November 25, 2006
by Aparajith Ramnath
‘Well, what did you expect?’ began Ted Corbett’s report (in The Hindu) of the first day of the much-hyped Ashes series. At the ‘Gabba in Brisbane, Ricky Ponting had just notched up century number 32 in a relentless march towards Tendulkar’s current total of 35, Justin Langer had scored 82 runs, and Mike Hussey was keeping his captain company at stumps with a fifty to his credit: 346 runs in the day for the loss of just three wickets. Corbett’s opening line captured acutely the utter dominance of the Aussies.
Now, the same line could probably be used to talk about the home team’s decision not to ask the Englishmen to follow on after having clinched a mammoth lead of 445 runs. They seem to have made this a part of their style. Just consider. At the end of Day 3 of the Test, they are at 181 for one in their second innings, so that they now lead by 626 runs with two days to go.
Conventional wisdom has always been to go for victory by the shortest possible route. So if the opponents are 445 runs behind and have only managed around a third of that total in their first innings, asking them to follow on would be the shortest route. The Aussies have, over the last few years, given a number of reasons why they do not prefer this – including their bowlers being tired, and not wanting to bat last on a wearing pitch. (Staunch Indian supporters will no doubt hypothesise that the experience of losing to an Indian team that was following on at Eden Gardens in the now-famous Test match of Laxman’s 281 has led to a distrust of the follow-on method). None of those reasons, though, seem to apply here; for the Aussies had to bowl all of 61.1 overs in the first innings, and batting again for any length of time was hardly a very likely scenario for the Aussies. Why then the decision to bat on?
The pragmatists would advance the theory that this is part of an overall strategy to demoralise the opposition for the rest of the series, for the Aussies to stamp their authority on the series early on. Somehow one is not convinced about the need for this. Yes, sport must be competitive, but it is not politics. Is so much long-term planning necessary?
(In this context, see my post titled ‘The Cricket World Cup is still a year away!’)