Test Cricket has a side to it that is missing from the vast majority of sports (including one-day Cricket). It’s the notion of a draw that is hard-fought: a positive result for a team that is struggling to compete. A team not good enough to win, but good enough to prevent the other team from winning. Because in order to win, you need to close out the game completely – take all ten wickets in the final innings. It doesn’t matter that you scored more runs, or dominated the game for days – if you can’t get those last batsmen out, you can’t win. Because Tests are played in series, preventing a win can alter the course of the series: a frustrated team often tries too hard in the next game, and loses.
The draw is pilloried a fair bit by many commentators of the game. The preference is for the team that is positive, attacking, and wins the match. It’s true that there have been many dull, lifeless draws, where the pitch has nothing for the bowlers – leaving the batsmen to have their own way unless they make a mistake. Or where both sides play defensively, waiting for the other team to lose the match, and end up doing nothing. In fairness, though, that sort of draw has been diminishing over the past decade or two, as the attacking style fostered by endless limited over cricket flows over into the Test scene.
There are, however, numerous examples of the best kind of draw – where a dominant team are expected to win, should win, and at the start of the final day of the match have the perfect position from which to win. The other team are down, against the wall, and seemingly have no chance. And yet, they somehow manage to survive the day, and save the match. In these circumstances, there’s usually one stubborn batsman who refuses to give up. Gary Kirsten, in Durban, 1999. Mike Atherton, in Johannesburg, 1995. There were two in England’s most recent tour of South Africa – where they finished both with 9 wickets down, on the ropes, yet not defeated despite being outplayed. Collingwood and Bell were the stars there.
The past five days have seen another one to add to that list – South Africa against Australia in Adelaide. For three of the first four days, Australia were dominant. They completely destroyed us on day one, only for us to come back strongly on day two. Days three and four were more even, but certainly in their favour, and we ended day four nearly 400 runs behind, with only six wickets in hand. Given the usual nature of the Adelaide pitch, which deteriorates as time goes on, making batting more difficult, it looked like we had no chance.
Until the new kid on the block stepped up – playing in his first Test match, Faf du Plessis handled himself like a pro. Scoring an unbeaten century on the final day, and lasting right up to the end. He had two supportive partners until the last few overs, where a quick three wickets ensured that hearts stayed firmly in mouths.
It’s interesting to see the reaction to this – the Australian fans are full of negativity, scorning the defensive approach taken by South Africa in going for the draw, rather than the win. The South African fans, on the other hand, are heaping praise on du Plessis (and rightly so). My view is simply that while Australia were certainly the better team, they couldn’t prove it. When it came down to the wire, they just didn’t have the goods.
- One of the greatest Test draws (iol.co.za)
- Faf du Plessis’s brilliant century on debut earns South Africa a draw (guardian.co.uk)
- Concerning Cricket (scottjrobinson.wordpress.com)