Donald Bradman, Brian Lara, Len Hutton, Gary Sobers, Oh and, err, Andy Sandham, 20 different batsmen have scored 24 triple centuries in the history of Test cricket, the latest coming from Chris Gayle. Is this the ultimate list of great batsmen?
If the fact that Sandham, who had a Test average of 38, along with other not-that-great batters are on the list wasn’t a clear enough answer to that question then surely the absence of WG Grace or Sachin Tendulkar finishes the debate.
In fact, only five of the players who have scored a triple hundred would ever get near a list of all-time great batsmen. Yet it is one of the most outstanding feats available to a player in any given match, comparable perhaps only to a hat-trick if match circumstances are ignored.
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Perhaps that is why so many good, but not great, players have achieved the feat – it only requires two days of superb batting. Graham Gooch, for example, will be forever remembered for the Test when he scored 333 and then 123 in the second innings. Yet he only scored more than 123 11 times in a mammoth, though often brilliant Test career.
Clearly Gooch was on a special plane at that time – indeed he averaged 79 in Test matches in that year, 1990, and scored seven centuries in 1990 and 91 combined at an average of 72. He was in the form of his life and earned that innings accordingly.
This accounts for a number of those good-but-not-great players on the list of triple century makers. Matthew Hayden for instance averaged 77 the year he hit 380, Sanith Jayasuriya averaged almost 67 in 1997 when he scored 340 and former Australia captain Mark Taylor hit 334 the year he averaged 59 – 15 runs more than his overall Test batting average.
Other batsmen found that everything was in place at the right moment for a big score, with the right bowlers at the right ground with the right weather.
That’s what happened to Hanif Mohammad in 1958, two years after his previous Test match, when he hit a match-saving 337 against the West Indies on a batsman’s paradise in Barbados, a day after the home side had managed 579.
On other occasions it can just come out of the blue. England stalwart John Edrich had been dropped from the national team for a year before hitting 310 not out against New Zealand in 1965, an innings that he followed by hitting seven and nought in the next Test.
Where does this put Gayle? The swashbuckling Jamaican has always been a law unto himself, playing when he should leave and walking when he should run, so hitting a couple of massive scores is entirely within his character. The shame is that he is so inconsistent that his Test average of 42 doesn’t quite do justice to the damage he can do on occasion.