American sports media was all into the baseball hall of fame this week. The Baseball Writers of America (BBWA) voted three players into the hall of fame Wednesday. A sport that lends itself seamlessly to numbers and stats raises quite the ire and passion from fans on which individuals gain a 75% approval rating from an arbitrary group of baseball writers. Even the phrase “baseball writer” is an arbitrary and archaic definition in this day and age. Beat writers on newspapers with circulation in the low thousands have votes to the hall of fame for they are “baseball writers” while Nate Silver and Jay Jaffe don’t.
While there is a lot to be desired on the subjectiveness of the process of voting individuals into the hall, the fact that baseball has a hall of fame is for lack of a better word, cool. It is cool for baseball fans to learn about and have ideas on who the best players of different eras were. It gives fans a vision into timeframes they weren’t a part of. It makes for excellent debate and conversation. It truly connects the sport’s history, tradition to the fan.
The past week made me think of a sport I am a much bigger fan of. Cricket needs its own hall of fame. It needs to be housed in a city which will treat the physical structure as a shrine. It needs to capture the greatness of those in it, thru videos, pictures and classic audio clips. It needs to be able to narrate the story of various eras of the great sport clearly communicating the conditions, the teams’ strengths during that period and the performance of the doyens of the time. While limited overs cricket is already 40 years old, the hall of fame I envision is primarily and largely for test cricket. Test cricket simply has been a much larger buffet of performances and players for a much larger period in time. It needs to be devoid of political machinations and hence hopefully unaffiliated to a cricket board or the ICC.
Assuming this utopian hall of fame materializes, what would be the broad criteria under which cricketers are admitted or voted in? Who lets them in? I underscored baseball’s subjectiveness earlier but there are some parameters under which those debates operate. In some sense, outfielders who hit fewer than 500 home runs or pitchers who didn’t pitch at a certain high level (Earned run average <=3 ?) for at least ten years are not usually voted in. What would such criteria for cricket look like? Here are my thoughts on some very basic first-level filtering criteria, accounting for the over 130 years of history the sport has. 1) For the test match hall of fame, batsmen should check off at least two of the three boxes - Over 120 innings, average at least in the forties and played at the highest level for at least eight years. To me, these account for longevity, skill and consistency. For bowlers, a strike rate of at least 50, eight years at the highest level and at least 250 wickets should be the three corresponding boxes. 2) The voting should be divided and weighed between fans of the sport, statisticians and cricketers. Anyone voted into the hall of fame should be given an automatic vote on who else gets in. A 2/3rds majority threshold should be needed once votes are weighted and counted.
3) Every cricketer not in the hall of fame should be eligible every year. This way, performances and perception of performances are allowed to change over time accounting for changes in the world around them. An Alec Stewart candidacy for the hall of fame doesn’t look so bad now, does it? Did it look as good in 2003?
4) There should not be an artificial cap of players that can get in to the hall of fame in a year. Merits need to be fleshed out comprehensively and not via a cap on the number of entrants.
It is possible that a cricket hall of fame becomes another horse trading tool. It is possible that criteria are even more hazy than baseball. It is possible that a cricket hall of fame is the worst idea since matches between the ICC and Australia were deemed official. But in every case and in every way, a concept that recognizes and charts the history of cricket, the stalwarts of the game and provides both a constant fodder for debate and a shrine to those who worship the gentleman’s game is a good idea by me.
Let’s make it happen! What else would you like in a cricket hall of fame?