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Just don?t let the grumblers devalue it

The omens were there after the first day: an attack for which the word modest would be hyperbole and the undisputed batsman of the decade in his pomp and closing in on a double century.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 19:05 IST

The omens were there after the first day: a flat pitch, an attack for which the word modest would be hyperbole and the undisputed batsman of the decade in his pomp and already closing in on a double century.

Now Matthew Hayden, the giant, muscular Australian left- hander, stands at the top of the mountain having eclipsed Brian Lara brilliantly as Test cricket’s highest individual scorer. Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, described his team-mate’s strokeplay - based as ever on thunderous straight driving but also cuts and disdainful pulls - as “the cleanest ball striking I have ever seen”. He would have seen plenty.

No sooner done than the carpers were suggesting that context is everything and that such records are devalued because of the paucity of competition. As if the current merit of the opposition should be a criterion for validation whereby an International Cricket Council panel, using some form of Duckworth-Lewis chart, handicaps an innings and comes up with a “real” figure.

They probably grumbled 45 years ago when Garry Sobers carted Pakistan all round Sabina Park to make his unbeaten 365 and so eclipse Len Hutton’s 1938 record. Back too in April 1933, when Walter Hammond scored 336 not out at Auckland against a New Zealand side that was in only its ninth Test.

You can bet your life there were those in Melbourne when Charles Bannerman made the first Test century in the inaugural match who cited the international inexperience of the England attack.

Well, there is no question that, Bangladesh apart, Zimbabwe are the worst Test side by a distance while the Waca, with its unnatural bounce, means a notoriously difficult adjustment for visiting bowlers.

Yet no one has taken Bangladesh to the cleaners, not even Hayden, who in two innings made just 11 and 50, with Jacques Rudolph’s unbeaten 222 the highest individual score against them.

And for all the naivety of the Zimbabwean attack, it was still led by Heath Streak, a man with close on 200 Test wickets, who managed to torment England’s own left-handed opener, Marcus Trescothick, last summer.

A bloke can only do what he is asked to do, after all, and Hayden succeeded in going the extra mile where many others have promised and fallen short.

What one wonders though is whether Hayden has ventured into hallowed ground. In Australia the legend of Sir Donald Bradman is sacrosanct, the most revered and treasured figure in that country’s history.

His deeds are enshrined in folklore to such an extent that his Test batting average, 99.94, is incorporated into the Australian Cricket Board’s switchboard number, while 334 and Headingley 1930 are synonymous and drummed into schoolkids from an early age as 1066 and Hastings might be here.

Bradman’s Headingley innings was itself a Test record at that stage, and no Australian until Hayden had gone past it.

Closest was the former captain Mark Taylor, who against Pakistan in Peshawar five years ago next week, ended the second day unbeaten on 334, an extra run having been denied from the last ball because of an uncharacteristically agile piece of fielding.

Overnight Taylor was in a quandary: go for Lara’s record or preserve Bradman’s Australian record and give his side the best chance of winning. Team-mates urged him to carry on.

By next morning he had made his decision. He declared. Weeks later, Taylor visited Bradman at his home in Adelaide, where the Don thanked him, as he had in a letter, for not exceeding his record.

Bradman is dead now, though, so maybe it matters less. Perhaps Taylor’s selfless decision (which nevertheless ensured himself a certain heroism which would not have come had he batted on yet fallen short of the final hurdle) contained an element of respect for an ailing legend than fear of a public response.

Certainly Bill Brown, one of Bradman’s Invincibles, was unequivocal yesterday. “The Don,” he said, “would have appreciated that records are made to be broken.” Just as long as he is not around to see it, eh.

Mike Selvey (The Guardian)

First Published: Dec 27, 2003 19:05 IST