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Negating self for Don and country

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PUP TO TOP DOG: Michael Clarke acknowledges his coming-ofage innings of 329* in the Sydney Test against India

The statistically-driven Indian cricket fans couldn't believe what they were witnessing. On Day Three of the Sydney Test, batting on 329, Michael Clarke looked all set to go past 334 - that sacred peak of Australian batting - but brought the curtains down on his coming-of-age innings and declared. Just like that! The Australian captain had specific plans - of bowling 40 overs to India on the day and get a few down by stumps, so that it became easier for the Australians to go for the kill against the hapless visiting side.

Resuming at his overnight score of 251, Clarke began his Day Three onslaught on the Indian attack by easily overcoming Lara's magical 277 scored on the same ground in 1993, and then, as easily, overtook the highest individual score at the SCG - 287 by Englishman Tip Foster, made in 1903.

Still, for Clarke, Lara's 400 - the highest individual Test score - was still some distance away and it would have taken him at least another hour to get there. But Don Bradman's 334 was well within striking distance.

The 334 - scored 82 years ago, against the Englishmen at Leeds in 1930 - was the same score on which Mark Taylor, the former Australian captain, declared against Pakistan in Peshawar in 1998, just to be on the same pedestal with the Don. For Taylor, born in 1964 and growing up in an era when Bradman was very much the Don of Australian cricket, it was probably the biggest platform to share. He was 31 away from the then world record (Brian Lara's 375) and despite all the insistence from the media and the fans to go for it on the third morning, Taylor chose, instead, to stay put on that revered peak of 334.

Clarke, though, belongs to another generation. He was happy to score a triple ton - winning over a lot of carping skeptics at home in the process - would surely have loved to go past Lara if he had the time, and also insisted that the Don's 334 held little relevance for him as it had probably done for Taylor's generation. "I didn't think about it (records) at all, I didn't have Don Bradman or Mark Taylor's score in my head whatsoever, " Clarke said after his two-day heroics on a SCG pitch that had begun going docile. All he was concerned about was "to get the team to a number, a total I thought would be a good score to make a declaration, then have a crack this afternoon to get a couple of wickets. If it was best for the team to continue batting I would have continued to bat. " A generation of Indians would identify with the Aussie obsession with the Don's numbers, drawing a parallel with their own Master. For years, the unbeaten 236 by Sunil Gavaskar, scored against the West Indies in Madras (1983-84 ) was the holy grail of Indian batsmanship. It took a nohoper, little-choice-but-to-demolish-it innings of 281 by VVS Laxman, following on in the 2001 Kolkata Test against Steve Waugh's Australians to relegate Gavaskar's landmark to second-best. That Laxman's innings was to prove decisive in an eventual victory makes it more special. Of course, it was immediately before Virender Sehwag's advent and his impact on modern batting consciousness. In Sydney, there was a little bit of Sehwag in Clarke's statements. Milestones never mattered to the Delhi dasher and even on the verge of a first-ever triple ton by an Indian, he went for a six and did it in style. "If the ball is there to hit, I will always hit it, " Sehwag keeps saying. Even when he and Dravid (v Pakistan, Lahore 2006) were closing in on Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy's world record of 413 for the highest runs in an opening stand, Viru played an outrageous shot and got out. At the other end, the studious Dravid could not believe what he was seeing, but for Viru the match was over (it was tapering towards a dull draw) and he simply didn't know who Mankad and Roy were or what the record was all about, and couldn't be bothered about such details. It was the same with Matthew Hayden too - against Zimbabwe at Perth in 1993, he went past Bradman and Taylor (and subsequently Lara) to score 380 which was the world record for the highest individual innings for a while before the West Indian great re-claimed it. "I have never been a stats junkie, so I genuinely didn't know until that day that 334 was a magical number in Australian cricket. . . That's one of the reasons I was pretty restrained when I went past it. It has never been my Mount Everest, " Hayden writes in his autobiography Standing My Ground. At Sydney, it was clearly the same for Clarke. Taylor, who has always believed in Clarke's abilities, was all praise for him.

But he didn't conceal his surprise at the captain's decision to shut shop at 329. "You earn respect by the gestures and what you do in the game and the way you play the game and I think all these things will really help Clarke. . . But the lead was 468, I reckon if it hadn't been drinks he might have gone to 334 and then declared, which in a way would have been even more special. I actually thought he might have batted to 334 and it wouldn't have surprised me had he declared then, because the timing was about right, " Taylor said. But then, Clarke and Taylor belong to different generations and barring one aim, that is to take Australia to victory, you could say, the priorities are not quite the same.

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