Dissecting Rajkot Draw – Could an early declaration help England win?

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Did England’s Alastair Cook take a little too long to set the Indian team with the target? The question seems to be the one that keeps reverberating in the minds of many as the Rajkot Test ends in a draw but not before the English bowlers kept on bowling well past 4:30 pm local time in pursuit of a victory.

The first test of this 5-match series returned to life in the last hours as the English spinners dismissed six of the Indian batsmen to keep the spectators tuned into the proceedings in the middle – as the hosts batted in their second outing needing to score off 310 in a minimum of 49 overs for an unlikely victory. Earlier on day 5, England resumed from their 114/0 and played well enough to reach 211/2 at lunch. With a lead of 260 runs, England could have well declared their innings right at that point – which would have given their bowlers a good 60 overs to have a go at the opposition.

With the pitch not typically assisting much for the bowlers even on the fifth day and still good for batting, the English team might have thought at a point or two that a target of 260 at 4.33 an over is not a safe one considering the depth and potential of the Indian batting line-up. But as far as recent statistics are concerned, it would have been a bet really worth it and here’s why.

In the last 10 years at home, truly India has won 11 of the 15 times that the opposition has set them a target in their 4th innings. And the rest 4 have been drawn and thus India has never lost a game in that manner since their capitulation at the hand of the same rivals in March 2006 – the very series that Cook made his Test debut – after India were bundled out for just 100 inside 50 overs on a dusty bowl in Mumbai.

Now let us have a look of how the things have transpired when the touring sides have set India with a target of 200-plus in the last 10 years.

Target Score Overs RPO Result Against Ground, Year
203 203/4 61.1 3.31 Won Pakistan Delhi, 2007
299 177/4 73.0 2.42 Drawn Australia Bangalore, 2008
387 387/4 98.3 3.92 Won England Chennai, 2008
216 216/9 58.4 3.68 Won Australia Mohali, 2010
207 207/3 45.0 4.60 Won Australia Bangalore, 2010
327 68/0 17.0 4.00 Drawn New Zealand Hyderabad, 2010
276 276/5 80.4 3.42 Won West Indies Delhi, 2011
243 242/9 64.0 3.78 Drawn West Indies Mumbai, 2011
261 262/5 63.2 4.13 Won New Zealand Bangalore, 2012

 

India still have won more – 6 out of 9 (could have possibly be 7 if Ashwin could have been a little faster in the final delivery of that almost rare tie situation against West Indies in 2011). But if we inspect between the lines, apart from that chase of 261 inside 64 overs against New Zealand, India have never chased down a target of 250 or above inside two sessions. Then again, that Bangalore Test ended inside four days, and here England were to give a 260 from 60 on a fifth day track.

Coming to how the Englishmen have performed when they gave their opposition a final target of 200-plus away from home in the last 10 years.

Target Opposition Score Overs RPO Result Against Ground, Year
438 311 100.3 3.09 Won New Zealand Wellington, 2008
553 431 118.5 3.62 Won New Zealand Napier, 2008
387 387/4 98.3 3.92 Lost India Chennai, 2008
503 370/9 128.0 2.89 Drawn West Indies St John’s, 2009
240 114/8 65.5 1.73 Drawn West Indies Port of Spain, 2009
513 331 124.0 2.66 Won Bangladesh Chittagong, 2010
297 107/1 26.0 4.11 Drawn Australia Brisbane, 2010
231 231/2 51.5 4.45 Lost Australia Melbourne, 2013
438 350/7 129.4 2.69 Drawn West Indies North Sound, 2015
415 174 71.0 2.45 Won South Africa Durban, 2015
286 263 81.3 3.22 Won Bangladesh Chittagong, 2016

 

Apart from that 240 against West Indies in a must-win game in context of the series in 2009, England have had a history of going defensive when it comes to setting a tricky target on a fifth day pitch. Hence, it is nothing unusual of their strategy of giving India a final target of 300-plus with more than 6 runs an over.

Despite statistics backing today’s cautious English approach to an able Indian batting line-up led by the aggressive Virat Kohli who likes to chase at a brisk pace irrespective of conditions, Alastair Cook could have better gone in with a counter-aggressive plan given that India would have more likely tried to go for the 260 than actually that they did not go for 310.

In spite of that late declaration from where only one team can win at most, it was also clear that England too wanted a result from the game as their bowlers bowled till the very last minutes – till the third ball of the virtually last over needing four wickets for a victory. But then, if you try to save yourself from defeat, that to some extent ensure the safety of your rivals as well – and this is exactly what happened with the time lost when the tourists carried on batting past lunch. On the other hand even if his side was to defend 260, Cook had all the tricks available with him to attack in case of early breakthrough or slow things down in the middle in case of an Indian onslaught.

At the end, the English skipper – who has not been having the best of time with an unprecedented test loss against Bangladesh a couple of weeks back – thought it would be better to go to Visakhapatnam for the second Test in this long series with scores level than with a 0-1 if his plans backfire in the challenging quest of making 1-0.

Photo by theglobalpanorama

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