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Chasing down a target

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Chasing in the fourth innings is considered one of the toughest tasks in Test cricket. Ask any captain and he will tell you that it is better to have runs on the board and put pressure on the opposition. The sheer enormity of the task, a deteriorating pitch and the knowledge that you will not get another chance to change the fate of the Test, gives even the most experienced of teams the collywobbles. With the advent of One-Day cricket in 1971 and T20 cricket in 2005 high scores in the 4th innings have become more frequent and teams don’t approach the fourth innings with trepidation like they would a few years ago. Let us look at the stats of the top eight Test playing nations while successfully chasing in the fourth innings.

Teams Matches
Successful chases over 200
At Home
Away Over 300
After 1st Jan 2000
Australia 744 26 16 10 9 6
England 926 24 11 13 3 7
South Africa 369 12 7 5 2 8
India 465 12 7 5 2 9
West Indies 486 18 10 8 5 5
New Zealand 376 6 5 1 2 1
Pakistan 370 6 5 1 1 3
Sri Lanka 215 3 2 1 2 2

Taking into account the recently concluded second Test between India and New Zealand there have been 107 successful run chases over 200 by these teams out of which 26 have been over 300. But the most telling statistic is that 41 or 38.32% of these chases have been since 01 Jan, 2000. To put it in a nutshell there were 66 successful run chases from 1877 till 2000 but a staggering 41 in the 12 years since the dawning of the new millennium.

Even the biggest purist has to reluctantly admit that higher totals that we see nowadays in cricket have made matches more watchable and enjoyable. After all nobody wants to see dull draws and matches petering out in the fourth innings. So inevitably the question arises as to which of the 8 teams has the most number of successful chases over 200. The number of chases can be misleading as the latest entrant of the big eight into Test cricket Sri Lanka, has played only 215 Test matches whereas England and Australia who played the inaugural Test match in 1877 have played 926 and 744 tests respectively. So they are bound to have done it more times than Sri Lanka. Pakistan have always been a country that has relied on a formidable bowling attack (either pace or spin) to win matches rather than on the strength of their batting and that’s why they have only six chases over 200 out of which only one has been abroad. New Zealand has been a country that has always punched above their weight and though they cannot be counted among the heavyweights, they still have six chases over 200 . The once mighty West Indians who have slid down the pecking order a bit in the last 15 years have a commendable 18 chases over 200 with eight of those abroad which is a testimony to the batting stalwarts their country has produced. They also feature at the top of ‘the most chases over 300’ list, second only to Australia.

India has always depended on its batting to make up for an attack that is most of the time pretty pedestrian in the pace department even though it has always had decent turners of the ball. They are fourth in the list of the most chases over 200 which is creditable considering that they play 50% of their matches on home soil. Till the late ‘90s they used to play on rank turners or dustbowls as they are known where mere survival in the fourth innings, let alone adventurous strokeplay is a test of one’s resolve and skill. But what is telling is that 9 out of their 12 chases have come after 01 Jan, 2000 which is the most by any nation since 2000 and also the fact that 75 % of their successful chases have come in the last 12 years of their 80 years in test cricket. This is due to the fact that this has been a golden era in their batting with a lot of great batsmen. South Africa also have 12 chases over 200 which shows that they are right up there with India and even more impressive is that they have done it in 96 test matches lesser than India. England who have 24 successful chases are second on the list and are the only team to win more away rather than at home which is a tribute to their batsman and also to the fact that they are good even when taken out of their comfort zone. Last and not the least Australia, who are at the top of the tree pretty much dominate the table, as they do most discussions on cricket and they have a mammoth 26 chases over 200, out of which 9 are over 300. They have had a fantastic team over the years and have been equally skilled in bowling and batting. During the 15 years when they were unarguably numero uno, they had the batting might to scale down any total.

So to conclude I would give my rating as Australia at the top with England, South Africa, India and West indies just a tad below them.

If another similar exercise is undertaken after another 50 years then all the records that have occurred in the first 135 years of Test cricket will be rewritten. There will be more chases above 300 and maybe even over 400. This is because of the fact that a huge fourth innings target is no longer daunting and the increasing number of pitches that keep things on an even keel between bat and ball.



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