There were all sorts of theories floating at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) yesterday before Michael Clarke trudged off the field while batting on 329 -- with the best-possible opening to go beyond Sir Donald Bradman's score of 334, Matthew Hayden's 380, and Brian Lara's 400.
In jest, the Indians would have given him all those records on a platter, only so they could be put out off their misery after being on the field for a painstaking 163 overs for just four wickets. "I think he'd do what Mark Taylor did -- not surpass the Don as a mark of respect," a pundit whispered. "How often do you get such chances? He'd be stupid to declare," was another view.
Mark Taylor during his 334 against Pakistan at Peshawar in 1998. Pic/Getty Images
It was 14:10 hrs and time for drinks. Just as the trolley entered the ground, Clarke trudged a few steps, said a few words to the umpire and ran off the field. Most of the Indians had stridden off to get their beverages, still unaware that Australia had declared on 659-4.
Donald Bradman demonstrates his skill in the nets during a training session. Pic/Getty Images
Clarke, while sprinting to the pavilion, was stopped and congratulated by some of the players who saw a sign from umpire Marais Erasmus. Clarke received an overwhelming send-off. He had turned a cluster of doubters into fans with his 609-minute marathon, struck at 70.29, studded with 39 boundaries and a six.
It was increasingly clear that Clarke wasn't chasing the world record of 400. After bringing up his triple century, with a trademark flick off Ishant Sharma, his intent was to accelerate the scoring rate. He swung and missed off Ishant a few times -- ready to sacrifice those records.
Team before records Clarke's selfless act raised plenty of questions. Why didn't he chase the record when there were still two-and-a-half days to bowl out India? "I didn't think about it (the records) at all, I didn't have Don Bradman or Mark Taylor's score (334) in my head whatsoever. It was about trying to get the team to a total I thought would be good for declaration. Then, we could have a crack in the afternoon to get a couple of wickets," he added. Australia did manage those few wickets later. Clarke even ran from slip to deep cover to pat Ben Hilfenhaus on the back for a terrific final spell.
Clarke, whose previous highest was 168, never imagined a triple ton in his career: "I don't think what I have achieved will sink in properly until we win the Test. Don't get me wrong, I am stoked that I've managed to make 300-odd runs, but the most important thing for me now is we win the Test."
Michael Hussey (150 not out) added 334 with his skipper. It was the first time in Test history that a side had posted two 250 plus partnerships in the same innings. "It was a fantastic innings (by Clarke) and one I'll remember for a long time, I'm sure Pup (Clarke's nickname) will as well, and one that got our team into a very strong position in the Test match, that's what I'll remember about it," Hussey said.