Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Getting it "over" with

In its characteristic spirit of introspection and self-flagellation, the British media has been identifying reasons for England’s inability to grab the one final wicket that would’ve given them victory in the Lord’s test against India. The Spin has an insightful collection of “miniscule” reasons in this week’s edition. Some of the reasons are plausible; but I’m not sure I agree with point 4.

England can hardly complain when they bowled only 55 overs between 11am and 3.35pm, which is when they left the field for the last time. Granted, that kind of rate is par for the course these days, but England in effect cheated themselves out of five or so overs, even with Panesar bowling 13 of them and Michael Vaughan four. With clouds gathering, urgency ought to have been paramount.

Quite a few others in the British media have picked this point up as well. But the truth of the matter is that England’s over-rate in the fourth innings was not any worse than that of either team in the match – India bowled 91.2 overs in 395 minutes in the first innings at a rate of 13.9 overs an hour and 78.3 overs in 360 minutes in the second at 13.1; England bowled 77.2 overs in 352 minutes in the first innings at 13.2 and 96 overs in 414 minutes in the second at 13.9. Sure, Monty Panesar bowled quite a bit for England, but so did Anil Kumble for India.

The numbers, nevertheless, tell only one side of the story. The other argument is whether rushing through your overs in a bid to bowl more is necessarily effective. Sure, if you bowl more, you stand a better chance of grabbing wickets. But that is only if you’re bowling with a purpose. Remember how Sir Richard Hadlee used the over as a unit to plot batsmen out? Remember the rhythm of Waqar Younis (or Shoaib Akhtar) as he pounded in with his mile-long run-up? Remember Shane Warne working out his opposition? And remember the golden era of the West Indian quicks? They never seem to have bowled more than 80 overs in a day, but they still managed to regularly grab the 20 wickets required for their team to win, more often than not with time to spare. Taking wickets in test matches is about scheming, about adjusting your field incessantly, about keeping things changing. About taking your time.

England is beginning to play inspirational, effective cricket. Give them the space and time to do so. And if the weather denies them the odd victory, so be it. The world knows they can handle disappointment. At least at Lord’s, it was in an almost-successful pursuit of victory.

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