NEWS OF a 26-minute century raised not so much a gasp as an eyebrow here yesterday. More historic things were afoot, and when Graham Gooch finally departed the Lord's stage, his journey through the pages of the Almanack - past five Bradhams, three Javeds and a host of others - his 333 runs found a home between Andy Sandham's 325 and the Don's 334 as the sixth-highest total in Test cricket history.
It was one of those days when timing became as much of a spectator's art as a batsman's, head down in Wisden, but not wanting to miss the stroke that chalked off another milestone. If the standing ovation at the end of it all was a touch incongruous, it was because it was reserved for the one man in the place (ultra-fit though he is) who was in urgent need of a chair.
This match has been a story of two captains, one of whom has entered the upper echelons of the hall of fame, the other of which - knowing his countrymen's favoured type of missile for conveying displeasure - will probably be able to open a fruit farm when he gets back to Hyderabad. Mohammad Azharuddin's Thursday morning invitation was RSVP'd to the final tune of 653-4 declared - England's highest total against India.
Gooch, after one innings, now requires only another 71 to overhaul the record number of runs by an Englishman in a series against India (Ian Botham). It was only the fifth Test total above 300 ever recorded by an Englishman, and the first by anyone wearing a helmet.
Gooch may now creep up that piece of waste paper known as the Deloittes ratings, employed by the BBC, in which Gooch is ranked only the 15th best batsman in the world, nine places below Michael Atherton. The BBC, incidentally, chose to record the moment of Gooch's 300th run (he was 299 not out at tea) with a parade around the paddock of the runners and riders in the 4.05 at Ascot.
There are always one or two who will seek to dilute the vastness of the achievement, and there was, after all, a dropped catch from which Gooch emerged with the handy profit of 297, suspect bowling, geriatric fielding, a short boundary, and a flat pitch.
In any context, however, it was a monumental effort. In a Test match, it is the mental drain that makes each higher landmark all the more remarkable, and at the age of 37, Gooch may yet find a place in the company of the greats.
From the moment he faced the first ball on Thursday morning, Gooch has rarely been far from a glass of water and a bottle of antibiotic capsules on account of an ear infection. Had he not been feeling unwell, he might have made 500. However, as is ever the case with him, it is the team that matters more, and had it been incumbent upon him to declare when he was 364 not out, it is hard to believe he would have indulged himself for the sake of Sobers's world record.
When play resumed yesterday, in uncomfortable humidity and an opaque sort of light, bowling conditions were useful enough to make one wonder whether Gooch would even get from 194 to 200 - and there had had still not been a run when Allan Lamb survived a big shout for caught behind off Kapil Dev. Whatever grievances the Indians might have felt about this, their generous applause when Lamb was caught in the gully was a refreshing moment in a generally acrimonious era.
It is the kind of thing that crowds appreciate, and it would now be nice if Test cricket could start appreciating the crowds. The decision to offer Gooch and Lamb bad light in mid-morning (declined) and then to come off for a gossamer drizzle, was perfectly ludicrous. Too many umpires have yet to grasp just exactly who it is that the game is being played for.
Gooch and Lamb finally put on 308 for the third wicket, within sight of the England record for 370. Lamb has a better record in progressing between 50 and 100 than Gooch, but he has never - in 12 attempts - gone on to make the really big one, and yesterday's 139 was his Test highest.
Gooch's previous highest in a Test was 196, against Australia, and his previous highest in any game was 275, for Essex. On he went past both, on he went past the record score ever made on this ground (316 not out by Jack Hobbs for Surrey against Middlesex in 1926) and on he went until he missed with a shot that, in different circumstances, might have been described as careless.
In different circumstances also, we would be dwelling at greater length on a marvellous Test century, his third, by Robin Smith, and sparing more than a passing thought for John Morris, whose disappointment at getting in for only 20 minutes on his debut did not prevent him from haring for a near suicidal single to get Smith to his hundred. It was synonymous of the Gooch "one for all" philosophy, by which he places greater store than any amount of 300s.
If India felt under pressure when they got in to bat last night, they certainly didn't show it. For anyone else, 653 might represent a daunting total. On the dusty shirt fronts of Bombay and Bangalore, however, it is almost routine.
In the second innings, Gooch added 123 runs to his first-inning score of 333, giving the England captain a match aggregate of 456 runs - a Test cricket record. He also became the first batsman to score a triple-century and a century in the same match.Reuse content