Posted by: nestaquin | May 8, 2008

Honour & Ignominy

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.

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Responses

  1. I think that there’s a difference between domestic cricket and Test cricket. In domestic cricket, I’d rather the captains contrive a result than play out a dull draw (with an exception if one team only needs a draw to win the Championship or make the Shield final). But I think the same in Test cricket cheapens the game overall. I’m happy that the Aus-NZ Test from a few summers back ended in a draw rather than a contrived victory for one side. I’m not happy about the SA-Eng Test from a year or two earlier.

  2. I’m not generally in favour of contrived results. That’s generally accepted across the whole Australian sporting spectrum.

    If the cricket is competitive does it really matter if someone wins outright or not?

    In Australian cricket junk overs are very rare indeed and I put this down to the Shield points system of two points for a first innings win, a maximum of six for an outright and only one point for a “draw” (a match where the first innings is not decided).

    The County points system seems over-complicated in comparison.

    For example Sussex (303 & 237) defeated Kent (204 & 193/3) on the first innings in a “drawn” match and they received 10 and 8 points respectively. Yet, when Sussex (332) played Hampshire (319/7) in a match that wasn’t even decided on the first innings, Hampshire received 10 and Sussex 9.

    Additionally and incomprehensively, the dishonourable draw above earned Sussex (475) 10 points and bizarrely, Surrey (400/5) 11 points.

    For the benefit of the readers (and me) do you think you could explain how points are earned in The Championship?

    Perhaps someone like the esteemed David Barry could apply the Australian points system to last year’s Championship and relate his findings and observations either here or by a link to the excellent Pappus’ Plane. That would be of interest.

  3. I’ll have a look into that Nesta, though it should be remembered that county teams will tailor their approaches according to the points system, so simply applying the Australian points system to the county results won’t be perfect.

    I think a bigger factor in the declaration bowling that you see in county cricket is the extra rain that they get. It won’t be news to Lancashire fans that their team has (probably) been deprived of two Championships by weather in the past nine seasons.

    When you get four days of cricket in, you can usually set up the declarations without resorting to declaration bowling.

  4. One issue to note with regard to “dishonourable draws” is that a match is not an incident in isolation. It is usually part of a larger whole. In the county championship, the match by itself means little, the prize is winning the championship. In a test series, the prize is winning the series and so on. So while dishonourable draws make for boring viewing for us spectators, we can understand, if not appreciate, why captains and coaches sometimes choose to inflict that spectacle on us: if they think that losing a match may cost them the larger prize, then they might just adopt the safety first approach and opt for a dishonourable draw instead of trying for a risky win.

    Another issue, which is more relevant in international cricket, is that sports often functions like what has been said about diplomacy, that is, a war by other means. Certainly, this has been true historically in India-Pakistan matches (the one I am most familiar with), Fans of Bollywood – not many on this blog, I’m sure – may remember that the movie “Chak de India” was based loosely on the fall and ultimate redemption of a hockey goalkeeper (Mir Ranjan Negi) who was blamed unjustly for a 1-7 loss to Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. It would be a very brave India/Pakistan captain who would deliberately pursue a risky win over a dull draw. (I am not sure there has been one to date!) Not surprisingly, most matches between the two countries have been draws.

  5. OK, so I applied the Shield points scoring to the 2007 Championship. There were no changes in Division 2. In Division 1, Durham and Sussex swapped places 1 and 2, and Yorkshire and Hampshire swapped places 5 and 6.

    Nesta, there appears to be a fundamental difference in philosophy between the county points system and the Australian one. In Australia, there is a good deal of emphasis placed on the first innings, which is absent in England. I don’t see this as a good or bad thing – it’s just a difference. In the examples you cite, I don’t think that the allocation of points was particularly unfair. From 319/7 I’d back the team to pass 332, so they deserve more points than the opposition. Similarly, from 400/5, you’d expect them to pass 475. A score of 10-9 seems fairer than 1-1. Cricket’s a game played over two innings. It’s artificial to set up a threshold after one innings.

    County points system, from Wikipedia:
    win: 14
    tie: 7
    draw: 4
    loss: 0

    Bonus points can only be earned from the first 130 overs of the first innings.

    Batting
    200-249 runs: 1 point
    250-299 runs: 2 points
    300-349 runs: 3 points
    350-399 runs: 4 points
    400+ runs: 5 points

    3-5 wickets taken: 1 point
    6-8 wickets taken: 2 points
    9-10 wickets taken: 3 points

    One last point. The Shield points system encourages contrived results. If you can set up a 50-50 contrived result, then on average you’ll win 3 points. If you go for the first innings win, you only get 2.

  6. Actually that last point of mine wasn’t complete. If you declare behind to set up a contrived result, you’re giving up 2 points half the time and 6 points half the time, so 4 points on average (whereas you only get 3 on average). So I guess it’d depend on where everyone is on the ladder as to whether it’s worth it or not.

  7. Firstly thanks for such erudite comments in response to my post.

    Suresh – The context is important and I’m all for the draw to protect the series advantage, but not to protect something exported from outside. If tension exists for historical reasons and the series is balanced, then go for the win.

    David and Nesta – The post would have become too long had I got involved in the arcane County Championship points system. It’s ridiculous. However, at this stage of the season, the win is really important to build momentum – I like Marshall’s quote and I think the approach will pay off.

    Rain is an important factor in England and there is a long tradition of captains contriving a result. Sometimes it can be unedifying, but not as unedifying as captains more fearful of losing than hopeful of winning. The game is played to be won within the time available, not drawn (except after the risk vs gain equation gets very tilted).


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