With news of Indian insurrection dominating the hearts, minds and eyes of almost the entire cricketing world, it is with relief that 99.94 can publish the latest cogitations from our swinging and grinning UK correspondent. This week The Tooting Trumpet muses on cricket’s most frustratingly unique, and at times thrilling paradox, the draw.
Whilst the rest of the cricketing world looks on as the IPL revolutionises one day cricket in real time, in England the focus is on the First Class game, specifically the venerable County Championship. One of the pleasures of the game’s longer format is the space it affords for rumination – and the Trumpet has been ruminating on draws.
First Class cricket has four possible results: the win, the loss, the tie and the draw. The first two results speak for themselves, the third is very rare, but the fourth is the most difficult to explain to those portions of mankind unfamiliar with the game – “Five days play and it’s a draw?” scoffs the cardboard cut-out American wheeled out on such occasions. But does the tobacco-chewing NASCAR fan have a point? The Trumpet is beginning to think so.
However, before we go any further, draws must be split into two categories: Honourable draws and Dishonourable draws.
Honourable draws can occur either as end product of an epic resistance (as at Old Trafford 2005) or as a strategic secured result within a series context (as at The Oval 2005). The Trumpet, like any cricket fan, relishes the honourable draw.
Dishonourable draws are characterised by timidity, lack of imagination and stubbornness, primarily on the part of the captains, but these days coaches must also shoulder some of the blame. Dishonourable draws’ scorecards can look rather dull – no surprise, as they represent a series of missed opportunities for the captains to come together, cut a deal and risk defeat in pursuit of victory. To settle for the draw out of the fear of losing is not an honourable act for the leader of combatants.
Here are a couple of examples from the current round of matches to illustrate my point.
Firstly, Sussex’s draw with Surrey. After a day lost to rain, Sussex compiled 475 having batted about half of the available overs – clearly the strategy was to go for the innings win. By the start of the final day, Surrey trailed by 311 with 8 first innings wickets in hand. This is the point at which the captains should have hammered out a deal. Two declarations there would have set a final day target of 312 which sounds fine to me. If that’s too generous, four overs of long hops would have set a target of 350 in 90 overs. Whatever the agreement, a positive result is in play once the deal is struck. What we got was Surrey’s plod towards the follow-on target and net practice after that. A Dishonourable draw contrived by two of English cricket’s most experienced captains, Chris Adams and Mark Butcher. Such net practice is never described as joke batting, but the mere hint of setting up a declaration invokes the tired cliché “joke bowling”.
Secondly, Glamorgan’s shock win over Gloucestershire. Rain played a part in this match with four sessions washed out on the first two days. Gloucestershire’s Jon Lewis wasn’t prepared to let that get in the way of a result and declared his team’s first innings 136 runs behind in order to set up a last day chase of 315 in 80 overs. His team fell short by 114 runs, but that isn’t my point – his team had a chance of winning for most of the day and lost, not because of the declaration, but because of the all too familiar English disease of “six out all out”. Lewis’ team were defeated but it should have been an Honourable draw.
I will be amazed if there is so much as a whisper of criticism of Adams and Butcher when the journalists write up the match, but Lewis faced the full wrath of cricket’s conservative press. The BBC preferred the innuendo of “…Jon Lewis reflecting on a generous third-day declaration.” The Times favours “…Jon Lewis, the Gloucestershire captain, looked to be getting away with his gamble to declare on Thursday”. The regional press were more direct, “But it proved to be a foolhardy decision which the home skipper eventually regretted.”
I leave the last word to Gloucestershire’s century-maker in defeat, ICL outlaw Hamish Marshall. “”We’d probably do the same again,” claimed the New Zealander. “We knew it was always going to be difficult to chase that many runs on a pitch which was doing a bit, but we felt we had to give it a go. The only way to get out of the second division is to win games, and we’re committed to playing positive cricket.””. If Jon Lewis stays true to his batsman’s promise, The Trumpet will cheer on his team every step of the way.