Thursday, July 09, 2009

Australia's Day

It began as a nightmare, but like a fine hollywood potboiler, ended like a dream. Australia conceded 99 runs in 17 overs at the start of the day to the English tail. 435 was a large score. Whats more, England scored at 4 runs per over - that holy grail in todays Test Match cricket - the thing English commentators from Botham to Willis to Hussein to Lloyd have repeated more often than anything else as the defining feature of the recent Australian romp in Tests. England had reason to believe at the end of their innings that they had well and truly put maulings by Australia's great Test team of the 2000's behind them.

Then came Katich and Ponting. Phil Hughes and Simon Katich, an unlikely Australian opening pair at the start of the year, saw off the new ball. Hughes fell to England's best bowler, but then Ponting and Katich, two senior professionals, made the most of a fine 2nd day wicket. Australia are still 186 behind and could easily still concede a first innings lead. They have to bat last and so they must aim at a non-trivial lead. In a first innings of 400+ that should be at least 50-75 runs. But over the first two days, Australia have made fewer unforced errors than England. As a result, despite having lost the toss and the chance to bat first, Australia, even with their less than world-beating bowling attack find themselves reasonably placed after 6 sessions of play.

Needless to say, the first session tomorrow will be crucial. It will be upto England to make the play. But with two batsmen with hundreds to their name, England will be unable to go into an all out attack. England have another choice. They could play it like India did at Nagpur in 2008. Australia reached 2/189 in 49 overs by the end of day 2, after India had made 441 in their first innings. Michael Hussey and Simon Katich were well set. In 53 overs on Day 3 from the start of play to Tea time, India conceded 91 runs. As a result, they were able to break the Australian momentum and have Australia 6 down by Tea. They eventually gained a first innings lead of 86.

India effectively slowed down the game. They bowled 53 overs in 4 hours instead of 60. This is a very risky strategy. The rule about overrates has been put in place so that teams cannot deprive the opposition of making progress by delaying the game. However, slow overrates don't matter if the bowling side bowls the batting side out. So, if a bowling side bowls the opposition out in 40 overs, but takes 4 hours to bowl the 40 overs, there is no penalty. But if a bowling side takes 6 hours to bowl 60 overs and hasn't bowled the side out, then the captain of the bowling side is in deep trouble. If Australia had managed to wait India out and remain say 3 down at Tea time instead of 6 down, Dhoni would have been in deep trouble. This is actually a reasonable rule. Because the only way to make progress in a Test Match is to complete the 4 innings - which is typically accomplished when 10 wickets fall in each innings. Thats why you will find, that a bowling side, which starts bowling say 30 minutes after Tea on one day, and finishes bowling at tea time on the next day (having bowled the opposition out), rarely gets into trouble with the match referee for overrates despite having a very slow overrate (maybe 11.5, 12 overs per hour) on paper.

This is a hard nosed professional strategy, which is very hard to execute. It is one thing to bowl your overs slowly if you don't know what youre doing. The bowling side could be conceding 4.5 runs per over and bowling 12 overs an hour. This almost always means that they are being outclassed - that the wicket is very flat and the outfield is very fast. But it is quite another to slow down the game deliberately. It takes a high quality side to actually execute this successfully. In fact, i would say that it is one of the essential abilities of a top quality test side. It is one of the most potent ways of controlling the game when the conditions favor the batting side.

England could attempt this. They have in the past, most notably in India in 2006. Will they try this tomorrow?

9 comments:

  1. Mate

    Although this is the first test - England would be stupid to try the defensive tactic out. They need to make all the running in all the tests.

    If after 5 tests, the score reads 0-0, Aus keep the urn and if you ask any Aussie member they would take it.

    Australia WILL NOT gamble in any game. 5 draws will suit them just fine. All they want to do is avoid a repeat of 05, have the Urn with them on the way back.

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  2. It will take great skill for Australia to wait out a high quality strangle.

    What England want is to disturb the rhythm of the Australian batsmen. This would be the point of a defensive tactic.

    But i think you are right to some extent. If Australia are interested in playing carefully (and Ponting's Australian middle order is a more circumspect one than Steve Waugh's was), then England's job will be that much harder.

    But in any event - slowing down the game and killing the runs keeps England ahead in the game for a longer period of time.

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  3. I think Dhoni is the master of this strategy. He seems to have worked it out to a T. But it must be said he has the likes of Zak and Ishant to execute his strategy to perfection. Apart from delaying tactics, he packed the offside, and asked his bowlers to adhere strictly to one side of the pitch. It takes some discipline, and the bowlers sure enough responded quite well.

    The strategy saps the momentum away from the batting side, and Dhoni resorts to this strategy usually when the opposition go through a session or so dominantly.

    If England do it, they could actually turn this to their favour. It is a defensive strategy on the face of it, but tactically it is attacking because it preys on the minds of the batting side.

    And it certainly is far better than Nasser Hussain's Ashley Giles strategy to Tendulkar.

    However, I doubt England have the necessary discipline though. That said, the Aussie batting doesn't have the aura of its past.

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  4. However, slow overrates don't matter if the bowling side bowls the batting side out.
    This isn't correct. The over-rate is only ignored if the team is bowled out within 3.5 hours (+ 20min for wickets and 4min for each drinks break, plus other stoppages).

    Any longer than that and the usual penalties apply.

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  5. David.. i know that. But in practice it never comes down to this. Captains have almost never been fined for slow overrates in low scoring games, despite the fact that overrates are invariably very poor in these games. As a case in point see the Perth Test in 2008.

    Australia bowled first and spent 450 minutes bowling their 98.2 overs. In response, India spent 240 minutes bowling 50 overs. Australia then spent 360 minutes bowling 80.4 overs. In the 4th innings India bowled 86.5 overs in 396 minutes.

    None of these innings had overrates approaching anywhere near 15 overs per hour. Each of the innings lasted over three and a half hours. Yet the game was over in 4 days.

    This overrate ruling is reasonable, because the regular fall of wickets meant that it could not be established that the slow overrate was delaying the game.

    In practice the application of the overrate rule has been very lenient. It is only ever applied when a fielding side gets sent on a leather hunt over say 2 days and their overrate slows down as a result.

    In most instances sides bowl about 24-25 overs in the first two sessions of play and then bowl 40 or so overs in the remaining 150 minutes (including the extra 30).

    So if you actually look at the practice of the overrate ruling, you will find that it is applied not merely by accounting for the fall of wickets or length of the innings, but has invariably been applied only when it was deemed by the referee that the slow overrate delayed the game - denied the opposition a fair chance to win.

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  7. The Australians were fined for a slow over-rate in that Perth Test. I think I'm right in saying that that fine was the reason why Ponting bowled Hussey after tea in Nagpur - otherwise it would have been a second over-rate violation in 12 months and he would have been suspended for at least one of the Tests against New Zealand.

    In India's bowling 50 overs in 240 would have been close to the required over-rate. Nine wickets makes 240min into 222min. A drinks break or two brings it down to 218 or 214. It only takes a sightscreen delay/third umpire decision/etc. and you're down to 210min and the over-rate is ignored.

    In the second innings, the nine wickets make the 396min into 378min. Three drinks breaks would make that 366. Other delays would make it around 360 or so. You need to bowl 90 overs in 360 minutes; India bowled 87, less than the 5 needed before a fine is imposed.

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  8. I don't think the fine for slow overrates is purely on account of arithmetic.That Perth was i think because it was particularly egregious. Australia bowled 22 overs on the third morning - 8 overs short.

    By your argument (based on simple numbers), they should not have been fined in either case, because after making the required deductions (360 - 22 - 8) Australia bowled 80 overs in 330 minutes. That means they are 2 1/2 overs behind, which is well within the 5 overs for which a fine is not imposed.

    Similarly in the first innings it comes down to 98 overs in 420 minutes - here they are 6 overs short (not counting any site screen breaks etc, third umpire referrals etc.) over 98 overs. Also marginal.

    In the Nagpur case, i think the Perth fine had something to do with it.

    Another thing you will find in the whole overrate thing is that teams that win rarely get fined.

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  9. The over-rate applies over both innings of the match, so (in this case) Australia would be 2+6.5 = 8.5 overs behind, less other allowances. That's more than the 5 overs they can get away with.

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