The second batting age

Chasing the big numbers

Fazeer Mohammed

July 31, 2006

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Mahela Jayawardene got close to toppling Brian Lara from the summit, sending shivers down the spine of the Caribbean fans © AFP
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Seeing that the air has been filled recently by the utterances of politicians and lawyers, I thought we should take the process of lies and damn lies a step further today.

Statistics don't ever tell the whole story, yet they can still be quite useful, especially in sporting conversations, even those not fuelled by bets in the nearby rum shop. Probably the most significant statistic for the Trinidad & Tobago sports fan is the number 400, Brian Lara's world record Test innings score against England two years ago in Antigua.

Well, for a nervous few hours on Saturday morning, it seemed that the national hero would be losing the revered status of the scorer of the highest individual innings in Test cricket history for the second time. Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lankan captain, was getting ever closer to that historic number in Colombo, having already established another world record with a 624-run third-wicket partnership - the highest for any wicket in Test or first-class cricket - with Kumar Sangakkara in the first Test against South Africa.

It looked to be only a matter of time before he scaled the summit, but all it takes is one lapse in concentration to bring the dreams of glory to an end, and when Andre Nel bowled Jayawardene for 374, the groans of disappointment throughout Sri Lanka would have been counter-balanced by the relieved exhalations of fans in West Indies.

We've seen this all before of course in the 12 years since Lara first claimed the record that was held by Sir Garfield Sobers for 36 years. Following that 375 - also against England in Antigua - Sanath Jayasuriya (340), another Sri Lankan, came close against India, while Mark Taylor, the Australian captain then, chose to declare in Pakistan with his personal score on 334, drawing him level with the legendary Sir Donald Bradman for what was then the highest Test innings by an Australian.

Matthew Hayden eventually surpassed them, and Lara, in getting to 380 against Zimbabwe in November, 2003. Yet it only served to motivate the Trinidadian to lift his game another notch and, five months later, he ended a run of low scores in a lost series against England with that unbeaten 400, making him the first to reclaim the record.

It seems that someone is on the verge of getting the really big one almost every other series these days. In fact, of the 21 scores of 300 or more (we used to be able to just say triple-centuries until Lara's quadruple) in the 1,810 Tests played to date, eight have been compiled since the left-handed maestro's first world-beating effort at the ARG. The others who have flirted with the record in that time, apart from those already mentioned, are Inzamam-ul-Haq (329) against New Zealand; Virender Sehwag (309) against Pakistan; and Chris Gayle (317) against South Africa last year.

Given the general rarity of such monumental individual scores, it would seem obvious that this has been the most prolific period in that regard in the history of the game. But it isn't, at least not in terms of frequency on the basis of matches played. Lara's 375 included, the nine scores of 300 and over have come in a 12-year period during which 551 Test matches have been played, giving an average of a 300-plus score roughly every 61 Tests. You have to go back to the 1930s to find the really prolific period, however, when the first five triple-hundreds in Tests were scored at the rate of one every 15 matches.

When Englishman Andrew Sandham, at the age of 39, scored 325 at Sabina Park against the West Indies (amazingly, it was his last Test) in the final match of the 1930 series, it set off a sequence that saw Bradman setting a new standard of 334 just a few months later against England at Headingly; Wally Hammond bettering that with 336 not out for England against New Zealand in Auckland in 1932-33; Bradman getting to 304, again at Leeds, in 1934; and then Len Hutton taking the mark to a new height with 364 for England against Australia at The Oval in 1938.

In terms of time, it was a span of more than eight years, yet only 74 Test matches were played in that period when there were just five Test nations. It would be another 20 years before someone got to 300-plus, Sobers turning his maiden Test hundred at the age of 21 into a world record 365 not out against Pakistan in Kingston.

Interestingly, given that the period coincided with an era of unprecedented West Indian dominance, there was only one triple-hundred scored in the 25 years between John Edrich's 310 not out for England against New Zealand in 1965 and Graham Gooch's 333, also for England, against India at Lord's in 1990. That was a knock of 302 by Lawrence Rowe against the English in Barbados in 1974.

Seeing that none of the great names that graced West Indies batting line-ups for the 20 years after Rowe's innings managed to get to 300 (Viv Richards was closest with 291 against the English in his phenomenal year of 1976), it merely reinforces the point, as we have seen with our own eyes, that cricket, for all of its focus on individuals, relies on team effort more than virtuoso performances for long-term success.

Still, we're drawn to the big numbers, aren't we? No wonder there are so many gamblers around.

© Trinidad & Tobago Express

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