Thursday, November 29, 2012

One of history’s finest no-results

Dan has waxed lyrical on several occasions about the greatest of sports – cricket.  I share his love for this amazing game.  I will leave it to him to give you a brief description of how it is played.

However, there are two basic facts that you need to know to appreciate what I am going to write.  First, at the pinnacle of all the various forms of cricket is the Test Match.  It takes place between two countries and lasts five days of 6 hours play a day.  Elapsed time per day is a little longer to accommodate drinks, tea, and lunch.  

Second, a fundamental difference between cricket and baseball is that a Test Match ends at a particular time on the last day, say 6:00 PM.  If the side that is batting last is not all out, the match is a draw.  That means it is possible for two sides to play for 5 days and end with no result.
As with any sporting contest, there are matches that live in history for one team beating another in difficult circumstances or because a player has been so outstanding that he (or she in today’s cricket world) has singlehanded changed the course of the game.  These are the games where one team has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  Of course, the flip side of the same coin is that the other team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

[Please don’t yawn – here’s a chance to learn a little about what may be the world’s second most popular ball game.]

Last week, a Test Match ended in a draw that will be remembered for years to come.  I think it was one of the most memorable no-results since I have been watching cricket – ie for the last 60 years.  (I am sure Dan will remember another no-result of similar historic proportions where England saved themselves from defeat.)

South Africa and Australia are ferocious competitors – South Africans support any side playing against Australia, and vice versa.

Last week the second Test Match of this year’s series took place between SA and Oz at Adelaide.  The first Test had been drawn, with Oz having the upper hand.  (The series is very important because if it wins the series, Australia will knock South Africa off its #1 perch.)

In the first innings (each side has two in cricket), Australia totally dominated South Africa’s bowling (equivalent of pitching) attack, setting numerous records for high scores for individual batsmen (OZ captain Michael Clarke scored his fourth innings over 200 runs this year), as well as accumulating an enormous score for the first day (455 with only 5 of the ten batsmen out).  We South African supporters were down in the dumps.  On the second day, Australia continued to bat and were eventually all out for 550 runs – a huge total.  South Africa started its first innings well, but later collapsed and were all out for 387. In the middle of the third day.

[Come!  Stick with it!  Only a few more paragraphs to read!]

It is at this stage of a cricket match that the rule that the game must end at 6:00 PM on the fifth day plays a huge strategic role.  For Australia to win, it had to amass more runs than it thought South Africa could get, but at the same time, leave itself enough time to get all of South Africa’s ten wickets (that is, batsmen out).  
If all ten wickets have not been taken, the game is a draw.

Australia batted a second time and declared at 248 for 8 wickets. (This is another fundamental difference between cricket and baseball – because of the fixed end time, a side can end any innings whenever it wants, even if all ten players have not been dismissed.)  This is how a team can try to achieve the balance explained above – having enough runs versus leaving enough time to get the other side out.

When Australia ended its second innings, South Africa had to get 429 runs to win, but had to stay in the game for about 9 hours to prevent defeat – a highly unlikely task.  In reality, South Africa had no chance of winning, and little chance of forcing a draw.

But dogged determination, a dream debut by a South African, and a gutsy two hours’ batting by a stalwart, kept everything that Australia could muster at bay.  The clock reached 6 PM with South Africa having two players still not out.  The match was drawn.  Faf du Plessis, playing in his first Test Match and in the side only because of an injury to a regular player, became the first South African to score over 50 runs in one innings and over 100 runs in the second.  Jacques Kallis, whose been around for a long time, had a pain-filled (from a strained hamstring) innings of nearly two hours.
Kallis (left) congratulates Du Plessis on his century
But what makes a match like this memorable is not only the determination of the South African players to stave off defeat, but more so because of the unbelievable tension that grew and grew throughout the last day.  It is no exaggeration to say that the last hour of this match that ended with no result was as tension-filled as any match that was won or lost.  I’m sure the crowd in Adelaide was ecstatic when a South African player was out, and white-knuckled and seat-edged for the remaining time.  People would have sat with eyes glued on the action, invoking every superstition they could muster to cause South Africa to succumb.  
Australia desperately appeal for Du Plessis' wicket. To no avail!
Six hours batting can take a toll.  Du Plessis is treated for cramps.

There is no doubt in my mind, because of the time span involved, that the tension in cricket reaches peaks not experienced in other sports.

I am always happy to take someone to a cricket match, even one that lasts half a day, to introduce the delights of the game.  I am sure Dan will do the same. 

But only if you have the time.

Stan - Thursday


  1. I share Stan and Dan's passion for test (ie five day) cricket, but I do have time for the one day game. It's really hard to convince people to get excited about a sports match that lasts five days. (Nowadays five days is regarded as "medium term" by some companies I know.) The one day game allows 300 balls to be bowled to each side - only one innings each.
    While it doesn't have the time to build the sort of tension Stan was talking about, it has some super memorable moments. One was in the fairly early days of one day cricket (2006) when Australia made a huge total of 434 in their first innings, and waited confidently for South Africa's inevitable defeat. But South Africa passed that total after 299 of the 300 balls had been bowled...

  2. Ah yes Michael - the game I like to call the Mick Lewis game (he bowled 10 overs for more than 100 runs for Oz if I remember, a bit like keeping a pitcher in the game even though all of his pitches were sailing into the stands...)

    Of course, while the Saffers were performing their last day heroics, England were beating India in their own backyard in conditions prescribed by their own captain. After a South African playing for England (do keep up!) played one of the finest innings by an (south african) Englishman in years. The same South African Englishman who has recently been banished from the team for being a malign influence. Cricket really does have it all, including the Shakespearan tragedy and tragi-comedy.

    Well done SA. Anything that thwarts the Aussies is to be welcomed. And anything that proves how Test cricket is apotheosis of sporting drama is to be welcomed.

  3. Stan, ordinarily for me, cricket discussions contain English words but might as well be spoken in some obscure Tibetan dialect. I understand a squinch more having read the above. But I have to learn about this: two of my characters played against one another in the Harrow-Eton match at Lord's in 1901(Harrow won), and still dislike each other ten years later. Sign me up for the cricket excursion. In the meanwhile, tonight I will attend my favorite team's test of talent, determination, and physical endurance. They are going up against a formidable opponent--Verdi's Aida, and I will be glued to the proceedings even though I already know the result: two not out.

  4. Why do I feel like Tennyson is warning me not to charge in here.

    I admire baseball as a game limited by innings, not time, and Kabuki (which I also appreciate) in its grandest form can also go on for days, so perhaps my disinterest in cricket is due to my utter ignorance of the rules.

    Thank you Stan (and Dan and Michael) for helping to clarify much (and stimulating my MLB soul to learn more about your sport), but please do go one step further and answer this simple question that I'm sure will bring on howls of laughter among the cricket cognoscenti:

    How do you score more runs that pitches (bowls)?

    I'm assuming it's based on bases...but what do I know?

  5. Ah Jeff, for a moment I thought you were going to ask me a question that would have me scurrying to my rule book. More runs than pitches (balls) is easy: for each ball bowled, the batter can choose to hit the ball or leave it. Irrespective of whether he hits it or leaves it, he can then choose to run or not. To run means to safely reach the only other base (we call it wicket) without being tagged. Actually since there are always two batsmen at any time, a run constitutes both batsmen reach the other base. One such exchange constitutes one run.

    But just like baseball, the batsman may hit the ball into an area of the field some distance from a fielder. The two batsmen may exchange ends twice, or even three times, adding two or three runs to the score. In baseball it is the equivalent of a hit that gets the batter to second or third.

    Two other things come into play. if the batsman hits the ball and it reaches the edge of the field having touched the ground en route, there is an automatic four runs. If it goes over the bounday without touching the ground, it is an automatic six runs.

    As an added benefit, watching a Test Match provides one with the rare opportunity of listening to the entire Wagner Ring Cycle, with time left over for most of Mahler.

  6. Thank you, Stan, for making the game understandable! Not only that, but until now I never realized that my brother and I had been unwittingly playing a form of cricket with our uncle when we were but wee ones (the language is coming back).

    He'd stand between us and randomly pitch (bowl) a ball at one of us to hit, and then my brother and I had exchange places before he tagged one of us with the ball.

    Though, as I recall, the only Rheingold around him at the time was a beer.