Given that both actual and fantasy-team selectors customise bowling attacks for individual ground conditions, should they also apply that thought process to batting line-ups?
On the fourth day of the Ranchi Test, Wriddhiman Saha and Cheteshwar Pujara blunted Australia’s attack together for almost 80 overs, sharing a 199-run partnership on Day 4. At the same time at the WACA in Perth, New South Wales were pushing for victory against Western Australia in the final game of the Sheffield Shield regular season.
When NSW opener Daniel Hughes was caught off a leading edge at extra cover, the Blues needed 195 runs from just under 50 overs to win the game. They had already raced to 3/209 from only 48.2 overs.
The Blues needed to win the game to hold on to second place and earn a spot in the Shield final, so the stakes were high.
By Day 4, WA knew they were unable to qualify for the final. At the start of the game, they were still a chance, but South Australia gained an unassailable lead in the standings by thrashing Tasmania in less than three days).
In the final session on Day 3, the West Australians set NSW a strong total to chase, and although by Day 4, bowling NSW out couldn’t get WA through to the final, they were still determined to celebrate retiring captain Adam Voges’ last game with a win.
At the start of the last session, the Blues had seven wickets in hand, needing 147 runs and had a maximum of 37 overs left to play.
As it turned out, this was seven runs too many for NSW; Peter Nevill was the last man out, reverse-sweeping an Ashton Turner delivery to Michael Klinger at short third man who took a comfortable catch.
Given that this game had the highest match aggregate for runs scored for the whole Sheffield Shield season, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, had it been advantageous for them to do so, the NSW batsmen could have batted out the day for a draw.
Had the match been a draw, NSW would have recorded four wins, four draws and two losses for the season. South Australia would still have claimed second spot in the Shield final with five wins and five losses.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Shield scoring system, it may surprise you to learn that the end result of a game is not the only deciding factor for points scored in this competition.
Bonus points are given for every first innings run in excess of 200 (in the first 100 overs of your team’s batting innings), and every opposition wicket taken (in the first 100 overs of the opposition’s batting innings). No bonus points are available in either teams’ second batting innings and the bonus points are awarded regardless of the result.
In the 2015/2016 Shield season, South Australia managed to finish on top of the table with a five-win, five-loss record.
Victoria placed second with five wins, two draws and three losses. NSW finished third and missed a spot in the final despite having won 5 games, drawn 3 and lost only two. Not only did NSW lose fewer games than the two finalists, one of the losses was because of a home match against Victoria being abandoned because of the pitch. This was also counted as one of Victoria’s five wins.
This season NSW had no such trouble with the bonus points, they earned the most – not by a great margin, but nonetheless, the most.
However, the addition of the bonus points to a record of four wins, four draws and two losses would still not have been enough for NSW to overhaul the points tally of the South Australian side with 5 wins and 5 losses (as well as their bonus points).
The main reason NSW haven’t qualified for the two most recent Shield finals is because a draw is worth very little in the Shield competition. Teams are given six points for a win, no points for a loss, and one point for a draw. Bonus points are awarded no matter the team’s result.
The Shield’s worst performing team, Tasmania, managed only one win for the whole season, yet still averaged more than one bonus point per game – more points than they would have been awarded had they managed to draw all their games.
The way the International Cricket Council determines Test team rankings is difficult to understand , however, one aspect of the points-scoring process that is clear is that a Test match draw is worth half as much as a win.
Before things like series results or opposition team ratings are factored in, the ICC gives one point for a win, half a point for a draw, but no points for a loss.
We may think the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series was tied at 1-1 after the third Test, but in the ICC’s eyes, it was actually 1.5-1.5.
In the English County Championship competition, a draw is worth almost one-third of a win. In India’s Ranji Trophy tournament, a win is worth six points, a draw with a first innings lead is worth three, and only if a team concedes a first innings deficit is a draw valued at one point.
It seems a minor miracle that, comparatively, the Shield offers such little value to teams to bat for a draw, but managed to produce the players that lasted for 100 overs in the fourth innings in Ranchi.
If this kind of effort from the national team feels unusual or special to you, that’s because it is. The innings in Ranchi is only the fourth time this century that an Australian team has made it to triple figures, in terms of overs faced, when confronted with the prospect of having to bat for a draw in the fourth innings.
If Cricket Australia feel that increasing the points on offer for a draw would result in teams adopting a style of play they don’t want to encourage in the first innings, perhaps they could modify the bonus point system.
An option could be to dock points for a meek surrender in the second innings.
Potentially, this could maintain the attacking style of cricket we currently see in the Shield but also force greater responsibility on a team to bat for a draw if they consider victory in their game an impossibility.
The way the Shield scoring is weighted at the moment is a sure sign of Cricket Australia valuing style over substance; it is conceivable that a team that loses by an innings could score more competition points than a team that fights out a draw.
Surely the result ought to carry more weight than the manner in which it is achieved.
Given the fervour with which the draw in the third Test has been discussed, I assume very few readers would have preferred the Australians had played attacking cricket in spite of the match situation, as has happened so often before.
The embarrassing losses are not so long gone that Australian cricket can afford to ignore a possible contributing factor in the domestic competition.
What do you think Roarers? Are draws undervalued in the shield? Would you be happy with a more complex bonus point system that punished teams who performed poorly in their second innings? Have you got another idea that would encourage teams to play the style of cricket that saved the Test in Ranchi when a win is out of reach?