excess of 150 before today's feat. The closest he had scored was 186, against New Zealand in 1999.

Wednesday's achievement was the more remarkable because it came against South Africa, which has a powerful bowling lineup and superb fielders. Scoring big against the minnows of the sport — Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, for instance — is one thing; taking 200 from the South Africans is many leagues harder.

It was entirely appropriate that the record should fall to Tendulkar, 36, the greatest run scorer of all time, as he roars into the autumn of a storied career. Cricketers very rarely play into their 40s, and most are long past their record-breaking age at 35. But the Little Master, as his fans know him, is as bright at twilight as he was at noon: he's ratcheted up a string of recent big scores in both the five-day "Test" and one-day versions of the sport, giving a new generation of bowlers the privilege of a Tendulkar thrashing.

He has not indicated when he plans to sign off, and on current form it's a certainty he will break many more batting records; this year alone, he could become the first man to get 50 Test hundreds (he's on 47), and 50 one-day hundreds (he has 46). He's already scored more runs in both forms than anybody else.

Tendulkar's one of those rare success stories that were entirely predictable from the get-go. He was a child prodigy, breaking records as a schoolboy cricketer in Mumbai back in the late 1980s; greatness was plainly his destiny. So there are literally millions of cricket fans (not all of them Indians) who can honestly respond to every new Tendulkar record by saying, "I told you so."

It's in the nature of sport that records don't last forever. Hundreds of middle-distance runners can now do the mile in less than 4 min. It won't be long before other batsmen reach and exceed the 200-run mark; there are at least a half-dozen in the modern game who have both the power and stamina to pull it off any day of the week. But history will never forget the Bannisters and Tendulkars for proving that the only barriers are in our minds.