Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Fourth test days four and five, New Zealand continue to play Sri Lanka, and Rod Marsh becomes an Englishman.

Where we last left off, Australia had scored 9/605, and the West Indies had scored 8/291 in reply. In the morning of day four, Australia wanted to get the last two West Indians out quickly to complete a large first innings lead. And they didn't do too badly. Thanks to a little good tail end batting from Drakes and Best, the West Indies held on for just over an hour. West Indies all out 328. Australia had a first innings lead of 277.

Okay, well and good. At this point, Australia had the option of enforcing the follow on. What does this mean? Well, in the event that the side that bats first gains a lead of more than 200 runs in a five day test match, the captain of the side that batted first has the option of reversing the order in which the two sides bat in the seconds innings' of the match. That is, rather than the innings being in the order ABAB, they are instead in the order ABBA. Why would you do this? Well, one reson, basically. Enforcing the follow on allows a side to win a match quicket. In order to win the match, side A has to bowl B out twice. If A bats again before B's second innings, there might not be time to bowl out B again. However, if B bats again straight away, then this can happen sooner. If A then needs to score some runs, they know exactly how many they need when they bat again, and exactly how long they have to score the runs. Thus enforcing the follow on can allow side A to get a result in matches that would otherwise appear to be heading for a draw due to running out of time.

Okay, this is great. Why then wouldn't you enforce the follow on? Two main reasons. Firstly, there is the issue of exhaustion. If a side has been out in the field bowling and fielding for six, seven, eight hours, then they are tired. Following this up by another six, seven, eight hours in the field straight away is tiring, and a side that is exhausted is not going to bowl and field as well as one that is fresh. Secondly, and more importantly, cricket pitches deteriorate as games go on. It is usually easier to bat on the first day then the second, and on the second than the third etc. On the fifth day, batting can be extremely difficult. This means that the side that bats last is at a disadvantage, and when you enforce the follow on, you elect to bat last. If you have a big first innings lead and the target is small, then this does not matter. However, if you are set a reasonable target and the pitch is difficult, then enforcing the follow on can be dangerous. Two of the most famous come from behind victories in test cricket (Calcutta 2001 and Leeds 1981) have involved sides losing after enforcing the follow on. Sadly, Australia was the losing side in both cases. Indian and English fans both consider the matches to be particularly memorable. Australians curse.

Fifteen years ago, when sides batted slowly and there were many drawn matches, sides that could enforce the follow on almost invariably did so. These days, though, it is not enforced as often as it is. This is particularly true of the Australian sides captained by Mark Taylor and now Steve Waugh, as these sides score runs so quickly that they usually have plenty of time to win either way. Enforcing the follow on is something you try to avoid to do if you can help it, and Australia often can help it.

However, in this match, the pitch was very flat. Bowling the West Indians out a second time would take a while, and a draw was a real possibility. For this reason, it Australia decided to score runs staight away and set a target, they might not have ended up having time to bowl the West Indies out. So, the follow on was enforced. (Australia were helped by having five bowlers rather than their more usual four. Obviously if you can spread the bowling five ways rather than four, the bowlers will be less tired). The West Indies were sent in again. Helped by yet another bad lbw decision, Brett Lee got the Australians off to a good start, removing Smith and Ganga and taking the score to 2/31. Gayle and Sarwan then dug in, however, once again batting extremely slowly, but taking the score to 2/94 at tea. However, as they often do, Australia took a wicket straight after a break, and Gayle was out stumped for 56. After this though, the West Indies batted well for the rest of the day, Sarwan and Lara taking the score to 3/187 at stumps.

On the fifth morning, Australia once again took a wicket with the first ball of the session, and Sarwan was out LBW off MacGill. Perhaps MacGill was a little lucky. It wasn't an obviously bad decision, but the ball hit Sarwan on the boot, but Sarwan was a long way forward and I couldn't tell in which direction the ball was going to bounce. Perhaps the umpire could see the ball spinning through the air or something. Lara was out soon after, LBW this time to Bichel in a perfectly straightforward decision, and at that point the game was going Australia's way.

Or so we thought. However, the West Indians dug in again, taking the score to 5/256 at lunch. The West Indians were scoring hardly any runs, and MacGill was bowling well and getting plenty of turn, but wickets were not falling. There was some possibility that the West Indians could take the lead, set Australia 100 to win off 7 overs at the end of the day, and the finish could be interesting. Not likely, but possible.

However, it didn't happen. After lunch, the wickets fell. MacGill struck, and the West Indies slumped to 9/265. An innings win suddenly looked likely, but Baugh and Lawson scored a few runs to make the Australians bat again. McGrath was bowling from one end, and MacGill the other. If McGrath got the last wicket, it would mean that he wouldn't finish with one of his very rare wicketless tests. If MacGill got it, it would mean ten wickets for him. Either outcome would be good. But as it happened, neither did. Baugh was run out thanks to some good work from Gillespie in the field. Australia were set eight to win.

Which gave Lawson a chance to take what I described in a previous post as an unlikely hattrick. And what do you know. He took it. Langer was out lbw to the first ball of the innings. I was watching the match in a pub without sound, and I had forgotten about it, so it was not until I got home that I realised that Langer had taken a hat trick, and that was why the West Indian fieldsmen all looked so pleased. Good for him. Langer didn't look happy, although this lbw was a reasonable decision, unlike some of the others he got in this series. Still, Lehmann and Hayden scored the eight runs needed and Australia won by nine wickets. Australia win the series and go back on top of the ICC test championship table.

In the other test being played, New Zealand bowled Sri Lanka out for 298, taking a lead of seven runs on the first innings. Sri Lankan captain Hashan Tillakaratne top scored with 93. In their second innings, New Zealand were 1/92 at stumps, a lead of 99 with seven hours of play to go. It looks unlikely that this game will be anything but a draw. New Zealand do not seem to be playing for a win, as their run rate was less than three an over, suggesting they are not playing to set a target and a draw in the match and hence the series is likely. That said, Stephen Fleming is such a good captain that you never know. And of course, New Zealand getting bowled out at tea time and Sri Lanka having to scramble for runs is a possibility too. So there may be life in this game yet. However, it is a shame that so much time was lost to rain. Three playing hours more and this would be a really interesting game.

As a final piece of cricket news, former Australian wicket keeper, Australian Cricket Academy coach, and long term gloater at the misfortunes of English cricket Rod Marsh has been appointed an England selector. Australians find it vaguely amusing that someone who was once such a firm adversary of the English has been appointed to such a senior position in their establishment. Marsh was already working as head coach for the England academy, and by all reports is doing an excellent job. The England board had a vacancy on the selection committee, and they wanted to appoint someone already working for them in order to avoid paying an additional salary. (The England board is somewhat cash strapped, at least partly as a consequence of refusing to play in Zimbabwe in the World Cup). Marsh was in every way an excellent candidate, so he was appointed and I am sure will do an excellent job. He simply happens to be Australian, and, frankly, Rod Marsh. Yes, this is amusing. (I now have an opportunity to talk about Headingley 1981 for the second time in this post, but I think I might refrain. Scott Wickstein and other assorted Australian cricket fans will know what I am talking about, however).

Update: The New Zealand versus Sri Lanka game did end in a draw, although a very peculiar one. New Zealand game out with the intention of scoring quick runs. According to NZ captain Stephen Fleming, they were looking to set a target of 260 off 65 overs if possible. but lost wickets quickly, slumping to 7/139, thanks to some fine bowling from Muttiah Muralitharan. From this point, they simply tried to stay in the game by batting as long as possible, and New Zealand ended up being all out for 183. Sri Lanka were set 191 off 38 overs, a very gettable target. It looked like we were in for an exciting finish. And then...... nothing happened. Sri Lanka were content to bat out the match, ending up with1/72 when play was brought to a close half an hour early (as the rules allow in the case of a certain draw). This was deeply puzzling, as this is the sort of target that sides chase in a one day game all the time. The pitch on the fifth day was probably not as good as in your average one day game, and the fielding side is allowed more flexibility than in a one day game, but this was a very gettable target. Stephen Fleming said that the lack of a chase surprised him, and it certainly surprised me. Yes, if Sri Lanka had lost four or five wickets and then given up the chase, fine. But as it was, I don't really get it. I simply cannot imagine a side led by Steve Waugh failing to chase in such circumstances.

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