When should a captain declare?

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Declaration aftermath (via ECB)

The timing of a declaration will often elicit heated discussion among commentators. However, it seems safe to assume that the actual importance of the decision rarely justifies the level of debate, which is almost certainly artificially exaggerated by the fact that such questions generally only arise when not much is happening on the field.

Ex-cricketers entrusted with microphones always feel obliged to talk about something and many a one-sided match has elicited a great deal of fiery and impassioned wailing about delayed declarations only to be decided well within the allotted time anyway.

Joe Root’s second innings declaration at Headingley was unusual in that it left the West Indies with a chance. We thought at the time it was odd.

Not in a critical way. We didn’t necessarily think “this is a mistake”. It was more the low-key surprise you feel at the sight of something unexpected, like happening across a fly-tipped sofa on a country walk.

It also came after we’d suggested that England had maybe been a little overconfident in selecting Chris Woakes, so we wondered whether it might have been symptomatic of the same mentality. The batsmen had been scoring quickly and a slight delay could have meant setting a stiffer target in fewer overs.

That would have been England’s (and indeed most sides’) standard way of doing things, but it was a better match for Root calling his men in sooner and it would be wrong to assign the decision too great an importance. Of far more significance to the eventual result was what happened afterwards.


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    1. A Carew statement read: “In consequence of the coverage of this matter in some sections of the media, we, as a club, have decided not to comment further. We stand together”

      Those last three words are bizarre. In fact, the whole statement is bizarre. There are three things that could happen from here:

      1. The league does nothing and Carew wins the league in nobody’s eyes except their own.

      2. The league deducts some points / disqualifies them, in which case they lose the league but win a reputation as the league’s number one cheats for at least a decade.

      3. The Carew committee fires the first team captain and voluntarily forfeits the final match, in which case the whole thing will be put down to a bad egg in an otherwise decent club.

      It doesn’t seem all that difficult to me to see which is the best option for the future of Carew CC. “No comment” and “We all stand together” just make them look like cheating is the be all and end all of the club.

  1. I was surprised when it happened too. I think that kind of bold, aggressive move should be reserved for when you’re backed into a corner, e.g. trying to save a series (or maybe force a win in the last test of a level series). I’m all for bold, positive captaincy but it didn’t seem necessary given the series context (guarantee at least a draw) or that of the match – batting on, getting a ‘winning draw’ out of a game where we looked doomed after the first innings would have been seen as a very satisfying outcome. Perhaps it was overconfidence and a misread of the pitch given how the batting did seem that much easier. He might have expected a better performance from the bowlers (and fielders) also.

    In hindsight maybe it’s good he declared when he did, as the Windies could and probably would have been able to get quite a few more than 322 had they’d needed to, having chased it down very comfortably. If they’d been set, and got, 350-360, say, it might have inspired a far more cautious approach in future.

    1. Maybe it’s just fundamentally better to declare less conservatively because it makes for a better spectacle. It’s not like he asked them to make 150. England were still favourites.

  2. If we are going to judge declaration decisions by the result of the match, there will be a tendency to favour the conservative approach. Taking the conservative option and failing to bowl a team out in time is always going to be less likely to attract derision than declaring ‘early’ and then losing the match, not least because the latter involves losing.

    But never mind all that! Liam Livingstone has taken a wicket! His First Class bowling average is down to a mere 90.00 now (although his as-I-type figures of 7-2-15-1 are pretty decent by any reasonable measure).

      1. Those are quite some figures, but of course Tanvir has form for special figures in tournaments containing the letters P and L.

  3. I wonder how the West Indies would have got on if Cook had held on to the Brathwaite catch early in the day yesterday.

    England’s Day Five performance was below par. West Indies day five performance was significantly above par.

    I have no problem with the declaration timing in the circumstances. It was positive cricket. I hope Root doesn’t morph into a negative, defensive captain as a result of this setback.

    I think it was a good thing for England’s Ashes preparation for the Headingley match to have been so competitive. It is also a good thing that the forthcoming Lord’s test has acquired meaning and pressure; that would have been all-but absent if it were to be a dead rubber.

    1. Ah come now Ged, don’t tell me you’re also one of those who view every England test match as a precursor to the Ashes. That would make me sad.

      1. Not at all, DC, but as a counterweight to the notion that it is patronising to be happy about this result from a West Indies point of view and/or from a “world cricket” point of view, there are also parochial England-supporting reasons for being glad that the current series is competitive.

        There’s not much point to a series for either team if the series is such a mismatch that all of the matches are inevitable strolls for one team and inevitable trouncings for the other.

  4. The answer is simple. While England were batting, nine of the team were available for fielding practice. Therefore Root should have delayed the declaration until England had learned how to catch.

    1. Do you think 5 days would be enough Bert?

      Jokes apart, how much does Cook’s seniority in the team contribute to his fielding in the slips?

      1. Should have said “contribute to him getting to field in the slips”. Because obviously it doesn’t help with the actual fielding…

      2. It does always feel like everyone looks at him and thinks ‘opening batsman, been around for ages – must be good in the slips’ wholly ignoring a great deal of evidence to the contrary.

        He was a dreadful catcher when he first made the team but has attained a kind of low-key competence since then.

        He has taken an awful lot of catches, but would be fascinating to discover how frequently he drops them and how that compares to other slip fielders.

      3. I’ve always felt that the “senior batsman stands in the slips” and “newbie stands at forward short leg” is bad for the team.

        Seeing some change now at least in the Indian team where I’ve seen Pujara stand at short leg because he’s good there instead of giving him a slip spot because he’s the senior bat. Rahane is often at leg slip because again he’s good in that position.

        Don’t know if that’s always the case and how it works for other teams because these days I don’t watch nearly as much cricket as I should 🙁

      4. I’m also a fan of the ‘rotund, ageing batsman always fields in the slips as he’s too immobile to field anywhere else’ approach, Trescothick being a fine and randomly-chosen example.

    1. Miniature person might prevent us from writing that before the window of relevance closes we’re afraid. Maybe there’ll be another opportunity for such a piece next week…

    2. Come on, Miriam, you know KC doesn’t do requests…

      …unless the request is a miniature person coming on all wet, noisy, smelly or a combination thereof.

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