MARK TAYLOR yesterday carved his name among cricket's elite with a record-shattering, unbeaten 334 against Pakistan to put Australia in command of the second Test and push himself close to cricket's summit. Taylor is just 41 away from fellow-left-hander Brian Lara's Test best of 375, but at 599 for 4 thoughts of a declaration overnight or early in the morning may halt the captain making further history.
Taylor's innings emphatically brought an end to a troublesome 18 months in which he has lost the one-day captaincy and his place in the Test set- up has been questioned. Indeed, Taylor, who turns 34 on 27 October, started last summer's Ashes tour of England with his career in jeopardy before a century in the first Test at Edgbaston.
"If I hadn't scored runs last June, I really would have seriously had to consider my options," Taylor reflected after his exhausting day.
His appearance in court here in Lahore to assist in the trial into bribery allegations against certain of his Pakistani opponents has not helped his mental state.
"There has been a lot on my mind the first few weeks of this tour," Taylor admitted. "This has been a chance to get them off my mind and start concentrating on the cricket."
Resuming on 112, already having completed his 19th Test century, he quickly helped Justin Langer secure his maiden one. The Western Australian pushed on from 97 to 116 before the medium pacer Azhar Mahmood ended a stand of 279, Australia's best for any wicket against Pakistan. Taylor continued his fluent batting after that in an innings he described as "the best I've ever played in Tests". It was his second Test double century and first treble, eclipsing his 219 at Trent Bridge in 1989 when he first announced himself as a world-class player.
It was thoughts of that innings nine years ago that pushed him to greater heights yesterday.
"I remember that [captain] Allan Border told me I threw it away then and he was right," said Taylor yesterday. "It would have been madness to throw it away today."
Taylor went to lunch on 215 thoroughly satisfied with his 103 runs in a session. It was a three-hour period due to an early start and a Muslim prayer day, but the achievement was not lost on the perceptive skipper.
After the break Taylor continued to notch the landmarks as his batting grew in confidence. Long gone was the Taylor dropped twice by Saeed Anwar off the leg-spinner Mushtaq Ahmed before passing 30 on Thursday.
Taylor ended the day having just passed Graham Gooch's 333 against India at Lord's in 1990 as the highest score by a captain and equal with Sir Don Bradman as the highest by an Australian.
Taylor also passed Bradman on his way to reaching 7,000 runs when he had made 213 and moved to third among Australians, passing Greg Chappell just before the close. Taylor has batted for 722 minutes, faced 564 balls, and hit 32 fours and one six.
"I am delighted as I have never thought I would ever score a triple hundred in Test cricket," said Taylor. "It is a great feeling and I will never forget this innings."
His triple century, the 15th in Test cricket's 121 years and first in Pakistan, was greeted by warm applause by all the Pakistan team and an appreciative crowd of around 8,000. Taylor shook hands with his opposite number, Aamir Sohail, and many of his side after acclaiming his team-mates and the crowd, a telling gesture given the acrimony that has sometimes brewed between these two teams in recent times. But that was all forgotten on Taylor's day in the hazy sunshine at Arbab Niaz stadium.
Second day of five
Australia won toss
AUSTRALIA - FIRST INNINGS
*M Taylor not out 334
M Slater c Azhar Mahmood b Shoaib Akhtar 2
J Langer c Moin Khan b Azhar Mahmood 116
M Waugh c Salim Malik b Aamir Sohail 42
S Waugh c Moin Khan b Shoaib Akhtar 1
R Ponting not out 76
Extras (lb9 w3 nb16 ) 28
Total (for 4) 599
Fall: 1-16 2-295 3-418 4-431
To bat: I Healy, D Fleming, C Miller, S MacGill, G McGrath
Bowling (to date): Shoaib Akhtar 31-6-107-2 (nb-1); Mohammad Zahid 16- 0-74-0 (nb-8 w-1); Mushtaq Ahmed 46-3-153-0; Azhar Mahmood 23-2-82-1 (nb- 2 w-2); Aamir Sohail 42-8-111-1 (nb-2); Salim Malik 16-0-63-0 (nb-3).
PAKISTAN: *Aamir Sohail, Saeed Anwar, Inzaam-ul-Haq, Salim Malik, Moin Khan, Ijaz Ahmed, Yousaf Yohanna, Azhar Mahmood, Mushtaq Ahmed, Mohammad Zahid, Shoaib Akhtar.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and Mohammad Nazir Jnr (Pak).
THE 300 CLUB
375 Brian Lara (West Indies) v England, St John's, 1994
365* Gary Sobers (West Indies) v Pakistan, Kingston, 1958
364 Len Hutton (England) v Australia, The Oval, 1938
340 Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri Lanka) v India, Colombo, 1997
337 Hanif Mohammad (Pakistan) v West Indies, Bridgetown, 1958
336* Wally Hammond (England) v New Zealand, Auckland, 1933
334* Mark Taylor (Australia) v Pakistan, Peshawar, 1998
334 Don Bradman (Australia) v England, Leeds, 1930
333 Graham Gooch (England) v India, Lord's, 1990
325 Andy Sandham (England) v West Indies, Kingston, 1930
311 Bobby Simpson (Australia) v England, Manchester, 1964
310* John Edrich (England) v New Zealand, Leeds, 1965
307 Bob Cowper (Australia) v England, Melbourne, 1966
304 Don Bradman (Australia) v England, Leeds, 1934
302 Lawrence Rowe (West Indies) v England, Bridgetown, 1974
*denotes not out