We know who has played the most number of Test matches, but do we know who has watched the most? When the Daily Telegraph ’s cricket writer Scyld Berry recently bid farewell to touring and all that, he had seen an impressive 475 Tests — and he will be adding to that figure. A predecessor of his as editor of Wisden , John Woodcock, once said he had watched half of all the Test matches ever played. He was the last man who could make that claim.
Wisden ’s then editor Tim de Lisle asked the question in the 2003 edition, and came up with some rough figures. It considered only men’s matches; watching on television did not count.
At that stage, the West Indies commentator Tony Cozier had watched 266 while the photographer Patrick Eagar had 265 under his belt (later his tally as professional alone went up to 325). There were some who had 300-plus and a couple with 400-plus Tests. Woodcock was in the latter list, as was Richie Benaud, who as fan, player, commentator had watched 486, almost a third of all Tests till then. Benaud would have cleared 500 easily over the next decade when he was on the air.
Recently, the UK-based journalist from Pakistan, Qamar Ahmed celebrated his 400th Test as reporter. The only Indian in de Lisle’s list was the late Dicky Rutnagur who said he had a tally of “over 300.”
At that stage, after 126 years, 1,636 Tests had been played. Seventeen years later, that tally has gone up by another 747; from an average of 13 per year to 44 annually. Easy to see why no one could have watched half of all the Tests ever played.
Which Indian has watched the most? We know Sachin Tendulkar has watched at least 200, the number he has played in, and that many cricket writers have gone past that figure.
But the Indian record-holder has to be someone who has been watching Test cricket more or less continuously in the last half century or so. The natural candidate is Sunil Gavaskar.
India has been playing Test cricket for 88 years, but half its 540 matches were played in the last 28. For most of that period, Gavaskar, who made his debut at Lord’s in 1990 has been a fixture in the commentary box. A rough estimate of the number of Tests he has been commentator for or reported as a columnist would be 280.
Add that to the number of Tests he played, 125, and the matches he watched in his youth as well as those he was present at that did not involve India, and we get a figure comfortably upwards of 400. Someday I must sit down with him and arrive at the indisputable figure! Perhaps 500 Test matches is the point where the cricket fan graduates into something far beyond. Whatever the reason, personal or professional, that is a stunning figure, the spectator’s version of the four-minute mile or the sub-10sec 100-metres.