Numbers make for harsh judges. For us kids, cricket’s numbers occupied an honoured place alongside all those other indisputably quantifiable things – like, you know, where a girl rated on the spunk-rat scale – and good batsmen would be dismissed from conversation with a raspberry: “Bloke never even got one double century!” Greg Chappell simply had to be better than Ian, because Ian’s best Test score was 196 and, let’s face it, no matter how you flip it, it comes up four runs short. Numbers proclaimed undeniable truths.
Great batsmen, it’s true, generally owned at least one Test double. But 300 – well, that was a different realm. Triples cause ripples, man (I think I just accidentally channelled Greg Matthews). Several all-timers achieved them, and a few smalltimers vaulted right over greatness into immortality by obtaining one.
Much has to go right for a man to pass 300, but once he does, it takes care of him like some fantasy insurance policy that happily pays. Go figure. Bob Cowper had five tons and a 46.84 average, but that Ashes 307 in Melbourne, 1965-66, gets him fond remembrance. Mark Taylor, terrific opener, arguably our best-ever captain, has dined out on his 334 since retiring – though its parity with the Don’s best score saw his dining experience upgraded to neverending grand bouffe, topped off with a heady eau de vie of co-signed memorabilia.
Even first-class triples are gold. India's Ravindra Jadeja, having scored his third in 2012, is now a venerated member of the select triple-triple group, joining Grace, Ponsford, Bradman, Hammond, Hick, Lara and Hussey.
But numbers bamboozle – just ask any honest mathematician (94.6 percent of them are measurably authentic). Numbers can be used to prove anything, and the mostly suggestible public will fall for it. An NYU professor once called this tendency “proofiness”. People resort to figures even when all proof to the contrary says they’re wrong – or at least, not right.
Nevertheless, the number 300 is very significant in world history – I’ll bet it’s the subject of some great, heavy tome somewhere that no one gives a stuff about, except maybe mystics with OCD. It’s a longed-for number in cricket – not in that baseball way, where therapists make a living specialising solely in players who fail to bat .300 (Mickey Mantle lived afflicted by shame after his average dropped to .298 just before retirement). Oh yes, to the non-cricket fan, 300 might be just some natural number that falls somewhere between 299 and 301, but in cricket, to pass 300 is to pass into an ascended state of being. A ton is big. A double-ton is – well, twice as big, even if the century was 199 and the double ton was two-oh-one! But a triple’s the holy trinity of tons. Sometimes unlikely men, after a career wandering the hummocks or slipping on the scree, get themselves scruffed by some random skyhook and plonked momentarily at batting’s summit. Never mind the Kabbala, the tarot and all that ackamarackus. The number has properties that transport batsmen onto consecrated ground.
But should it? That shambling, frizzle-haired archetype of the number nerd, Einstein, once said, “Not everything that can be counted counts.” I mean, 300 will always count, but it’s amazing how much it counts. It will catapult men who otherwise might be turned back by security if found anywhere near the Pantheon’s great chambers, where top-shelf plonk is served and primo poop sticks smoked. Hence, Chauncey Gardiners like Brendon McCullum (Test average 38.64) and Andy Sandham (38.21) find themselves sharing beef wellington with bemused Sirs Don (99.94), Wally (58.45), Garfield (57.78) and Len (56.67), unsure why they’re there at all, except to skol buckets of Napoleon, raid the humidor, pocket the gold-leaf agate slice coasters and be home and busy on eBay by 5.30. Meantime, Lara (52.88) sips sangria with Virender Sehwag (49.34) and Gayle (42.18) in an exclusive little corner because they’re the only ones apart from the Don himself – who’s busy being superior elsewhere in the parlour – to get a Test 300 twice, and the Don quietly gnashes his teeth at missing out on another against South Africa, when he was stranded once on 299.
What can one say? The figure is just significant, that’s all. It’s the best way to achieve immortality, apart from failing to die. Sandham might have scored 49 runs in five Tests against Australia, but he
died proud of himself as the first man to plant his flag on Mt 300, in 1930, beating Bradman by three months. Three years later, Wally Hammond attained divinity when he got up there faster than anyone, ever, clocking four hours, 48 minutes. If Hammond’s could be measured with a clock, Hanif Mohammad’s 337 in 1957-58 required a calendar! It’s the longest innings in history: 16 hours. Yes, it was the sort of thing that would only be tolerated in a democracy, and the Barbadian government was contemplating an emergency Act of Parliament in the unlikely event it should ever occur again. But hey, it was a triple! The fastest in terms of deliveries was Sehwag’s against South Africa in 2008. It took a mere 278 balls!
Some club members obviously deserved more. Like Lawrence Rowe. His 300 heralded his arrival, which came just before his demise. He retired prematurely, hampered by astigmatism and a stigma – symptoms of touring South Africa with a rebel team.
So anyway, 300 makes for cricketing deity. All else is forgiven. Even if a man’s done nothing else, with one lousy triple he’s happened upon the Holtermann nugget, the Cullinan diamond; fashioned an imperishable jewel for Madame Cricket’s Grand Ecrin, where only 29 of these gems are displayed, belonging to 25 different batsmen. The last one was Azhar Ali in October.
When Michael Clarke joined in 2012, it put an exclamation mark to a career that might not have been considered so illustrious had he stuck with prolific double-tons and hair products. Garry Sobers’ considerable legend was increased with his highest-Test-score-of-- all-time, 365 n.o. against Pakistan in 1958, which stood until 1994 when Lara broke it against England.
Which brings us to an observation: Of the 29 triples scored, 15 were from last century. Given that the 21st century is only 16 years in, that’s an astonishing increase. Of this century’s 14, six were made on the subcontinent, and one in the UAE, on pitches devoid of life-forms, including, it seems, bowlers.
But this inflation is not entirely about – er, deflation. Only Matthew Hayden and Kumar Sangakkara have scored triples against “minnows” (Zimbabwe and Bangladesh respectively). After Sobers’ triple, the world saw an explosion of great bowlers: India’s Big Four spinners, a hundred West Indians, Hadlee, Lillee-Thomson, McGrath, Warne and Murali, Pakistan’s menacing magicians. But today’s bowlers might argue they’re no worse. Then there’s that whole question about bats, boundaries, pitches. We’re happy to be bamboozled all over again, but asking statisticians for a simple explanation is like asking Kim Kardashian for one selfie.
In 2004, Lara made the first Test 400 – an “I’ll show you” only months after Hayden’s record 380. Given the number of triples since (13), 400 might soon become the new Great Expectation. Right now, triples are still rare enough, but in the right conditions – and they seem to be getting common – who knows? The diamond might be replaced by – I don’t know. What’s rarer than diamonds? White truffles? Tubs would have loved some of that action!
TOTHE NON CRICKET FAN,300 MIGHT BE JUST SOME NATURAL NUMBER THAT FALLS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN 299AND301.
The Don on his way to 334 in Leeds in 1930, a mark that set the standard for Taylor and Hayden [ ]. None of them got to their triple as fast as Sehwag [ ].