Today's a special day for the game with something for everyone

March 16th is a reasonably significant date in cricket history.

On this day in 1877, Charles Bannerman scored the first test century. Playing for Australia against England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he rattled up 165, which turned out to be two-thirds of his team's sum total for the game, then rather eccentrically retired hurt.

A year ago today, Sachin Tendulkar became the first player to make 100 international centuries. The perfect note on which to bow out, you might think, but a year on and a month shy of his 40th birthday Tendulkar rages against the dying of his talent. The vast nation that worships him is witnessing the twilight of a living god.

And 20 years ago today, New Zealand, as we called our national cricket team in those days, completed a test victory over Australia at Eden Park. A useful Australian side, too, with David Boon and Mark Taylor opening the batting, followed by Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Steve Waugh and Allan Border.


Their bowling attack included a bottle blond who was built for comfort not for speed, as they used to say, and therefore bore little resemblance to the streamlined, hatchet-faced poster boy for self-reinvention that Shane Warne is today.

While test victories over our neighbours are always significant by virtue of their infrequency, the result wasn't this game's only distinguishing feature.

Ken Rutherford, father of new Black Cap Hamish, top-scored in both innings. Aussie paceman Merv Hughes, he of the bay window gut and box hedge moustache, gave a whole new meaning to the term "giving someone a spray" by launching a gobful of saliva at New Zealand opener Mark Greatbatch who'd had the temerity to try to hit some of his deliveries over Mt Eden.

It was John Wright's last test. He took a catch off his last ball in the field, and in his 148th and final innings fell victim to the new-fangled video replay system, being adjudged run out by the third umpire.

On the subject of cricketing anniversaries and in light of the unrealistic expectations often heaped on the Black Caps, it's worth remembering that it's only 30 years since we first won a test in England.

Notwithstanding the essentially valid perception that the 1980s golden era was founded on Richard Hadlee's bowling, he failed to take a wicket in either innings at Leeds in 1983. So did the great English all-rounder Ian Botham, currently plundering our fish stocks between stints in the commentary box. What are the odds on two bowlers with a combined haul of 814 test wickets going wicketless in the same game?

Both games were low-scoring affairs, which supports the theory that a "sporting" pitch on which the ball nips around offers our best chance of knocking over the big boys.

And in light of the Black Caps' recent woes at the top of the order, it's worth noting the openers' contribution. In 1983, Wright and his partner, Bruce Edgar, contributed half of New Zealand's first innings total of 377. At Eden Park Wright and Greatbatch put together two half-century opening stands.

Over the course of three tests in 1993 Wright occupied the crease for 19 hours. In the first innings of the recent test in Cape Town, the Black Caps occupied the crease for 19.2 overs, or a little more than an hour.

More than most sports, cricket is a self-contained world.

The statistical element is one reason for that. The fact that it's a leisurely game, comparatively physically undemanding unless you happen to be a fast bowler, is another.

Because it can be played by people who aren't particularly young, fit or athletic and because batting and bowling are unnatural acts with a significant mental component, cricket can be played by all sorts of physical specimens at many levels, making it the ideal social game.

In England, cricket is a social game in the fullest sense of the word. It's part of the social fabric, played at all levels up and down the country and across the class spectrum, as much a communal ritual as a sporting contest.

The elite game is the tip of a very big iceberg. No matter what disasters befall their cricket team, even a series loss to the Black Caps, the English cricket community wouldn't react as rugby fans here did to our various World Cup disappointments.

I played for a club in Berkshire where they rated other clubs not on how good they were, but on the picturesqueness of their grounds, the lavishness and quality of their afternoon teas and the variety and authenticity of the ales served in their clubhouse or local pub.

My cricket-playing stepson is off to England shortly. I envy him.