By Sidhanta Patnaik
If historical evidences and Australia’s lead of 291 runs in the ongoing Sydney Test match against India are to be combined to forecast the scoreline of the series in a day’s time, then the writing is evident on the wall. Time is on Australia’s side. And with an eagle’s grip on the proceeding, the onus is now entirely upon Australia to script their victorious moment the way they want to.
That begs the question: Should captain Michael Clarke, unbeaten on 251 at the end of Day Two, make an attempt to surpass Brian Lara’s Test highest score of 400? There definitely is likelihood of the same, but before Day Three commences at Sydney it becomes imperative to understand the psyche of the Australian cricket team and dig a bit into history. Of course Clarke can get out off the first delivery of a fresh day and make this piece look absurd, but speculations breed media content and cricket cannot escape it.
The Australian brand of cricket has never patronised individual milestones beyond the bare minimum of centuries and five wicket hauls. In the fifth Test match of the 1971 Ashes series at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Rodney Marsh, playing in his fourth Test match, was just eight runs short of becoming the first Australian wicket-keeper to score a Test hundred when Bill Lawry declared with the score reading 493 for nine. May be the skipper wanted to deny England a chance to claim all 10 wickets and gain a psychological advantage. The match was drawn.
In the 1998 Peshawar Test match against Pakistan, Mark Taylor played the longest innings of his career and was unbeaten on 334 at the end of Day Two and needed just one run to go past Sir Donald Bradman on the third day to set a new high by an Australian batsman in Test cricket. Instead he declared overnight. By sharing the record with The Don, it was Taylor’s way of respecting a long-standing Australian record. Though the core thought behind the declaration was to create a window to push for a victory yet the match ended in a draw.
Then, in the 2003 Test match against Zimbabwe at Perth, Matthew Hayden went berserk against a hapless attack and raced past the then overall highest Test innings score of 375 (Brian Lara vs England, 1994). The Zimbabweans were demoralised and had Hayden played a bit defensively and waited for a few more lose deliveries then 400 was for the taking. Later in his autobiography, ‘Standing My Ground’, he shared his view point for not having played defensive cricket and focusing on team requirement, and not the lure of being the first batsman to score a quadruple. Australia won by an innings and 175 runs early on Day Five.
In the context of Clarke, time is available in plenty for him. His innings has so far progressed at a strike rate of 73.34 runs and the team is maintaining a healthy run rate of 4.15 runs per over. Mathematically, Australia needs to bat for another 70 overs and ensure that Clarke gets strike for at least 45 to 50 percent of those overs. At a rate slightly below than the current one, they can extend the lead to 550 runs and will still have 198 overs to bowl India out and clinch an innings victory.
However, there will be a conflict of thoughts between Clarke the prolific batsman and Clarke the astute captain. More than anyone else he would be in a hurry to wrap up this game under his belt as soon as possible and give his bowlers an extra day to rest before the third test match. After all the series is not yet won and the weather, as a factor, can never be discounted from the game plan.
He will know that in a career that is set to blossom even further from this point of time there will be many more path-breaking innings on his way, but a chance to inflict consecutive brutalising impact against India in such a short period will be rare. The captain may just outweigh the batsman since the former’s step is high on the priority list in a sphere where only a handful of teams play quality Test cricket.
Despite what is on within the ears of Michael Clarke, the cricket lovers at Sydney will stand on one limb if the need be, for them to be a first hand witness of a world record.
Over to Day Three.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His twitter id is @sidhpat)