There were a multitude of astonishing elements to Matthew Hayden's world-record Test innings of 380. It contained 11 sixes of frightening brutality. It needed a mere 437 balls, a breathtaking scoring rate which embodies a transcendent team.
After 73 years, it went past Don Bradman's 334, an innings which had assumed such mythical status in Australia that Mark Taylor chose only to equal it rather than pass it when he had the opportunity five years ago. And most wondrous of all, Hayden did it while wearing a cap, the celebrated baggy green of his country's side.
Hayden had cast aside his helmet. True, the Zimbabwe attack resembles Iraq in seeming completely to lack any weapons of mass destruction, but Hayden was issuing a statement of intent. He was making a point that superior bowlers will remember in future, and while the Waca strip in Perth in October may be different from the Waca of January, when the summer sun has turned it into a road, it remains one of the fastest pitches around.
It is tempting to try to avoid giving Hayden's monumental innings its rightful credit because of the quality of the opposition. Zimbabwe are weak, goes the theory, so inevitably they are ripe to break records against.
But Hayden's innings was only the 17th triple hundred in 136 years and 1,661 matches of Test cricket. They are still rare, despite the obvious disparity in ability between teams, Australia's pre-eminence and the huge increase in the number of Tests. And they are rare because of the levels of concentration, fitness and desire it requires to bat for long enough to accumulate such a total.
Hayden is as fit a cricketer as there has been. He trains assiduously, running and cycling daily along the beach near his isolated home on the small island of North Stradbroke, north of Brisbane. He bursts out of his shirts. He is a strange combination of contemplative country boy and zealously combative ocker.
Luck, or the intervention of the batting gods, helps. Hayden survived a perilously close lbw appeal on the first morning. He was dropped straightforwardly in the deep when he was 337.
Hayden took his time to become accustomed to Test cricket. He became established partly because of his willingness to return to the domestic game and score bundles of runs, and partly because of the faith of Australia's captain, Steve Waugh, who never forgot his talent.
A year ago, Hayden became the No 1 ranked batsman in the world. He has slipped slightly and is now third, behind Brian Lara, whose record he has just overtaken, and Sachin Tendulkar. An innings of 380 is presumably worth a few points.
Hayden is the 10th batsman to hold the world record since Charles Bannerman scored 165 in the first Test match of all in March 1877. That lasted for seven years, until Billy Murdoch scored 211 for Australia against England.
In late 1903, Reginald Foster made 287 in his maiden Test, and his record stood for 27 years. It was beaten by Andrew Sandham, who made 325 against West Indies in April 1930, but his moment in the sun lasted only 67 days. In July, Bradman made his 334.
Those minded to dismiss Hayden's innings because it was made against a sub-standard attack will have fuel added to their argument by what happened next in the Thirties. After the Bodyline tour to Australia in 1932-33, England stopped off in New Zealand for two Tests. In the second, Wally Hammond made 336 not out from a total of 492 in 318 minutes, with 10 sixes.
Five years later, Len Hutton made his legendary 364 against Australia at The Oval. In recalling his innings in his 1948 autobiography, Cricket Is My Life, Hutton wrote of beating Bradman's record score and graphically described his cut for four to take him to 335 and the record. Hammond's innings was not even mentioned - and he was Hutton's captain in the match. New Zealand were clearly considered beneath the cricketing pale. It was 20 years before Garry Sobers, making his first century in his 29th innings, eclipsed Hutton with 365 not out. It was another 36 before Lara overtook Sobers.
The chances are that Hayden will not hold on to his status for long, and that in the next three or four years, somebody will score the first Test 400. The increased rate of scoring, better shot improvisation and improved stamina should overcome the technical frailty that one-day cricket allows to creep in.
Some runs are easier to make than others, but when you have made 380 they have not come cheaply. Despite the glaring weakness of two Test nations at present, Test centuries are still coming along at 1.6 a match, as they have for the past 50 years. Zimbabwe failed to make one yesterday, and trailed Australia by 409 runs with eight second-innings wickets left.
Hayden's record will go, probably on a flat pitch in a boring draw (Lara's 375 against England) or against weak opposition in a one-sided match. What price an Englishman in Dhaka this month?
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