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How much is a run really worth? A tale of two Test matches

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Roar Guru
13th September, 2021
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It is probably fair to say that, so far, the majority of fellow cricket fanatics on The Roar remain unconvinced on the concept of meaningless runs or even some runs holding much greater value than others, especially innings of a smaller numerical number.

For example, how many still refuse to rate Michael Clarke’s 151 in Durban even as highly as his 329 at the SCG, let alone higher?

I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to highlight in depth by way of examples from a couple of real Tests that actually played out from within these last 30 years.

The two Tests I have chosen are the 1994-95 and 2006-07 Ashes encounters in Brisbane and I have chosen these two for two main reasons. 1. They are as identical to each other as could possibly be in the actual specific course they both took, and 2. they highlight both an extreme as well as more subtle example and in doing so actually complement each other very well for the purpose of this study.

Let’s start with the 2006-07 match. Australia batted first and Matt Hayden was out for only 37, but it was in an opening partnership of 82, which then paved the way for Ricky Ponting to dominate with 143 not out in barely two sessions of batting to take Australia to stumps at 3-344.

After that aforementioned 82-run opening stand was broken, Justin Langer continued on for 82 of his own in support of Ponting, the team’s star batsman. Mike Hussey was also unbeaten at stumps on Day 1 and had reached around 50. All runs scored on the first day of a Test are priceless.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

(James Knowler/Getty Images)

The next morning, Ponting and Hussey took the score past 400 and Hussey was dismissed for 86 with the total at 407 and Ponting was now on about 170. At this point it is fair to say that Australia’s position is impregnable because it would require a pretty bad collapse to even fail to reach 500 from this position, holding all the momentum.

Michael Clarke, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee and Shane Warne were still to come and the English bowlers were flagging on an unhelpful pitch, having now laboured for almost four sessions, the final one the previous day an extended one due to all too familiar slow over rates.

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At 4-407 Michael Clarke came in and scored 56. There was a flurry from the tail and we reached 9-602 before Ponting calls off the slaughter. It would be a bit of a stretch to say that Clarke was under any sort of pressure, other than re-cementing his spot in the side with this being his recall after a year and ten Tests in the wilderness.

If Clarke failed, we still would have reached 9-550 and still, the way Brett Lee, on 43 off 61 balls, and Stuart Clarke, 39, had batted, with Glenn McGrath on eight, we still might have got close to that 602 that Ponting ended up declaring on, but even if either Lee or McGrath got out next ball, or indeed Ponting declared anyway, we were still on 550 odd.

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So, if Australia’s first innings was cut from 602 to 550 and England were bowled out for 157, we still led by 393. England made 375 in their second innings, the fourth of the match after Ponting didn’t enforce the follow-on. Perhaps this was the reason for the follow-on law of the game in the first place – so a captain can weed out unnecessary second-innings runs and complete the formality of bowling the opposition out a second time to get the outright win?

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375 is a big score in a fourth innings, not many have done it, but let’s imagine that following on, England make 475, which is extremely rare in either third or fourth innings. How many runs for Australia to make in their second-innings run chase, remembering that I have busted open the myth of the small fourth-innings target hoodoo hokus pokus?

So, how valuable were Langer’s unbeaten 100 and Ponting’s unbeaten 60 in the second innings when Ponting, for reasons known only to himself and the rest of his team, declined to enforce the follow-on?

Compare the 1-202 team total against the 8-248 that Australia scrapped to 12 years earlier on the same ground at the exact same point in the match and series when Mark Taylor obviously had a team target of 250 for the third innings and opposition run chase target of 500 in the fourth innings. More on that at the end.

Generic Ashes urn

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

I would rank the order for value of runs in the 2006-07 match, across both teams as follows: 1. Ponting’s unbeaten 143 on the first day, 2. Langer’s 82 on the first day, 3. Hayden’s 37 on the first day, 4. Hussey’s unbeaten 50-odd on the first day, 5. Ponting’s next 27 runs equal with Hussey’s final 35 or 36 runs, with then all other runs (including Ponting’s final 26 in the first innings between 170 and his eventual 196) in the entire match essentially meaningless.

A collapse at that point (4-407 to bring in the recalled Clarke) still sees Australia total around 500, as well as a lead by 343 on the first innings after England’s paltry 157. Even if the follow-on is enforced, an England total in the third innings of 375 leaves a victory target of a mere 33, 475, then 133.

Paul Collingwood’s 96 and Kevin Pietersen’s 93 in England’s second innings are both completely meaningless as they were doomed chasing a massive 648 for victory, and had way too long to bat to have any realistic chance of surviving for a draw. If Australia had enforced the follow-on, England would have lost by an innings, and the most grandiose possible alternate scenario I can conjure up is that they set a tokenistic 130-odd fourth-innings target in the event of some major planets coming into line at previous key points in the match.

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The 1994-95 match, as already mentioned, followed a pretty much identical course, except that it involved somewhat smaller scores. The first day saw a similar scoreline with Australia finishing 4-329, which included 176 from Michael Slater, 59 from Taylor, and Mark Waugh not out overnight on 82. The next day, Australia collapsed somewhat to be all out for 426, with Waugh ninth out for 140.

As with the previously outlined match 12 years later, Australia bundled England out for a paltry 167 to lead by 259 and the similarities don’t end there, for as with Ponting in the latter match, Taylor declined to enforce the follow-on.

Now for a major difference: on this earlier occasion, Australia found batting somewhat more difficult in their second innings. There is no better example to highlight this than Mark Waugh’s failed attempt at a reverse sweep to try and break the deadlock of a left-arm spinner bowling into the rough outside leg stump with a 7-2 onside field in order to stifle the run rate, which Mark Waugh, as his team’s number one stroke player, obviously had a great interest in keeping moving along.

Although a lead of 450 would have more than sufficed, Taylor wanted 500 and to set the eventual target of 508. He declared at 8-248, top scoring with 58. Slater was second with 45. Given that Taylor also had a time deadline for putting England back in, Australia were better served being 8-248 at that point than 2-168.

Mark Taylor

(Credit: Mike Hewitt /Allsport/Getty Images)

My ranking for runs value in this match are 1. Slater’s 176 on the first day, 2. Mark Waugh’s 82 on the first day, 3. Taylor’s 59 on the first day, 4. Mark Waugh’s continuance of a further 58 on second day, 5. capping at 30 each of Taylor’s second-innings 58, Slater’s second-innings of 45 as well as Ian Healy’s unbeaten 45, 6. all of David Boon’s second-innings 28, 7. all of Michael Bevan’s second-innings 21 and 8. all of Mark Waugh’s second-innings 15.

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The reason Taylor’s, Slater’s and Healy’s second innings are all capped at 30 is because this would still have set a more than sufficient victory target of almost 450, something that has very rarely ever even looked like being chased down. All of Graeme Hick’s 80, Graham Thorpe’s 67 and Graham Gooch’s 56 were completely meaningless for the same reason that Collingwood’s 96 and Pietersen’s 93 were meaningless runs on the same ground 12 years later.

I am not sure what to make of Michael Atherton’s 54 in England’s first innings. Strictly speaking it has some value as it was made by an opener in only the second innings of the match. However, it was a dour survival-type innings scored at a strike rate of barely 30, and when he was seventh out, leaving only a long, brittle tail to follow, England were still nowhere near in range of avoiding the follow-on target.

Across the two matches combined, the third-innings rankings of runs in value were 1. the first 30 scored by each of the aforementioned Taylor, Slater, and Healy, 2. Boon’s 28, 3. Bevan’s 21 and 4. Mark Waugh’s 15. Ponting and Langer’s combined third-innings 160 runs remain completely meaningless as do all the runs scored by those aforementioned English batsmen in the respective lost-cause fourth-innings run chases in these two matches under study.

If only we had a statistical barometer for all batsmen that counted only meaningful runs in different levels of pressure situations, rather than hinging everything on a superficial mean number of runs per dismissal, all too easily padded by the multitudes of low-value to downright meaningless runs that get scored in Test cricket.

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