How no-decisions can be exciting in cricket

As part of my effort to get people who do not know much about cricket and who think that it is boring to better appreciate the subtle features that die-hard fans appreciate, a recent match between Australia and England illustrates one feature that often baffles those new to the game, that a no-decision can be every exciting.

The international Test cricket matches between nations is a time-limited game, though people unfamiliar with the game may marvel about how a contest that is spread over five days for six hours a day could possibly be considered ‘time-limited’ and end in a no-decision. But that can indeed happen because to win a game, one team has to get the opposing team out twice for a total score less than their own within that five-day limit. Otherwise, the game is a no-decision, called a ‘draw’ in cricket. The fourth Test match between Australia and England recently completed gives a good example of how a no-decision can be as exciting as one in which there is a decision.

Australia batted first and got off to a very good start by putting up a big score of 416 before its captain voluntarily ended the innings, even though only eight of his players had got out. (In cricket, an innings is completed when ten of a team’s eleven players are dismissed.) In cricket, this voluntary closure happens when the batting team feels that doing so is advantageous for various reasons, such as it being late in the day and the fielding team is tired after a long day. The idea is to have the other team bat at the end of the day so that they can try to get a few people out quickly. Australia closed their innings with just about 15 minutes left at the end of the second day but England did not lose any wickets that evening. However, England only scored 294 in their first innings, leaving them with a first innings deficit of 122 runs.

This is where things get tricky. When Australia batted again, they needed to estimate how many runs they needed to score in their second innings so that England would not be able to score enough in their second innings to defeat them. But at the same time, they had to leave enough time for their bowlers to get the entire England team out. They also had to make the target for England tempting enough that they would take risks scoring runs in trying to win and thus more likely to lose wickets. If the target is seen as impossible in the time available, then the batting side would just dourly defend and run out the clock.

The Australian captain closed their second innings near the end of the fourth day after scoring 265 runs with the loss of just six wickets, leaving England with the task of scoring 388 to win, with just a little over a day to do this. Again, England managed to avoid losing any wickets in the last half hour of play that they were given on the fourth day. I think England thought this target was too steep and unrealistic and decided to give up any thought of winning on the fifth and final and just defend and try not to lose. But this is not easy on the last day of a five-day game and by near the end of the last day they had lost nine wickets with 13 deliveries still to go. One more out and they would have lost. Since those who bat last are usually the specialist bowlers who are not that good at batting, Australia had a chance and they tried to get the last batter out by placing all their fielders close to the bat, to intimidate the batters and to scoop up any catch that the batters might inadvertently pop up. But it was not to be as the two England batters weathered the storm and the game ended in a no decision.

Although I was not able to watch the game, the statistics indicate that the England batters, especially towards the end, simply dug in and did not try to score many runs but focused on not getting out. Australia will be second-guessing their decision-making in the second innings, perhaps feeling that they should have closed their second innings earlier, to give their bowlers more time and to give the England batters a more reachable target in order to get them to take risks. It is a quirk of the game that in such no-decisions, the team that had the better of the game feels deflated at not being able to win while the team that was outplayed feels that they achieved a sort of psychological victory by warding off defeat.

For those who value action and high scoring, the last would have been boring as England played not to lose. But for a real cricket devotee, it would have been very tense, a nail-biter even. Even though it was a no-decision, the game has been described as ‘thrilling’.

The allure of cricket can be elusive to those not familiar with the game.


  1. jenorafeuer says

    Your description reminds me of curling, which also tends towards strategic decisions during the game. Do you focus on blocking the opponents from getting rocks into the ring, or taking out any that do get in? Do you want to score any rocks in an end, or blank the end in order to keep the hammer? (The ‘hammer’ means being able to throw the last rock, which is usually an advantage. If any team scores points in an end, the other team gets the hammer next end, but if no team scores points, then the hammer stays with the team that already had it. Which means that if you have the hammer, and you have a choice between getting one point or getting none, it is often advantageous to get none and keep the control in hopes of a better setup next end.)

  2. mnb0 says

    “one feature that often baffles those new to the game, that a no-decision can be every exciting.”
    This is an American thing. In European sports a no-decision (Dutch: gelijk spel or remise) is pretty normal and often is very exciting indeed. There are chess studies in which one side seems to have a hopeless position, gives up all material
    in a surprising way to force stalemate and secure the draw.
    Consider this match from the England:

    “appreciate the subtle features”
    If you need so much text to explain why a draw in cricket can be exciting the allure of it will remain elusive to me indeed.

  3. markp8703 says

    I hope you manage to find a shot of the field during the last over (that Anderson faced.) There were four fielders in close on the leg side and four on the off. With the keeper and bowler added to their number that’s ten out of eleven crowding Anderson.

    He defended beautifully and it was as tense a last over as I’ve ever seen. I think we English cricket fans felt it was a magnificent victory.

  4. John Morales says

    Weather matters, too.

    Time was lost due to rain, and at the very end of the Test only slow bowlers were allowed, due to bad light.

    So these factors must also be considered in any declaration.

    markp8703, indeed. Finally, you showed bottle.

  5. prl says


    Consider this match from the England

    That’s a tied match, not a drawn match (in cricketing terms). Because cricket is a high-scoring game, ties are rare in it, but they do happen.

    There have only ever been two tied cricket test matches (highest level international matches): Australia v West Indies 1980, tied 737-737, and Australia v India 1986, tied 744-744.

    About 2000 test cricket matches have been played since they started (England v Australia) in 1877.

  6. xohjoh2n says

    I think we English cricket fans felt it was a magnificent victory.

    And maybe that is the problem with us English right there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *