Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Australia win - England shocked. Was it really so unlikely?

A simple Test Match truth was revealed at the Adelaide Oval - just like it was 3 years ago, when India defeated Australia in uncannily similar style at the same ground. That truth is: In high scoring matches, if there is no significant 1st innings deficit for the team batting second, then the team batting second has the advantage.

This is quite obvious, simple mathematics can explain this. England had absolutely no chance of victory once Australia made 513 in response to Englands 551/6 declared by the evening of the 4th day. Team's chase a 4th innings total under 200 to win more often than teams take 10 wickets after declaring on the final day. I don't recall a single occasion in recent history when this has happened. There have been instance when the third innings has been completed - i.e. the team batting third has been bowled out on the 5th morning, and gone on to win on the same day. A declaration however suggests that the conditions were decent for batting, or, that the side batting 3rd had a significant run advantage. Most teams that win in the 4th innings, set up their victories by taking the target out of the equation. "Keep the opposition interested" is implemented in terms of setting them 400 in 120 overs, but never in terms of setting them 225 in 50.

England had no chance of winning as i said. They would never have been able to make a realistic declaration. The only way this game would have been decided, would have been with a spectacular collapse - which we saw in England's case. Yet, England batted for 73 overs in their second innings. They made 129. Even if they had made 200, and left Australia with 240 to win instead of 170 in 36 overs, that would still have meant that the most likely results would have been a draw, then an Australian win and then an English win.

Contrary to most opinions at the start of the 5th day, there was no time left for England to win. There was however time for Australia to win - because the run chase would always be a realistic option for them. England did not have the time to take the runs out of the equation. When it came to the crunch, the gulf in class between the English and Australian batting line up was revealed. England were unable as a batting team to keep the scoreboard moving. The relentless class of the Australian batting - from 1 to 7, means that even in the event of a mini collapse, each of their batsmen has the ability to keep making runs, and not getting stuck. The class of Shane Warne (English commentators were quick to refer to "both sides playing defensive spinners who could bat a bit" - a reference to Warne being in the mould of Ashley Giles!) came through.

Australia go up 2-0 then after the first two tests, and there is a good chance that the Ashes will be decided in the year 2006 itself. In the end, the difference was class. England have some good players - Strauss, Bell, Collingwood. What was at play here was the difference between a batting order with mid-forties batting averages (very good in most circumstances), facing a batting behemoth with 2 young batsman - one averaging 40, the other 80, two champion openers, the best batsman of our day, and an out of form wicketkeeper, averaging 49.

I referred earlier to both these realities - that of a team giving itself the best chance of winning by leaving itself the option of winning in different realistic ways (hoping to bowl out a test team in under 50 overs is not realistic, chasing 5 an over for 50 overs is, especially in modern cricket), and of the class gulf between the English and Australian batting (in that same article).

The better team has been winning. Relentless class almost always comes to the fore. The contrary is true once every 17 years....

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