Friday, October 12, 2007

The shifting goalpost

As I write this, Pakistan are mounting a strong response, chasing 457 to beat South Africa in the second test of their two-test series (to call a two-match sequence a series is perhaps stretching it a bit, but I digress). The match might (and probably will) still end up as a draw, but that’s not the point.

Remember, this match is taking place at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, on a pitch where Paul Harris (no relation to Mutthiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne or Daniel Vettori) is turning the ball square. Notwithstanding that, Pakistan seems to be making a fair fist of chasing such a huge total on the fifth day of a test.

Have the “safe” targets (for the bowling team changed)? Sure there haven’t been too many 400+ chases in test cricket (I can remember just three or four in all), but teams have started coming desperately close. And captains are becoming increasingly chary of setting targets under 500.

A fourth innings target of 400 used to be the benchmark for test matches. Has it become 500 now? And is 600 in sight?

A similar trend seems evident in one-day games as well. There was a time when any target above 250 used to be considered absolutely safe. Then it shifted to 300. Now, it appears to be 325 or thereabouts.

Is it that batsmen have become better? Or have bowlers gone down a notch or seven? Or is it, as many experts claim, the impact of one-day cricket? (If that is indeed so, then where will Twenty20 push it?)

While it is perhaps a bit of each of the above factors, there are a few other factors that could be at play as well.

One is the way bats have changed over time – heavier, broader and with wider sweet spots and such like enable even mis-hits to carry to the fence.

A second reason is changing rules. And since most rules seem to be unequivocally in favour of the batsmen, increasingly higher scores tend to be the outcome.

Another aspect that has led to the increase in scores is perhaps the growing commercialization of the game. Which means more crowds, more advertising breaks, more need for entertainment and therefore, more runs. After all, you can take only 40 wickets in a test match.

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