Hindsight is 20:20 vision: perfect. In David Warner’s case last week, it could have been 400 runs in a Test innings—the most ever in men’s international cricket. Except Australia thought an individual pursuit may compromise a team goal, and declared after Warner doffed his hat to the greatest Australian batsman, Don Bradman. Australia won the match with more than a day to spare. And it left the question: what if?

If Australia hadn’t declared then, couldn’t Warner had a jab at 400 and Australia the win? Maybe. Maybe not. Test history is littered with triple hundreds that should have shaped a result but didn’t. Of the 31 triple hundreds scored in test cricket, only 13 ended in a result—on all occasions, a win for the scorer’s side. Several of the remaining stretched time, and it ran out.

Warner’s is an example of not testing time. His was one of the most efficient triples in the context of a win objective. It came in 127 overs of the Australian innings—the fewest ever in all triple-hundred efforts. And the team run rate, of 4.63 runs per over, was the highest ever. Later, Aussie skipper Tim Paine revealed they had pre-set a declaration time to give their bowlers about 35 overs at Pakistan batsmen on day two of the test. They exceeded it by 3 minutes to let Warner went past Bradman, but not the nine other higher individual scores.

Contrast that to the 202 overs—or about 44% of the overs possible in a match—that Brian Lara consumed to reach his 400 in St John’s in 2004. It was close to lunch on day 3, as West Indies amassed 751. England replied with 285. Following on, England held on for 137 overs and 422 runs—still 44 runs behind—for a draw. Hindsight shows a Lara special was favoured over a more assertive approach to force a win.

That conflict between individual and team is likely to only increase further as the frequency of triple hundreds is at an all-time high. The 20 years of this century have seen 16 triples, nearly as many as the first 7 decades of test cricket. More importantly, the pace at which they are being scored has seen a distinct uptick.

After the Bradman-led 1930s, the 1960s saw three triples. On average, these needed 594 balls. The four efforts in the 1990s needed 541 balls on average. This decade, in the backdrop of new experiments in shorter forms of cricket, batsmen have lowered that to 468 balls per triple—or a strike rate of 64 runs per 100 balls.

Of the 10 fastest triple hundreds, as many as eight have come about after the year 2000. The fastest is by Virender Sehwag, who brought up a triple against South Africa in Chennai while scoring at more than a run a ball—the only one to do so. Sehwag also has the third-fastest triple. Interestingly, after scoring his triple, Warner acknowledged Sehwag’s words to him in placing this feat in the realm of the possible.

Free- and fast-scoring batsmen like Sehwag and Warner make a triple and win as synonyms rather than antonyms. No side has ever lost a test after a batsman of its notched up a triple. But they also haven’t always won. It’s only this century that teams have forced a result more. Of the 18 triples this century, nine have delivered a win.

The pattern of results and victory margins suggests a triple tends to put the opposition out of the game while giving the triple-scoring team a chance for a win. Of the 13 matches in which a win has been registered, 11 have been by a victory margin of an innings.

In other words, a triple ends up being an all-or-nothing endeavour, and it’s up to teams to get their time calculations right and make their match contexts count. In the Warner test, for example, Australia skidded out six Pakistani wickets in the 35 overs they got on the evening of day two. The next morning, the seventh-wicket pair of Pakistan strung together a partnership of 105 runs.

When trying to leverage match contexts, time in hand always helps. The road to that goes through how fast runs are scored, not just the batsman in question but also the entire team itself. When teams have won triple-hundred tests, they have, on average, registered a faster scoring rate in that innings than teams that didn’t register a win. A triple hundred and a win are virtues in conflict, and a lot needs to be aligned for both to find full expression.

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