When Michael Clarke made mincemeat of the stingless Indian bowling and blazed his way to 329 before his famous declaration at Sydney, Test cricket reached the landmark of a quarter century of 300s.
Given that Tests have been played for 135 years, it is an eye-popping statistic that as many of 10 of the 25 triple centuries have been reeled off in the 11 years and a bit of this century. Indeed, the first 123 years had witnessed just 15 – and suddenly batsmen all over the world seem to be in a hurry to catch up with the glories of gargantuan scores.
True, a lot more Test cricket has been played in recent times – but even then the history remains slightly skewed. There were 15 three hundreds in the first 1599 Test matches. Since 2002, there have been 10 more in 429. The triple hundred hitting rate has increased from one in 107 tests to one in 43 in this century, and it reflects on a number of radical changes the game has gone through.
Slow start till floodgates open
Charles Bannerman started the tradition of big scores in Test cricket with his legendary 165* in the inaugural Test match played in 1877. It stood as the record for 15 Tests till Billy Murdoch scored the first double hundred, 211, in 1884. In 2003, in the 78th Test ever played, debutant Reginald ‘Tip’ Foster rewrote the record books by scoring 287, a record that remained unbroken for 27 years and 115 Test matches.
It was in 1930 in Kingston, in the famous timeless Test that was drawn by agreement because the Englishmen had to catch a boat, that English opener Andy Sandham broke the 300-run barrier, scoring 325 in 10 hours. It is understandable that the milestone took 53 years and 193 Tests in coming, with the uncertainties of the early wickets most often cutting short promising beginnings. Nevertheless, 12 double hundreds had preceded the first triple, two of them scored by the great English middle order batsman – Wally Hammond.
Hammond and Bradman
Bradman, Hammond alter equation It was Hammond and his arch rival, Don Bradman, who altered the equation for heavy scores in the next few years. In between 1930 and the beginning of Second World War in 1939, a decade of batting exploits and marled wickets, 28 double hundred plus scores were amassed, Bradman accounting for 10 and Hammond 5. Five of these were triples. Bradman scored two, while remaining stranded on 299* on another occasion. In 1933, Hammondscored 336* to break The Don’s world record score of 334, and in 1938, Len Hutton went past it to score 364. While it had taken 193 Tests for the first 300, the next 73 witnessed 4. It was as if the gates of batsmanship had opened and runs flowed in torrents.
The perils of professionalism
However, with the Second World War, the art of batting underwent a social revolution. The tentacles of professionalism entered the scene and barring a Denis Compton here and a Keith Miller there, conservatism and pessimism increasingly ruled the approach towards making runs. It was not until 1958 that the triple century was scored again, this time by a dour and defensive Hanif Mohammad batting for 970 minutes, the longest innings ever.
Considering a waiting period of 180 Tests since 1938 for the sixth 300, the next one was achieved almost immediately, in the same series after another four Tests, with a 21 year old all- rounder called Garfield Sobers breaking Hutton’s world record by scripting an epic 365*.
The 1960s witnessed three 300s, all clustered within a period of 19 months and 37 Tests of each other, Bobby Simpson, John Edrich and Bob Cowper being the batsmen who made merry.
This was followed by a quiet period of eight years and 133 Tests which saw the emergence of some serious fast bowling. West Indian batsman Lawrence Rowe, who scored 214 and 100* on his debut, brought off the 11th triple century in 1974. At this stage, with 734 Tests played, the rate stood at one 300 in every 67 Tests.
Pitches too short?
However, the next decade and a half was dominated by bowlers – most of them tall, talented and terrifyingly fast. As Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and the four-pronged Windies attacks reduced batsmen the world over to hopping, ducking, weaving men more keen on survival than scoring, the 16 years that followed witnessed 413 Tests without a triple hundred. There were 49 double centuries in the period, but only seven passed the 250 mark, the highest being 291 by Viv Richards in 1976. Of course, Javed Miandad is still prone to hit the roof when reminded of Imran Khan declaring the innings atHyderabad in 1983 with the maestro looking invincible on 280.
There were several arguments. As the fast bowlers increasingly dominated, it was argued that human beings had grown taller and stronger and a 22-yard pitch was inadequate for batsmen to play the balls hurled by the new generation of quicks. The over-rate was also said to be too slow to provide enough time and there was too much short pitched stuff. Fielding had also improved by leaps and bounds, and some stalwart batsmen consoled themselves by believing that150 in the 80s was as good as 300 in the 30s.
Kiran More looks on as Gooch drives
Costly miss and return of the 300
All that changed when Kiran More dropped Graham Gooch on 49 at Lord’s, and the Englishman went on to score 333. It was the 12th triple hundred after the 16-year lull, and the rate had slowed down to one in every 96 Tests.
Four years later, another left-hander from West Indies went past the world record set by Sobers, a flashing blade holding the world enthralled. Brian Lara’s 375 was to stand at the pinnacle for nine years, and there were enough signs in the innings to show that a quadruple century was not beyond human capabilities.
Sanath Jayasuriya against India and Mark Taylor against Pakistan also reached triple hundred scores in the ‘90s, but given the increasing number of Test matches being played, the rate had slowed down further. And when Pakistan was about to play New Zealand at Lahore in the sultry summer of 2002, it stood a 300 every 107 Tests, the slowest that the meter had ever registered.
And now, the floodgates opened again.
Reopening the floodgates
At Lahore, Inzamam-ul Haq ambled his way to 329. A year later, Matthew Hayden bullied a Zimbabwean attack to go past Lara, hitting 380. A mere four months after that, Virender Sehwag carried out the murder at Multan with 309, and just 13 days later, Lara put the English bowling to sword again to regain his world record and hit the first and only 400 in Test cricket.
Since then Chris Gayle (twice), Mahela Jayawardene, Sehwag again, Younis Khan and Michael Clarke have reached the landmark in the eight years that have followed.
There have also been more 200s in the current century, the rate increasing with every passing Test match. While 199 double hundreds had been scored in 1526 Tests before the turn of the century, 112 have been scored in the 501 Tests since 2001 - a significant increase from one in every 7.7 Tests to one in every 4.5.
The primary reason for the rise in the number of big innings can be divined from the scoring rate.
If we consider the 300 plus innings where the details of the number of deliveries are available, before 1990 the average strike rate for triple centuries was 58.23, and it is this high courtesy some phenomenal quick scoring by Don Bradman. Combined with low over rates and the ascendancy of the bowlers, it had been really difficult to end up with such huge scores in the 70s and 80s.
However, by 1990, One-Day cricket had revolutionised stroke play. With more and more shots coming into the arsenal of the modern batsman, enhancing the ability and confidence to hit the good balls for boundaries, the scoring rates were given a significant boost. Since 1990, triple hundreds have been scored at a strike-rate of 72. With the scoring rates in ODIs also undergoing major upward shifts, and opening batsmen coming out all guns blazing, since 2001, 300s have been scored at a strike rate well over 75. Hayden has scored his 380 at a rate of 87 per hundred balls, and Sehwag has once gone past the run–a-ball barrier.
The rules in place to stick to a minimum number of overs, shorter boundaries, enhanced quality of the bat, the trick shots of T20 – and a global deterioration of bowling standards have also been major factors. The minnows have thankfully entered the picture just once with Hayden being the only one to profit from it
Triple hundreds are epics, feats of legendary proportions, scores that are talked about forever. From Bradman’s 309 in a day at Leeds to Sehwag’s six to reach the landmark at Multan, all the run riots are part of indelible cricketing folklore. Littering the scorecards more and more with triple hundreds can trivialise the landmark, much like the allrounder’s double nowadays.
However, the gradual increase in the frequency of the feat as we witness now is definitely a sign that the batsmen are positive, the cricket exciting and Test matches alive and kicking.