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The Taylor mystery

ONE question which will never be fully answered about Mark Taylor's epic 334 not out against Pakistan in Peshwar is, why did he decide not to make a bid for Brian Lara's world record? To the external world, Taylor has given his answer: he felt that the team's goal of attempting to win the Test and secure the series was more important than any record which he could aspire to.

Now that sounds mighty unselfish. It also rings fairly false. Having come so close, it would have been considered only natural if Taylor had chosen to bat on for an hour or two on the third day of the Test in order to try and overtake Lara's score. It is unlikely that any batsman will have a second shot at such a record; the lone man who figures twice on the list of triple century scorers is Sir Donald Bradman and his type doesn't come along every day!

There are three other cases of a batsman crossing 300 and remaining unbeaten: Sir Garfield Sobers stayed unbeaten on 365 because he had achieved the dream -- breaking Sir Len Hutton's record; Walter Hammond was not out on 336 at the end of the innings because he had broken the existing record, Bradman's 334. John Edrich was prevented from attempting to beat Sobers's record because his skipper Mike Smith declared the innings closed and Edrich had to be content with an unbeaten 310 against his name. It was not something Edrich had much control over. And this was the third Test of a three-match series in which England had already won the first two. Perhaps the only thing which can be cited in favour of the declaration decision is the fact that Edrich was still 55 runs short of the target.

In Taylor's case, the circumstances were different. The decision was his to make. He would never have been faulted,not even by his worst enemy, if he had batted on and gone for the record. Why then did he choose to give up a chance that comes once in a lifetime -- and certainly not to every cricketer? Would an hour or two more have made that much difference? (at the time of writing, Pakistan are 254 for one and the Test seems headed for a high-scoring draw).

One theory advanced is that Taylor had had enough. It is not possible for a batsman to get much sleep on a night when he unbeaten on 300-plus; Lara experienced it when he was 320 not out overnight and so did Sanath Jayasuriya when he ended a day on 326 not out. There has to be a lot of steeling of one's nerves to bat on for two whole days and, says this theory, Taylor's adrenaline had run out.

Somehow, that theory doesn't satisfy me. Taylor has shown remarkable mental strength over the last two years; in 1996, if someone had written that he would still be Australia's captain two years later, they would have been laughed at. The way in which Taylor has confounded all shades of opinion by coming good with the bat when the most pressure has been on him has been nothing short of extraordinary. And I think he had the toughness needed to resume at 334 and go for the record.

It is possible that the reason lies in the fact that Taylor has had such an insecure tenure as captain, especially over the last two years. Australia has never won a series in Pakistan and I think he would prefer to have that achievement against his name rather than a personal record. He knows well that Pakistan have never lost at Karachi. Winning at Peshawar would put things out of reach. The reason isn't exactly unselfish; it would probably ensure that his tenure as captain extends that much longer.

Or could it be that Taylor was overawed by reaching the same score as Bradman? Could it be that he did not want to go past that mark just because of this? In the cricketing world, Bradman is regarded as a phenomenon. In Australia, he is a national treasure. Both very rightly so. It takes a certain degree of arrogance to try and break the record of someone who is regarded as a demi-god and that is the last attribute which one would associate with Taylor.

Makes for interesting speculation, if nothing else. But let none of this detract from the fact that Taylor played a remarkable knock. He was fortunate in some ways: the pitch was perfect and Pakistan's bowling was not exactly of the best class. But to stick around for two whole days and accumulate that many runs takes both physical and mental toughness. That he still has this level of toughness at 33 is amazing.

The 300 club

RankPlayerScoreOppositionVenueMonth and year
1Brian Lara (WI)375EnglandSt. John'sApril 1994
2Sir Garfield Sobers (WI)365*PakistanKingstonFeb 1958
3Sir Len Hutton (Eng)364AustraliaThe OvalAuf 1938
4Sanath Jayasuriya (Lanka)340IndiaPremadasa StadiumAugust 1997
5Hanif Mohammed (Pak)337West IndiesBridgetownJan 1958
6Walter Hamond (Eng)336*New ZealandAucklandMarch 1933
7Sir Don Bradman (Aus)334EnglandLeedsJuly 1930
8Mark Taylor (Aus)334*PakistanPeshawarOctober 1998
9Graham Gooch (Eng)333IndiaLord'sJuly 1990
10Andy Sandham (Eng)325West IndiesKingstonApril 1930
11Bobby Simpson (Aus)311EnglandManchesterJuly 1964
12John Edrich (Eng)310*New ZealandLeedsJuly 1965
13Bob Cowper (Aus)307EnglandMelbourneFeb 1966
14Sir Don Bradman (Aus)304EnglandLeedsJuly 1934
15Lawrence Rowe (WI)302EnglandBridgetownMarch 1974