Sunday, 29 March 2009

No Loss

After four days, the Second Test between New Zealand and India is headed for a draw. Using Runs/Wicket State data, the odds of either side losing are nil.

The fascination, for me, of cricket matches is the question of balance. There is balance between batsmen and bowlers both within the sides and as matched against the opponents. There are also points at which the match itself balances between winning and losing. In this specific case, the question that should haunt us all is whether New Zealand left it too late to declare. I think they did. When they were 415/5 they had nearly a 60 per cent chance of winning the match. They did, however, have a small chance of losing. When the Black Caps reached 605/7, that chance of losing had vanished. I'm not sure why they hung on for two more wickets after that, but those two fell so quickly I don't think they made much difference to the outcome.

But, think of it this way—India is one of the Test sides that is best equipped for batting itself back into a match. The New Zealand attack is nothing special. The balance there suggests that if you're playing the Test 'by the book', your first mission is to bat yourself into a position where you can't lose. The gamble you take is that your bowlers can draw on that reserve of will sometimes needed to shatter the opposition. The Black Caps came close, but I think having to bowl twice in a row took too much out of their attack.

So maybe the point of balance in this match came after India's first innings. A tired New Zealand attack was sent out against a top batting side to get ten more wickets. How realistic was that? Should the follow-on have been enforced? There's something for you to argue about.


  1. To me these two games have been a great example of the amount of variance that exists even in the game of Test cricket. Just going through the cricinfo commentary of the New Zealand innings, India dropped at least four catches and there were about another fifteen "edged" comments. Ross Taylor's innings in particular was incredible - I'd like to bottle some of that myself. Meanwhile NZ took almost every catch and the Indian players got away with relatively fewer false shots.
    Sure, catching is part of the game, and good batsmen play with soft hands, but for something like slip catches, luck is going to play a very big role. If Yuvraj Singh could catch, or if one or two more edges had gone to hand, we could be looking at India being well ahead right now.

  2. We've seen several Tests over the last two or three months where teams have had the choice to declare on 400, 500 or 600. We've also seen teams have to choose whether to bat on or enforce a follow-on.

    England didn't enforce the follow-on during the recent Caribbean series and then failed to capitalise twice by batting too long or scoring too slowly in the third innings.

    It seems the best way to win the game is to score 600 runs batting second, like South Africa did in the dead rubber in Australia.

    I remember the first time I saw this done deliberately. Sri Lanka, relatively new to the Test game, chose to insert England at the Oval much to the dismay of the condescending English commentators. When England scored 445, it was universally agreed that they had done enough to ensure they wouldn't lose. But the experts weren't expecting Sri Lanka to score 590 or Murali to take 9 wickets (the other was a run out) in the second innings.

    Since that Test, we have seen the danger of posting a moderately big score of 500 or so and then getting caught by the other team with about four or five sessions to play. There's not really enough time to set a difficult target, but plenty of time to suffer a batting collapse.

  3. philistine is remembering this match.

    As a general rule, I'm not enthusiastic about enforcing the follow-on. Bowlers get tired, and need the rest that not enforcing follow-ons would bring. My hypothesis, based almost wholly on empirical observation, is that most cricket teams overwork their bowlers, not just in matches but in running out much the same four or five in series after series.