THE TRIPLE

Inside Sport - - ANATOMY OF A CHAMP - – Robert Drane

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 [€‚ ].

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