Dr Sandeep Goyal recounts the stories behind the numbers on players' jerseys

Virat Kohli always sports the number 18 on his jersey. Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar, during his playing days, wore the legendary number 10. MS Dhoni carried the lucky number 7 on his jersey during his international cricketing career; Chris Gayle has worn 333 for as long as one can remember; Rahul Dravid’s 19 and Shane Warne’s 23 are famously remembered too; and Muttiah Muralitharan is well known as the man with number 800. What is the significance of these numbers, if any?

But before we answer that question, it would be good to know why do cricketers have numbers on their shirts at all? The numbers on cricketers’ shirts help identify a player to the officials, commentators and even the spectators. The numbers on the front of a player’s shirt indicate the chronological position of their appearance for a particular country (that is when the player earned a Test cap), whereas, numbers on the back of the jersey are typically self-chosen.

Having numbers displayed in big bold fonts makes the job of television and radio commentators, and analysts and statisticians a little easier, allowing them to quickly, and accurately, identify a player on the far outfield. When a player takes a diving catch or effects a run-out, often in the blink of an eye, it is much easier to single them out by their number.

Digital recall

Also, now to a bit of history. Cricket has been played for the last 140-150 years. But, the practice of wearing jersey numbers is barely 25 years old. Australia were the first team to wear numbers on the back of their shirts in one-day cricket, during an ODI tri-series with Sri Lanka and the West Indies in 1995-96. The trend sort of caught on, and by the 1999 World Cup in England, all of the teams had players wearing shirts with numbers on. In that tournament, the captain of each team was given the No.1 shirt with the rest of the team numbered 2-15. But since then, protocol has been less strict, and players have been allowed much freedom and leeway in their choice of numbers. And the usage of numbers on jerseys is a common practice in all ODIs and T20s today.

During the 1999 World Cup in England, the shirt numbers of the captains of all the teams was 1. However, South African player Hansie Cronje was the only captain who retained his usual jersey No. 5 and swapped the number 1 with opener Gary Kirsten!

Ten-dulkar's number

Back to our main story. Tendulkar used to wear No. 99 in his initial days. But switched to the number 10 from the ‘10’dulkar in his name. Jersey No. 10, as it is reserved for the best player in the side in football and for many years, Tendulkar was the best in the Indian side. The BCCI decided to retire the number 10 after Tendulkar hung up his boots, as a tribute to the legend. Despite that, Shardul Thakur debuted versus Sri Lanka in 2017 wearing jersey No. 10 … he evoked strong negative reactions from India fans and soon stopped wearing the number.

Virat Kohli wears No. 18 as it happens to be the date of birth of his late father. Dhoni’s No. 7 is also inspired from his 07 July birthdate; but some say the inspiration for ‘7’ comes from Dhoni’s football idols David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, both of whom sport the lucky 7 number. The current BCCI chief and former captain Saurav Ganguly initially started with Jersey No.1, then switched to No. 99, after Sachin Tendulkar changed his jersey number to 10. Finally, Ganguly settled on No. 24 during the 2003 World Cup following the advice of astrologer Sanjay B Jumaani.

Yuvraj’s number was 12. Why? Yuvraj Singh was born on the 12th of December in the 12th hour of the day in Sector 12 (where the PGI Hospital is located in Chandigarh). The choice of the jersey number was easy to make, no? Rohit Sharma’s initial choice for his jersey was No. 9. But that number was already taken by Parthiv Patel. So, Rohit’s mom suggested 45 … 4+5. And so it has been ever since, for the Indian vice-captain.

‘The Wall’ Rahul Dravid wore jersey No. 5 during his early years. He then switched allegiance to No.24 during the 2004 ODI series against Pakistan. Dravid used to joke that the new jersey number gave him the best possible chance to always remember his wife’s birthday! But astrologer Jumaani has been known to claim credit for the number switch for reasons more celestial … who knows? Shikhar Dhawan’s son Zorawar’s birthday is on the 25th. Hence his jersey carries the number 25. Simple.

Mystical no. 23

Kuldeep Yadav copied his No. 23 from his idol Shane Warne, who, incidentally, was a starry-eyed kid besotted with the 'jammin and dunkin' figure of the legendary Michael Jordan who wore the number 23, and emulated him. But there may be some deeper meaning there. 23 is regarded as a mystical number. Twenty-three is the lowest prime that consists of consecutive digits. The ancient Chinese believed numbers conveyed sexuality. Even numbers are feminine, odd numbers are masculine and prime numbers are considered the most masculine, conferring special status on 23, which is made up of two consecutive prime numbers and the only even prime number, 2. Interesting?

Dinesh Karthik’s jersey not only has the number 21 (wife Dipika Pallikal’s birthday) but his initials DK on his jersey … not a usual practice. The number 228 has stuck to Hardik Pandya from his highest domestic score in a Vijay Merchant U-16 match. Young Sarfaraz Khan, who plays for the Kings XI, wears number 97. In Hindi, nine is written as Nau and 7 as Saat. So, it is more like Naushad, his father’s name.

Chris Gayle’s No. 333 represents the big West Indian’s highest score in the longest format of the game, which came against the Sri Lankans. Chris Gayle has also donned the jersey No. 175, which marks his highest score in the T20 format. Morne Morkel wears the jersey No. 65 because it represents his height, which is a towering 6 feet 5 inches! Muralitharan’s jersey number 800 is a salute to the 800 wickets taken by him in Test cricket, the highest ever by any bowler.

Last word

West Indian Marion Samuels’ No. 730 refers to the number of days Samuels had to stay out of the gentleman’s game as he was held guilty of corruption. Ashwell Prince took over Hansie Cronje’s No. ‘5’ but added ‘0’ to it. Superstition? Perhaps. Herschelle Gibbs had a weird habit of changing his jersey every year. It was 00 in 2000, 01 in 2001 and so on. After the unfortunate demise of Philip Hughes, Australia retired the jersey No. 64 in his memory. So many stories…

But the cutest story of all is surely that of Virender Sehwag. Sehwag started playing for India by wearing the jersey No. 44, which was deemed ‘unlucky’ by his mother and later on, by his wife as well. While his mother advised him to wear a jersey numbered 46, which he did for a while. His wife Aarti Ahlawat was of the opinion that he should take No. 2 for the jersey. So conflicted was the Nawab of Najafgarh between mom and wife that he gave up putting numbers on his jerseys altogether!

The writer is a full-time advertising practitioner who writes part-time on cricket.

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