Tales from the top of the table
Charles Bannerman, 165*
Very neatly, Australia's Bannerman made a big score in the very first Test of all - in Melbourne in March 1877 - to ensure a ringing start to this list. He faced the first ball in Test cricket (from England's Alfred Shaw), scored the first run from the second ball, and made his way to 165 before retiring hurt with an injured hand. Australia were all out for 245 not long after his departure: remarkably, Bannerman's share of the innings total (67.34%), remains a Test record to this day. John Arlott wrote of Bannerman, who was born in Kent: "Although he hit the ball extremely hard he had the contemporary reputation that he rarely made an uppish hit."
Billy Murdoch, 211
Bannerman's record for the highest Test score lasted for more than seven years, until the Oval Test of 1884, when it was broken by Australia's captain, Murdoch, an imposing man with an even more imposing moustache. Murdoch had threatened Bannerman's mark with 153 not out at The Oval in 1880, and made no mistake back there four years later. His 211 - Test cricket's first double-century - was a careful innings, lasting more than seven hours, in which he hit 24 fours. "He was essentially an off-side player, his cut and drive being equally fine," said Wisden of Murdoch's general approach, adding: "His style [left] no loophole for criticism."
Tip Foster, 287
You can't do much better than break the world record in your first match, and that's what Reginald "Tip" Foster of Worcestershire did, hammering 287 on his Test debut for England in Sydney in 1903-04. "The latter part of his innings was described on all hands as something never surpassed," enthused Wisden. Foster never touched such heights again - his highest score in seven further Tests was 51 - but he held the individual Test record for more than 26 years.
Andy Sandham, 325
Probably the least-heralded name on this list, Sandham of Surrey and England compiled Test cricket's first triple-century, in a timeless match against West Indies in Kingston in April 1930. And he did it in borrowed boots that made his feet sore: he was apparently encouraged by the umpire (the Englishman Joe Hardstaff) to keep going. Sandham, who was almost 40, carried on past 300, and ended the second day with 309 not out. He felt better on the third morning but was soon out for 325, after batting for ten hours in all. Strange as it may seem, Sandham never played another Test - and his record lasted little more than three months.
Don Bradman, 334
His name just had to appear on this list: Bradman, the greatest batsman cricket has ever seen, erased Sandham's name from the record books with a superb 334 in the third Ashes Test of 1930, at Headingley in July. The Don came to the crease in the second over, after the early loss of Archie Jackson. According to Percy Fender, "Bradman took command at once, and never lost it all day." He reached his hundred before lunch - only the third such instance in Test history (there has been only one since on the first day) - and had rolled remorselessly to 309 by the close. Bradman was finally out early the following day, having batted for 383 minutes and hit 46 fours.
Wally Hammond, 336*
Destined for much of his career to be slightly less great than Bradman, England's Hammond took out his frustrations on a callow New Zealand side after the 1932-33 Bodyline tour. He slammed ten sixes, the Test record at the time, and 34 fours in hurtling to 336 not out in 318 minutes, in what was only a three-day game (rain ruined the final day, so it was drawn). Hammond had warmed up with 227 in the first Test, in Christchurch, and finished the series with the handy average of 563.00.
Len Hutton, 364
Back in 1938 there was a general feeling that only Ashes matches really counted as Tests, so there was more fuss when Yorkshire's Hutton passed Bradman's 334 in the final Test at The Oval than when he actually broke his captain Hammond's record of 336. This was a monumental innings in what was another timeless Test: Hutton batted for almost 13 and a half hours, and collected 35 fours from 847 balls. Eddie Paynter - who was out for a duck - described his team-mate's concentration as "fanatical". The Oval pitch was so good and true that Bradman might have reclaimed the record a few days later... but he wasn't able to bat, having broken his ankle in a foothold during a rare bowl. It's said that Hammond only declared (at 903 for 7) when he was assured that Bradman couldn't go in.
Garry Sobers, 365*
Hutton's record stood for nearly 20 years before the great West Indian left-hander Sobers broke it, extending his overdue maiden century into an innings of 365 not out. Pakistan were short of bowling options - Mahmood Hussain broke down with a thigh injury in the first over, and slow left-armer Nasim-ul-Ghani broke his thumb early in the match. Captain AH Kardar had gone into the game with a broken finger, so he was soon left with two fit bowlers (although he did manage to send down 37 overs himself): Fazal Mahmood, who finished with 2 for 247 from 85.2 overs, and Khan Mohammad, who ended up with 0 for 259, still a record for a wicketless innings in a Test. Sobers, 21, took full advantage, gliding to 365 in 614 minutes, with 38 fours. West Indies declared at 790 for 3, and not surprisingly won by an innings. "Pandemonium broke out," announced the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, when Sobers broke Hutton's record.
Brian Lara, 375
Sobers was there when his record was broken, 36 years later, by another West Indian left-hander. Brian Lara, just short of his 25th birthday, carved England to shreds in Antigua, batting for 766 minutes and hitting no fewer than 45 fours. About the nearest he came to a dismissal was when he almost trod on his stumps in collecting the runs that took him past Sobers' mark - and triggered a parade (and a raised-bat salute) on the ground. "It had to go someday," said Sobers sportingly, "and who better to do it than this guy? No one can bat like him. He does not play with his pad, he plays with his bat."
Matthew Hayden, 380
Big Matt Hayden made a habit of bullying opposing attacks, and few were riper for that than the overmatched Zimbabweans who arrived in Australia late in 2003. In the first Test, in Perth in October, Hayden slammed 380, overshadowing Adam Gilchrist's century in 84 balls on the second day. Hayden blitzed 38 fours and 11 sixes from 437 balls: "At his most destructive, during the 35 minutes and 32 balls it took him to speed from 100 to 150, he was perfectly still in his stance but swift and brutal when he wielded his bat," pronounced Wisden. Zimbabwe succumbed to their expected innings defeat, and Hayden had the record... for six months.
Brian Lara, 400*
The only man to reclaim this record, Lara gave a repeat performance against the same team (England) at the same ground (Antigua) as his 375 ten years previously. The circumstances were different, though: this time West Indies had lost the first three Tests of the series and were staring at an embarrassing whitewash. The chances of that, though, receded far into the distance as, on another supreme St John's batting surface ("the best road in Antigua," according to some), Lara kept going. "He was ridiculously good," wrote Colin Bateman in the Express. But, like the 375, even Test cricket's first quadruple-century couldn't bring victory: the pitch was just too good, and England escaped with a draw. The only man who fielded through both Lara's record innings was Graham Thorpe (while Darrell Hair umpired both games).
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.