Stop moaning about draws – they’re part of the majesty of Test cricket | Sport

F.or all the damnation and disappointment sparked by the inevitability of the result, there was something fitting about last week’s first Test between Pakistan and Australia ending in a draw. This, after all, is the spiritual home of stalemate: though only 32% of the 2,345 Tests in history have been drawn, in the first half-century of Test cricket in Pakistan 51% of all matches ended without a winner (65 of 128 ).

Between October 1961 and March 1984 England played out 11 successive draws there, including three of the five all-drawn series Pakistan hosted in that time. Fully 69% of all Tests played in Pakistan in the 1960s were drawn, followed by 71% in the 1970s and 56% in the 1980s. Returning to the country for the first time in 24 years Australia picked up where they had left off, with a seventh draw in their last nine matches there going back to 1988.

Steve Smith bemoaned to “benign, dead wicket”; Wasim Akram thought the pitch guaranteed cricket that “is quite boring, to be honest” and that “as an ex-fast bowler I knew this would be a draw after the second delivery”. “A drawn match is never a good advertisement for Test cricket,” said Ramiz Raja, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Meanwhile in Antigua, the first Test between West Indies and England headed along a different path towards the same destination.

The former Observer cricket correspondent RC Robertson-Glasgow – who for much of his life labored under the nickname Crusoe after someone confused his name with that of Daniel Defoe’s castaway – once complained that “drawn matches are the threat and ruin of modern Tests: boring to anticipate, irritating in process, and unsatisfactory in retrospect “, and 84 years and several redefinitions of the word modern later many would still agree.

In October 1956, looking back on a season marked by a decline in attendances at English first-class games, the Guardian’s Denys Rowbotham struck a contrasting tone. “To set the wrong right there have been the usual monotonously unvaried panaceas, changes in the laws and in equipment, in the manner of awarding penalties and rewards, and inevitably plans for reorganizing the first-class program,” he wrote. “The falling attendances are believed to be due to dull, tedious cricket. This may be so, it may not be so. Let it be assumed, however, that first-class cricket is boring the public. At once it becomes relevant to ask: was and is first-class cricket primarily intended as a form of entertainment for the general public? “

The only possible answer to this question is negative. A Test is essentially an exercise in which one group of cricketers attempts ideally to beat, and failing that to avoid defeat by, another group of cricketers within the laws of the game, and which others may watch if they insist on doing so. For most of the game’s history so many people have chosen to watch that stands have had to be built to accommodate them, tickets have been issued, television cameras installed, commentators employed. But if the entertainment of any of those people were actually important, by now surely something would have been done to make it more likely.

There are plenty of sports, and even other versions of cricket, which, like the theater or a circus, are nothing if nobody is there to watch. Some sports – and this really is a very puzzling concept – last barely three hours from start to finish yet during even brief breaks in play troupes of dancers emerge to wave shimmering tinsel balls to a deafening soundtrack, lest any spectator think for an instant that they are not being constantly entertained. How boring must a spectacle be to require such adornment? And how its organizers must envy a sport that can last for five full days, not even guarantee a result, and offer spectators no entertainment during its regular extended breaks beyond lengthy bar queues. Such confidence!

Australia’s players walk off at the end of a tough first Test in Rawalpindi last week in which they took just four Pakistan wickets in 239 overs. Photograph: Sohail Shahzad / EPA

And yet, as a century of public hand-wringing attests, such insecurity! Tests are surely about moments, spells and sessions as much as they are about results, with thrilling climaxes rendered even more precious by how unlikely the format makes them. Is anything about drawn Tests more irritating than how irritated everyone gets by them? It is perfectly understandable to desire results and entertainment, and there are pastimes that guarantee those, but this is not one of them. If draws have been irritating and unsatisfactory for as long as they have without anyone legislating against them, then they’re obviously not irritating or unsatisfactory at all.

In the final Ashes Test of 1963 at the SCG, Australia, set a target of 241 by England’s last-day declaration, labored to 152 for four at the close of play having scored 2.11 runs per eight-ball over. A draw had long seemed inevitable, and only 14,000 people turned up to watch it be confirmed. “At the last, as the sun cast long shadows on the grass, no people congregated round the pavilion, and there were no calls for either side’s players or captain,” Rowbotham reported. “Enthusiasm had given way to disillusionment.” Ted Dexter, the England captain, admitted that “if there had been a thousand pounds per man for winning this game there would have been a result”.

In the stands a certain John Baldry, an estate agent from Sydney’s Bellevue Hill, was miffed. He had taken time off work and spent £ 3 (Australia adopted dollars three years later) on attending, and had expected better. I know he sued. “He is entitled to certain standards and certain competency,” said his lawyer di lui when the case came to trial. “Above all, he is entitled to an effort by both sides to win the game. If he does not get this quality he is entitled to his money back. ” On reflection, the judge decided he was not.

This is an extract from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, The Spin. To subscribe and get the full edition, visit this page and follow the instructions.

Leave a Comment