It’s been awhile since I wrote about cricket for the two or three blog readers who may care. But there has been some remarkable cricket in the last few days that deserves comment. (See here for my brief tutorial on this game.) In Test cricket (the long form that lasts five full days and in which each side has two innings), the team that bats first and scores over 400 runs is usually in the catbird seat, almost guaranteed to win or at least to not lose. But in two Test matches played concurrently on different continents, that conventional wisdom has been seriously challenged.
In the Test between Australia and the visiting Pakistanis, Australia batted first and scored 429. They then bundled out Pakistan for a meager 142, and it looked like the game would be over quickly. Australia batted again and scored 202 for the loss of five wickets before declaring and setting Pakistan a target of 490 to win with plenty of time left. It should be noted that the highest winning score by a team batting last was by the West Indies in 2003 when they scored 418/7 against Australia, and even this was a rarity. Only four teams have scored over 400 runs in their second innings to win.
So it seemed like Pakistan, a good team but not one of the great ones, were doomed to defeat. But thanks to some magnificent late order batting, they reached a score of 449/8, just 41 runs shy of winning before they lost the last two wickets for one run. It was truly valiant effort by Pakistan. Their final score of 450 is just one run short of the highest fourth inning total ever, ignoring the special case of the ‘timeless Test’ of 1936 that lasted 10 days before being abandoned due to the visiting English team in South Africa having to catch the boat home.
Meanwhile over in India, England batted first and scored 477, a massive score that would normally ensure victory or at least a draw. But India in response scored a mammoth 759/7 before declaring their innings closed. (Even though this is a huge total, it is not the record, that being held by Sri Lanka when they scored 952/6 against India in 1997.)
With a first inning deficit of 282, England now faces the real prospect of losing. They have scored 12/0 so far. Today is the final day and the best they can hope for is to hang on for a draw by batting through the final day, not an easy task playing in India against good spin bowling when the pitch is likely to favor spin.