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When comparing the biggest team scores in Tests, the results can be a bit messy. This is because cricket often does not allow teams to carry their innings to completion, and big innings are often truncated by declaration or lack of time. We know for sure that the highest innings in a Test match is Sri Lanka’s 952 for 6 in 1997, but an interesting side question would ask if this is also the most ‘extraordinary’ score in Tests. For example, we know that the West Indies once made a score of 790 for 3. Where might such an innings have gone if it had continued? Can we compare it to Sri Lanka’s record?
While we can never know for sure, it is possible to make a statistical estimate. The approach is to look at the way that innings naturally progress over a wide range of scores. Of course, there is plenty of variation between innings [part of cricket’s appeal], but there are statistical patterns. A team that is, say, five wickets down, will on average add a certain number of runs if the innings is played to completion.
This average number of runs added also depends on the starting point. A team on, say, 50 for 5, can be expected to add fewer runs than a team on 500 for 5 before being bowled out. But there is a surprising result to be found here. Contrary to expectation, the number of runs at the starting point is not very important, with only a limited effect on the future progress of the innings. This is shown in the following table, calculated from the outcomes of all relevant Test innings, which gives the average number of runs added by teams with five wickets down, at different starting points.
|Starting score||Runs added (average)||Projected all-out score|
|50 for 5||85||135|
|100 for 5||91||191|
|200 for 5||99||299|
|300 for 5||114||414|
|400 for 5||116||516|
|500 for 5||114||614|
|600 for 5||110||710|
What we see here is that above a certain level, in this case about 300 runs, there is very little change in the potential scoring of a team. This is surprising, but it probably comes down to the fact that a batsman coming in at a score of 600 for 5 is likely to bat in a riskier manner, or with less intensity, than one who comes in at 300 for 5. This would appear to balance out any advantage from tired bowling or benign conditions. This pattern is also seen at 6, 7, 8 or 9 wickets down.
It should be stressed that these runs added will often be theoretical in practice. For example, the projected all-out score for teams that reach 600 for 5 is 710, but in practice most such innings will not reach 700, often because of declarations. What the projected all-out score gives us is an estimate of where the innings was headed if the limits of time and tactics had been removed – its trajectory if you will.
With modern computer power, the result of this process is an “Innings Projector” that can give a projected estimate for any score. (In practice, it only works for innings with two or more wickets down.) Estimates for extreme innings must remain provisional because of the rarity of the situations, but the fact that trends are so stable, as illustrated by the first table, adds confidence to the results.
So what are the most extreme projected scores? Here is a list of the results:
|Team||Opponent||Venue, year||Score||Projected score|
|Sri Lanka||India||Colombo (RPS) 1997||952-6||1028|
|West Indies||Pakistan||Kingston, Jamaica 1958||790-3||996|
|England||Australia||The Oval 1938||903-7||951|
|Sri Lanka||Zimbabwe||Bulawayo 2004||713-3||919|
|Sri Lanka||South Africa||Colombo (SSC) 2006||756-5||866|
|West Indies||England||St John’s, Antigua 2004||751-4||861|
|England||West Indies||Kingston, Jamaica 1930||849-10||849|
|New Zealand||Sri Lanka||Wellington 1991||671-4||821|
|India||Bangladesh||Dhaka (Mirpur) 2007||610-3||816|
|Australia||Zimbabwe||Perth (WACA) 2003||735-6||810|
|South Africa||Zimbabwe||Harare 2001||600-3||806|
|Australia||England||Leeds (Headingley) 1993||653-4||803|
|Australia||England||The Oval 2001||641-4||791|
|Australia||West Indies||Kingston, Jamaica 1955||758-8||788|
|Pakistan||India||Hyderabad (Pak) 1983||581-3||787|
|England||South Africa||Lord’s 1924||531-2||779|
|West Indies||New Zealand||Wellington 1995||660-5||770|
|England||South Africa||Durban 1939||654-5||764|
|Pakistan||Sri Lanka||Faisalabad 1985||555-3||761|
|South Africa||England||Lord’s 2003||682-6||757|
So Sri Lanka retains the No. 1 position under this calculation. However, the West Indies 790 for 3 moves up to second place, while England’s 849 all out in the Timeless Test of 1930 moves down to seventh.
Another aspect to these scores is that the distribution of the scores around these projections can be calculated, which means that the probability of a specific score can also be calculated. For example, the probability of a score of 790 for 3 actually exceeding the 1028 assigned to Sri Lanka’s record is about 24%.
One other possible calculation here is a re-appraisal of the most one-sided innings victories in Tests. Using the projected score, the margin of victory can be re-calculated and compared more evenly. The most one-sided Tests in this analysis are:
|Venue, year||Team||Opponent||Score||Projected score||Original margin||Projected margin|
|The Oval 1938||England||Australia||903-7||951||Inng and 579||Inng and 627|
|Multan 2001||Pakistan||Bangladesh||546-3||752||Inng and 264||Inng and 470|
|Bulawayo 2004||Sri Lanka||Zimbabwe||713-3||919||Inng and 254||Inng and 460|
|Kolkata 1958||West Indies||India||614-5||724||Inng and 336||Inng and 446|
|Dhaka (Mirpur) 2007||India||Bangladesh||610-3||816||Inng and 239||Inng and 445|
|Wellington 1995||West Indies||New Zealand||660-5||770||Inng and 322||Inng and 432|
|Johannesburg (New Wanderers) 2002||Australia||South Africa||652-7||699||Inng and 360||Inng and 407|
(Please, no comments that the ‘highest’ does not mean the ‘greatest’. No one is claiming that it does. We are just looking at extremes here.)
[Technical note: the trajectory at large scores must be calculated with care, because teams that continue with great success from a high starting point rarely complete their innings. This must be allowed for in the calculation. The way to do this is through an iterative process, where big innings that are declared closed are themselves calculated through to completion, firstly for innings that are nine wickets down, then eight, seven, and so forth, and these results are then fed back into the calculation for end points starting from fewer wickets down.
For example, take a score of 500 for 3. This has occurred 37 times in Test matches. The projected score in this case is 705 all out. However, only three of the 37 teams have actually reached or exceeded a score of 705, while nine have been bowled out for less than 700. The reason that the projected score is above 700 is that many teams continue to do well but declare before reaching 700. Careful iterative analysis of these declared scores produces the average estimate of 205 runs added, or 705 all out for a projected score.]
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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