Batsmen don’t win Test matches

A few weeks ago, we spent a good long while discussing what time we should leave the County Ground in Bristol when we already knew the match was over. We stick around at the end of cricket matches. We certainly don’t leave early.

Today, England made the decision to bat again when most people didn’t think they needed to. A lot of people get very angry about this sort of thing. We don’t. But we do find it a bit boring.

When England came out for their second innings today, there was no saying that a single one of their runs would count towards the outcome of the game. There are arguments for taking some time to rest the fast bowlers and that sort of thing, but the runs themselves may well prove of no significance if Pakistan are later bowled out for less than 391.

Batsmen don’t win Test matches. Batsmen don’t move the game forwards. They are really just necessary impediments who slow the game down. These circumstances – England batting a second time despite an already gigantic lead – really brought these points home.

Whatever the merits of the decision from a ‘winning the match’ point of view, we were at Old Trafford today and for the first time in our life we went home before the end of play. It wasn’t just the may-or-may-not-be-of-consequence nature of the cricket – although that certainly contributed – it was also the atmosphere.

New Fun England, or however they’re branding themselves these days, left an awful lot of people in the ground having not very much fun at all and when you’re surrounded by people who are quite pissed off and can’t really see much point in what they’re watching, it’s hard to stay positive.

It was a good morning though. There were wickets.

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40 Appeals

  1. Paul Farbrace gave an interesting interview after stumps. His suggestion was that the decision was all about getting some more deterioration into the wicket as they felt that the pitch was still a very very good one on day three.

    I see some merit in that argument.

    He said that it was not about resting bowlers or concerns about two bowlers just back from injury.

    Strange, as I see some merit in that argument too.

    Monday could conceivably be a 106 over day, with the extra 8 overs for time lost Day 3 plus possibly taking the extra half hour to push for the win. If England bat for an hour or an hour and a quarter, there will still possibly be nearly 90 overs left to bowl. Should be plenty.

    • King Cricket

      July 24, 2016 at 9:07 pm

      There’s certainly logic and the more fundamental truth is that England have got themselves into a position where they should really have won whichever decision they made.

      Our point is purely that this particular impact is less exciting for spectators. How you weigh the worth of that is up to you.

      • I was bored and had to drive home to Glasgow in the evening – I left after the 4-ball post-early-late-tea session which was the Worst. Session. Ever. I still didn’t get home until nearly midnight after some fuel-gauge roulette at Penrith and a caffeine hunt.

        Didn’t the tannoy announcer geezer say that no time lost yesterday could be made up today?

      • At least some can be, I think, but in the evening not the morning. Why not the morning boggles me.

  2. Interesting that you say this. Not so long ago, the President of the Rikki Clarke Fan Club penned an article that touched, briefly, on this very subject. Relevant bit, just below the picture:

    “But here’s what Bayliss actually said:

    That is – clearly and specifically – not asking his players to be positive in defence and attack. It is asking them to score more quickly. It is asking them to attack.

    …And it is a style that is beginning, in Test cricket at least, to hold them back. Like Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, England’s style will entertain and win friends. It won’t make them the No. 1 team. “

    • King Cricket

      July 24, 2016 at 9:29 pm

      Not sure anyone would take this decision as being a newfound sense of pragmatism from an occasionally irresponsibly attacking side. If anything it seems more like a relic of an earlier, more conservative era.

      Plus it’s not really a decision where pragmatism is key. England would probably have won if they’d enforced the follow-on. It wasn’t especially a risk.

      Dobell’s point – a very good one – is more about not explaining away irresponsibility – the old “it’s just the way I play” way of whitewashing over poor decisions.

      • The idea that enforcing the follow on is the natural state of affairs, and so not doing so is controversial, is the relic of a previous era. An era where Test cricket was slow and boring and one in three matches were draws.

        In the modern game, five days is plenty of time to win a match enforcing is something you do when you have to.

      • I had something to say, I think, about ruthlessness, 1990s Australia, mental disintegration,or some such.

        But in the grand old tradition of this website, I’m not sure I can be bothered to put them into a coherent counterargument. Meh.

      • King Cricket

        July 25, 2016 at 10:18 am

        Most of us accept that the follow-on is merely an option in modern Test cricket rather than anything approaching an inevitability. All we’re saying is that when you have a lead of near-enough 400, there are consequences beyond the immediate match-winning ones and that people’s support shouldn’t be taken for granted or undervalued.

  3. Was it really not fun? The weather was a bit of an impediment, but what little batting we did have was quite exciting to watch on TV. In the context of the series, seeing Yasir Shah getting taken apart, along with the rest of the Pakistan attack, was excellent. Obviously a result *is* the most important thing, but I think there’s plenty of merit in pushing home an advantage gained against a bowling attack who tore the side to pieces in the last match. Frankly, I’d be happy to see them bat another hour or so tomorrow if it meant quick runs and another century. The grousing from broadcasters felt very much like a group of people who’d been plotting their Monday afternoon on the golf course before Cook decided against the follow-on.

    • King Cricket

      July 24, 2016 at 10:39 pm

      It’s true that there may be points (as opposed to runs) to be scored against the Pakistan attack – although it’s funny how bowlers can be a fraction of themselves in these circumstances and then bounce back when it matters. However, the England batsmen’s efforts did feel hollow and pointless inside the ground. It’s hard to feel much about any shot in those circumstances. There was even a certain amount of sarcastic applause for boundaries.

      • I suppose I wasn’t there, but after such a dominant performance it surprises me. I wonder whether the reaction would have been the same had we been playing Australia and done the same thing.

  4. The contrast between the Ind-WI and ENg-Pak cannot be more stark. On the one hand, we have a captain who deems a 323 lead more than enough to enforce a follow-on, and wins comfortably. On the other, we have one who thinks 391 may not be sufficient and tries to drag it on. England is almost definitely going to win, but there can be no justification for this utterly stupid decision.

    • ‘On the one hand we have a captain who is aware that seven sessions is more than enough time to win the game, and on the other we have one who believes that more than seven may not be enough. India was almost definitely going to win either way, but there can be no justification for this utterly stupid decision.’

  5. A spectator being bored by a decision does not make it an incorrect one. I wish more commentators were aware of this distinction.

    Imagine a batsman is on 289* and leaves the ball. Does everyone get pissed off then, too? He has enough runs, why isn’t he being more positive, is he afraid or what, you don’t see champion Austalian batsmen doing this, or blah de blah.

    No – people understand that unless circumstances strain you, you just carry on playing normally. Extend the same thinking to captaincy and that’s why Cook didn’t enforce the follow on – he didn’t need to, so just carried on as per.

    • King Cricket

      July 25, 2016 at 10:14 am

      A spectator being bored by a decision does not make it an incorrect one, but nor is sport played in a hermetically sealed laboratory environment. In the last year or so, England have drawn strength from getting fans more onside.

      The impact is impossible to measure, but real. For example, we have been at matches where Andrew Flintoff has enlivened the crowd who have then enlivened Flintoff in a kind of virtuous circle.

      Not so long ago, England’s approach was almost entirely defined by the principle of ‘win at all costs’. They become dull and lifeless, the crowd responded, and eventually they lost the joie de vivre that drives players to new heights.

      • Do you think the fans who had tickets for today will not balance out the ones who didn’t enjoy yesterday? Also, if the weather had been sunny do you not think you might have been a little happier?

      • King Cricket

        July 25, 2016 at 12:10 pm

        Don’t see why today’s fans would be correspondingly happier than we were unhappy. England’s runs this morning were as likely to be pointless as the ones last night. More likely, actually. Also, without any Borg-like consciousness, we wouldn’t really stand to benefit from it anyway. This is a personal view based on personal experience.

      • More that they’ve been able to watch a full day’s cricket. I personally think one of the great sights in cricket is seeing demoralised bowling attacks flayed around the park in the manner they were this morning. I never had you down as such a humbug 🙁

      • King Cricket

        July 25, 2016 at 5:55 pm

        We’d always much rather see the game moving forwards. Those passages of play can feel like treading water.

      • Brisbane 2010 gripped me right to the end and that was a lot more dull on paper tbf. Only thing that’s a shame is we didn’t see a couple of centuries. Root would have made the fastest England test century if he’d kept going at that rate I think.

  6. You should’ve gone on Saturday instead (if you didn’t go on Saturday as well, of course). Even if they did run out of proper (ie non-Fosters, non-John Smiths) beer by tea,

    There were runs, there were wickets, there was one of the biggest beer snakes I’ve ever seen, there was a man falling asleep and having various items balanced on his head.

    • I contributed substantially to that snake and my mate helped hold it up. I consider my comments on this thread sufficient to constitute a full match report. Ends.

  7. I was also at the ground yesterday, and had a somewhat different experience from you. I agree about the atmosphere, but I’d more than put that down to there being so many showers, each time the rain came people groaned and some decided to leave. The people that I went with thought that it was an interesting decision, but not one that surprised me or that I particularly disagreed with. And we were quite happy to watch England bat again. But maybe we just like watching paint dry as well.

  8. None of it makes any sense to me. Farbrace’s “explanation” only has any conceivable validity if they are worried about having to bat again, and indeed worried about having to reach a total of some significance. In other words, it only applies if Pakistan were to get 500 in their second innings. So of all the possible explanations, it is far and away the most negative.

    (But let’s face it, nobody in the England camp believes that Pakistan will get 500, so it is clearly a bullshit excuse because the real reason isn’t palatable.)

    All the usual debates about enforcing the follow on or not are based on occasions when the lead is 200 – 300 runs, not when the lead is nearly 400 runs. With a lead of 230, batting again is very likely, so Farbrace’s comment might make sense. It is likely that the bowlers have done a bit, so the resting reason makes sense. It is also likely that there are fewer than seven sessions left, so the time-saving argument comes into it. None of this applies here. Teams have declared their second innings with fewer than 390 runs lead, and felt very confident of the win. England needed precisely zero extra runs. If their bowlers were tired after a maximum of 16 overs (Woakes), the conditioning coach needs to be taken out and shot.

    I cannot think of a single reason why England actively chose to bat again. The default decision in this circumstance is to enforce. In every regard that would strengthen their position in the match, and so they really should need a strong positive reason not to do it. Quite what that is, Farbrace’s explanation aside, is beyond me.

    • And on we go…

      • Everything you said is true except this

        ‘The default decision in this circumstance is to enforce.’

        This isn’t even close to being true. You should need a reason to enforce the follow on and letting the journalists have a day off isn’t one of them.

        They didn’t need to bat again, and they didn’t need to enforce either.

      • The default decision is to always act to strengthen your position in the match, and since enforcing quite obviously does that on the face of it, you need a reason why in this case England’s position is strengthened by not enforcing the follow on.

        Meanwhile, the lead is now 564, and we’ve declared. There’s no rain in the forecast today, but there is for tomorrow afternoon / evening.

  9. Cook trying to play a reverse sweep! Are you not entertained!?

  10. If it rains, the decision not to follow on is going to look mighty stupid.

  11. As it is, Pakistan look unlikely to reach 300 and there are very few spectators in evidence. I suppose cricket is the winner here.

  12. King

    When Tests started on Thursdays and had a rest day, the climax was always going to be Monday/Tuesday. Are you suddenly an anti-traditionalist?

    • King Cricket

      July 25, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Suddenly? Do you not know our position on tradition?

      • Indeed, you have had a consistent anti-tradition position for as long as any of us can remember, KC.

        You cannot renege on that position now – that would be the most frightful breach of tradition.

  13. I well recall how few spectators were at Headingley in 1981. I imagine you were on strike then as well.

    • King Cricket

      July 26, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Our point really is just about having predictable start days. Our finish day comment wasn’t really what we were actually driving at.

    • King Cricket

      July 26, 2016 at 8:45 am

      If the Old Trafford Test always started on a Friday in July, we’d be perfectly happy with that. It doesn’t though. It might start on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday in May, June, July or August and many times it doesn’t happen at all.

  14. Maybe you were the little boy behind the boundary rope at the Kirkstall Lane end.

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