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A different ball, a different result

Courtney Walsh celebrates Craig McDermott's wicket Getty Images

Since the next two months will be dedicated to the World Cup (and the ODI format), I wanted to round off with a nice Test piece. I had promised to do an article on Milind's graphic interpretation of innings status with special reference to fourth-innings chases. But the work required is quite exhaustive and I want to do proper justice to that fascinating analysis. I did not want to rush that. So I used the feedback from readers on the article on fourth-innings chases and moved into a specific area. Let me explain.

"Going down to the wire" is a favourite pronouncement by the Indian team director. "Decided on the last ball" is another favourite expression of many commentators. I have taken these words literally. I have looked for matches and situations carefully and selected Tests that really came down to the last ball. In other words, if the last ball played had a different result, the result would have been different. We will learn as we move on.

First, let me look at matches in which three results were possible: One team was safe from defeat.

First, the two tied Tests. There is no doubt that the results would have been different with a different last ball. As I have always mentioned, the 1960 tied Test was the perfect Test ever played. All resources had been exhausted. Forty wickets were captured. When the last ball, which was the penultimate ball of the Test, was bowled, any one of three results was possible: an Australian win, a draw with scores level, or a tie. Wes Hall bowled to Lindsay Kline and the ball was pushed to cover. Kline and Ian Meckiff set off for the winning run. Joe Solomon ran out Meckiff with a direct throw and the match was tied.

The second tied Test, played 26 years later, was not as perfect as the first one, primarily because Australia declared twice, thus leaving quite a bit of unused resources. Otherwise, the results were similar. When the last ball, which was the penultimate ball of the Test, was bowled, any one of three results was possible: an Indian win, a draw with scores level or a tie. Greg Matthews bowled to Maninder Singh and hit him on the leg. The appeal for leg-before-wicket was upheld and the match was tied. It was the perfect result.

Now we come to the draws achieved with the last pair at crease. So this justifies the criterion set. If the last ball of the match had resulted in a wicket the result would have switched from a draw to a win for the bowling team. Since these are drawn matches, the relevant data is the balls faced by the last-wicket partnership, rather than the runs scored, which are mostly immaterial. The balls-played information is available for most of these matches. For the others a process of informed extrapolation has been carried out to determine the balls faced. In some cases the balls faced by the No. 11 batsmen has been used. The character "#" indicates some sort of extrapolation has been done.

Continuing the trend expressed in the previous paragraph, this table is ordered on the balls faced by the last pair. Thus the difficult matches are at the top. Almost inarguably, the greatest draw of all time was the one between Australia and West Indies in 1961, a few matches after the famous tied Test. Ken Mackay and Kline batted for nearly two hours and held on for a magnificent draw. The extrapolated value is 232 balls. What a Test and a series! They were certainly helped by the fact that the only express bowler was Hall. But still one of the greatest Houdini acts of all time.

In 2003, West Indies faced certain defeat against Zimbabwe, when Fidel Edwards walked in. He faced 33 balls and, in a 67-ball partnership with Ridley Jacobs, saved West Indies. Two New Zealand pace bowlers, Simon Doull and Shayne O'Connor, batting for 62 balls, saved New Zealand against Australia in 1997. Fidel Edwards proved that he was a master of such situations, participating in a similar match-saving stand of 61 balls, against England in 2009.

Now we come down to last-wicket partnerships lasting six overs and less. Like Fidel Edwards, Graham Onions of England participated in two such match-saving partnerships in 2009-10, albeit short ones. Let us tip our collective hats to Glenn McGrath and Monty Panesar, not known for their batting skills, but for participating in two match-saving stands.

Match No. 824 deserves a special mention. It is the only one of these matches that really did not go to the last ball. When Vanburn Holder was given out off Jim Higgs, the crowd erupted and occupied the field. Raphick Jumadeen did not even take strike and the last 38 balls of the last day were not played. Efforts to resume the match the next morning failed. Even though the West Indies board representatives, in consultation with team officials, decided to extend the match into a sixth day to make up the time lost, the umpires were not consulted. In the event, Ralph Gosein was adamant that there was no provision in the laws or the playing conditions for the match to be extended. He refused to continue, as did the stand-by umpire, John Gayle, and the match was abandoned.

It is amazing to note that more than half of these 21 drawn Tests have been played in the past 14 years: possibly a tribute to the resilience of recent late-order batsmen, or is it a case of safety-first declarations?

Let us look at teams. England have survived six such cliff-hangers. Australia and West Indies have escaped five times each. South Africa, not a single time. On the other hand, England and West Indies could not capture the tenth wicket five times.

These two matches are slightly out of place in this collection since the last ball was bowled with eight and six wickets down respectively, ruling out a tied match. So one team was safe from defeat. However a win for the fourth batting team was still possible. In the first one, R Ashwin had made sure of a draw by blocking out the fifth ball. India needed two to win, got one and Ashwin was run out.

In the earlier match, the situation was slightly different. England were never in danger of defeat. They needed three to win off the last ball but could score only two. It is amazing that Nasser Hussain, John Crawley, Graham Thorpe and Darren Gough, all decent batsmen, scored only 12 runs in 21 balls and wasted a fantastic start provided by Nick Knight and Alec Stewart. A target of 51 runs from eight overs with eight wickets in hand should have been achieved. Heath Streak was, however, lucky to escape with a couple of wide deliveries not being called "wide".

Now let me look at matches in which all four results were possible, including a possible win for the defeated team.

Simple criterion for these matches: a win by one wicket. That means the losing team could have captured the tenth wicket in the last ball and either won or tied the match. Since these are wins, the runs added for the last wicket becomes the important measure.

The first is one of the greatest Test wins of all time. The location: Karachi. The target for Pakistan: 314. The score at the fall of the ninth wicket: 258 for 9. Inzamam-ul-Haq, for some reason batting at No. 8, and Mushtaq Ahmed produced, almost inarguably, the greatest last-wicket partnership in history of Test cricket. They added 58 runs in 89 balls, with the sword of Damocles hanging over them in every delivery, and Pakistan got a priceless win.

A win, almost as difficult and as far-fetched as the Karachi win, was achieved at Old Wanderers nearly 100 years back. With the first three innings being 184, 91 and 190, South Africa were left with the huge target of 284. Soon they were struggling at 105 for 6. Then Gordon White and Dave Nourse, again for some strange reason batting at No. 8, added over 100 runs but South Africa were staring at the abyss at 239 for 9. Then Nourse and Percy Sherwell added 48 runs in approximately 18 overs. Nourse's unbeaten 93* is the highest rated sub-100 score ever. This win was nearly as good as the Karachi win.

The next match was similar, although the scores were much higher. That makes the 39 runs added by Sydney Barnes and Arthur Fielder look a little easier. In another instance, Doug Ring and Bill Johnston added 38 runs in a match of middling scores. Then come a slew of matches in which fewer than 20 runs were scored to effect unlikely wins.

Somewhere in the bottom half of the table is hidden the Bridgetown classic containing Brian Lara's masterpiece, which would certainly be in anybody's top five greatest Test innings ever. Only nine runs were added for the tenth wicket but let us not forget that 54 were added for the ninth wicket. Courtney Walsh has been the supporting actor in two of these magnificent one-wicket wins and he is the only player to appear twice.

These Tests also follow the previous group of Tests for the reason that when the last ball was bowled, all four results were possible. These are wins by runs. As such the tenth wicket was captured off the last ball of the Test. I have selected matches in which the winning margin was what the losing teams could have cleared with a single stroke. Just to be on the safe side I have made sure that in the last two matches no run was scored off the last ball. So a six instead of a dismissal would have won the game for Australia and England respectively.

The first is a famous Test in which the West Indian pacemen, led by Curtly Ambrose, dismissed Australia for 184 when one more run was needed for a tie. The interesting part of this match was that Tim May and Craig McDermott had already added 40 runs for the tenth wicket. One more run would have put them in the first group of Tests, and two more, in the previous group. Surely one of the greatest Test matches of all time: the word "great" used as it should be.

Twelve years later there was another classic. After two big first innings, Shane Warne spun out England for 182 and Australia needed 282 to win. They were in real trouble at 137 for 7, at 175 for 8 and at 220 for 9. Each time they found someone: Warne, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz. Finally Kasprowicz fell two runs short. Do I use the word "great" again? Maybe no need to gild the lily.

Now come two three-run wins: as different as chalk and cheese. The recent Test saw three scores of 284, 287 and 294, and that meant that 292 were needed to win. Australia fell three runs short despite the last-wicket partnership of 70 runs. Another match that could have moved on to other groups: 80 years back, a totally different match was played. Two good first innings were followed by the Australian innings of 86, leaving England only 124 to win. They were 97 for 4 and it looked like an easy win. Then Hugh Trumble happened and England fell three runs short. Victor Trumper and Stanley Jackson scored two contrasting hundreds: the first in two hours and the second in five.

This is the last article on Tests for a couple of months. The next few articles will cover the World Cups held so far and the 2015 edition: all from point of view of Ratings and new concepts such as HSI, ISV and Innings Index. I can assure you that these will offer insights fto the readers.

Just a few sobering thoughts for all non-South African teams. The difference in strike rate between AB de Villiers' record-breaking innings and the next best fastest completed hundreds is 21.5% (de Villiers 345.5 and Anderson 278.7). The difference in balls required by de Villiers to reach 100 differs by 16.1% (31 and 36). The frequency of sixes by de Villiers: once every 2.75 balls. De Villiers' scoring rate for an innings of 149 is the highest for any ODI fifty. The number of runs scored in the last ten overs by South Africa: 173. The number of runs scored in the last 20 overs by South Africa: 277.

Bradman memorabilia

An unusual team photograph during the 1928-29 Ashes series - the debut series for Bradman. The intriguing point about this photograph, taken just before the second Test, for which he was dropped, is that Bradman, a single Test old, is sitting down and many experienced players are standing up. This is completely different to what normally happens everywhere else. Maybe Australian readers can contribute their insights: Possibly Murray, who is likely to be better-informed than the others. To view this, please click HERE.