Michael Jeh October 11, 2010

Fourth-innings blues

Most batsmen clearly find it easier to score more heavily in the third innings of a Test

My previous two posts have been focused on the theme of second-innings stalwarts, inspired of course by VVS Laxman's great knock a week ago. We looked at the eight most-prolific second-innings batsmen (minimum qualification: 2500 runs in the second innings) and tried to figure out some theories why. Nothing scientific, just cricket fans chewing the fat and doing what we love doing best - talking cricket with cyber friends from around the world!

In the last post, Satish made a very valid observation, that instead of counting the overall average of all second-innings runs for those eight players, perhaps a more meaningful comparison might be the breakdown between the third innings of a Test Match versus the fourth. Clearly, there are inherently different pressures when setting a target as opposed to chasing one and when you add the fact that the fourth innings is generally in the worst batting conditions of the match, Satish's point is worth exploring.

Here's what I discovered with those eight players who were on our original list.

Third and fourth innings performance of batsmen
Player 3rd innings average 4th innings average centuries in 3rd/4th innings
VVS Laxman 57 39 4/1
Jacques Kallis 66 44 7/1
Garry Sobers 57 47 6/2
Allan Border 63 34 9/2
Sunil Gavaskar 48 58 7/4
Matthew Hayden 53 49 10/1
Kumar Sangakkara 58 42 7/2
Geoffrey Boycott 47 58 6/3

Looks like Satish was 100% correct. Most batsmen clearly find it easier to score more heavily in the third innings of a Test. We know that pitch conditions are one factor and it would be safe to assume that the pressure of chasing a score (or saving a game) must also play it's part in bringing those fourth-innings numbers down.

The lower-middle order batsmen like Laxman and Allan Border have slightly lower averages in the fourth innings, presumably because the pitch is that much more unfriendly by the time they bat, quite often late into the fifth day. They're also likely to be facing more spinners at that stage of the game when the ball is likely to be turning out of the rough created by four-plus days of bowler's footmarks.

Interestingly, the only two batsmen who average more in the fourth innings are openers: Sunil Gavaskar and Geoff Boycott. Matthew Hayden's differential isn't much either, which perhaps lends credence to my original theory that opening batsmen were always likely to be the players who had the best averages in the second innings, mainly because I felt that they would often be disadvantaged by batting first on a fresh pitch, full of moisture and early seam movement on day one.

Clearly, Gavaskar and Boycott were also masters of absorbing pressure, as evidenced by the fact that they both averaged 10-plus more in the fourth innings. Perhaps their tight technique and risk-free style of batting lends itself to batting last on a 'tired' pitch. I can't remember watching them bat on TV so I can't offer comment on whether they played late or with soft hands or with short backlifts or any other technical adjustment that would help them to score so prolifically in the final innings. Perhaps some older bloggers who remember watching them bat can offer some insights into whether they changed their technique or approach in fourth-innings run chases.

In terms of centuries, Hayden seems to have the biggest difference, but this could be explained by the fact that in his era, Australia often had just a few runs to chase in the fourth innings to win matches and he did not have the opportunity to make big scores.

One final reason why Gavaskar and Boycott may be the only two on this list to average more in the fourth innings - they are both right-handers. Could this be attributed slightly to the fact that it must be a lot more difficult for left-handed batsmen late in the game because of the amount of rough outside their off stump? Generally speaking, there would be a lot more 'traffic' in the channel outside the left-handers off stump because of the right-arm over the wicket bowlers and this was bound to have resulted in a pretty scuffed up danger area for left handed batsmen. Just a thought ... it may be nothing more than coincidence but worth a debate anyway.

Pitch conditions apart, we shouldn't discount the mental strength necessary to score so heavily in the fourth innings, under immense pressure no doubt. You can't read too much into this statistic though, because when it comes to the player with the biggest gap between third and fourth innings averages, Border heads this list. And one thing that was never in question was his mental toughness or courage under pressure. In fact, the tag of the biggest 'choker' must surely belong to The Don - he averages 130 in the third innings, dropping to a mere 73 in the fourth innings. Clearly an underperformer.

My seven-year-old son just read this piece and gave me a quizzical look that suggested I might consider more useful activities on a rainy day in Brisbane. Like bowling to him on the verandah for example where a cover drive that bisects the pot plants are worth two runs but a careless pull shot that hits the slumbering Labrador on the full is not only out but calls for a new ball for the fourth innings. The blank look on his face when I asked him about statistics reminded me of this old quote:

You're trying too hard to find a correlation here. You don't know these people, you don't know what they intended. You try to compile statistics and correlate them to a result that amounts to nothing more than speculation. - Marc Racicot

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 18, 2010, 8:57 GMT

    I feel its too complicated :-S I think you would have liked bowling to your son than this. With all these comments advicing you to do more of research on this. There figures are deceiving at times.

  • testli5504537 on October 15, 2010, 6:08 GMT

    I think if u put in some more factors like......avg in third and fourth innings against win/draw or a loss......u wud again get some interesting figures.....

  • testli5504537 on October 14, 2010, 17:15 GMT

    Really Nice Article Mike!! It was informative and fun reading this.. Boycs and Sunny were truely great batsmen!! The only reason I do not agree is with them being good scorers as they were right handed... :-) I know we do not have any left handed batsmen with similar stats.... but i hope to see one some day...

    But in all a very nicely done!! Look forward to another one from you....

  • testli5504537 on October 14, 2010, 9:58 GMT

    One aspect you need to look at is that some of these scores in the 3rd innings may have been under even more pressure, i.e. while following, e.g. VVS's 281 vs. Aus at Kolkata, maybe these could excluded or considered 4th inngs scores???

  • testli5504537 on October 13, 2010, 14:49 GMT

    hi im west indian and i cant believe our current players are always left out. what about shivnarine chanderpaul, brian lara and ramnaresh sarwan? they made alot or funs in the 4th innings of test matchs, and the reason for that is that they are good under pressure, and are match winners

  • testli5504537 on October 13, 2010, 10:42 GMT

    Starting from the 3rd test in Lanka in Aug 2010 and ending with the Bangalore test against Aus today, team India has successfully managed to chase a target in the range of 200-260 runs in the 4th innings-it has won 3 tests in a row in that manner. In the Lanka test and Mohali test Laxman was a common factor and today we had Pujara and Sachin(infact Bangalore test win was due to Sachin's batting supported by Vijay and Pujara at crucial moments). This is the 4th time India has successfully chased a target against Aus in 4th innings. Chennai 2001, Adelaide 2003, Mohali 2010 and now Bangalore- i would say the starting point would be the 1986 tied test at Chennai where India managed to get 347 runs in 4th innings against Aus. One should not forget that India were unable to chase 221 runs in 1987 test played at Bangalore against Pak. But 387 that India chased in 2008 at Chennai against Eng and 404 at Port of Spain in 1976- India is surely one of the good target chasers in 4th innings.

  • testli5504537 on October 13, 2010, 3:18 GMT

    Perhaps more pointed statistics might be to look at total number of runs scored on each of the 5 days of a match, divided by the total number of instances, giving a per-day "average". This eliminates the effect of 4th innings played on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th day.

  • testli5504537 on October 12, 2010, 21:13 GMT

    Boycott was perfectly mentally suited to SAVING a match, making sure it wasn't lost. Maybe that helps to explain his 4th innings average. He wasn't a man to set up a victory in the first of 15 sessions, but he would set himself to survive the last 2 (or 3, or 4...). I saw less of Gavaskar, but his technique was similar; careful, soft hands, great leaver of the ball, never hit it too hard. Neither of them would have been T20 players, but both were supreme craftsmen. Beuatiful to watch in a very different way. Just ask the bowlers who bowled at them: prized wickets.

  • testli5504537 on October 12, 2010, 12:24 GMT

    @Ravi: In the era of Gavaskar & Boycott, most of the team played for drawing test matches rather than winning. If you could recalla Windies team led by Alvin Kallicharan toured India in 1978 for a test series the result being 1-0 in favour of India with 5 test matches drawn. It was followed by an Australia, a five test series ended 2-0 in favour of India. Again England toured India under Keith Fletcher in 1981-82 (note that Boycott & Gavasker were pitted against each other). A six test series with 5 drawn matches and one victory for India. There was a batsman in the England side who could beat both Gavaskar and Boycott for the slowness in batting. His name is Chris Tavare. I remember him scoring just 35 runs after batting the whole day in a test match. Now the scenario has changed and teams play for winning rather than drawing. Max test matches are producing results.

  • testli5504537 on October 12, 2010, 11:02 GMT

    I think Gavaskar had atleast 11 hundreds in the 3rd/4th innnings, if I remember right. There are 3 in Australia in 77/78, 3 others where he scored a hundred in the first and second innings, the 127 where he carried the bat in Pakistan, 221 in England, 1 against Pakistan in Bangalore and 1 in the famous 400+ chase in WI. I think he had one more.

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