Some sporting achievements will be remembered forever: Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths; Usain Bolt running the 100m in 9.58 seconds; Brian Lara scoring 400 not out in a Test match.
Then there are sporting careers the likes of which, in all likelihood, we will never see again: Michael Phelps winning 18 Olympic gold medals; Joe Louis defending the World Heavyweight Championship 25 times in a row; Michael Schumacher taking victory in 91 Formula 1 Grand Prix.
And then you come to 99.94. The four most famous digits in cricket.
Sir Donald Bradman’s Test batting average is so absurdly large that it renders all comparison meaningless. You are considered an all-time great batsman with an average barely half of his (only 35 others to have played 20+ Tests average more than 50), and the gap between the Don and the 2nd on this list, Graeme Pollock (60.97), is roughly equal to the gap between Pollock himself and Graeme Swann.
However it is not just the size of the number which evokes awe and wonder, but the story behind it, which has passed into sporting folklore. Bradman went into his swansong, the final Test of the 1948 Ashes tour, with an average of 101.39, and needed 104 runs in the match to guarantee a final average of 100.
Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller then made the Don’s job easier, bowling England out for 52, and such was Australia’s domination that by the time Bradman came in, at first drop, they were already ahead by 65. Arthur Morris was well on the way to a magnificent 196 and it was already looking likely that Australia would only need to bat once. If Bradman did only get one opportunity, he would only need four for his three-figure average.
Bradman came to the crease with the Oval’s appreciation ringing in his ears, and was cheered to the wicket by the England side. Blinded by his tears, he missed Eric Hollies’ googly and was bowled second ball. He departed to as loud an ovation as he had received two minutes previously, and disappeared up the pavilion steps and out of Test cricket.
England folded for 188 in their second innings meaning that Bradman wouldn’t get another go. His record would be ever so slightly imperfect.
But to me, that is why Bradman’s record is so great. That this freakishly great player who had achieved everything in the game could be so enslaved by his emotions proved that, for a few minutes at least, he was just like one of us.
99.94 confirmed Bradman’s immortality as a cricketer. The lack of that 0.06 confirmed his mortality.