Ian Chappell says “I haven’t seen better batting in the 4th innings than Virat Kohli’s enterprising century at Adelaide Oval , where he narrowly missed guiding India to an incredible victory in 2014”. What does one deduce/analyse from this intriguing statement by Ian, an aggressive Captain who played 75 Tests, whose team was called ‘ugly Australians’ for the 1st time, a description which stuck. His words,definitely to be taken seriously means batting in the 4th innings is special.
Why should it be so? After all, batting 1st in a Test match should be tough too. The bowlers are fresh and can make best use of early morning freshness of the wicket, when it “has more juice”`. Let us see what two of the best ever cricketers have said on this topic.
W.G Grace had famously said “When you win the toss- bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague- then bat”.
Sunny Gavaskar had said, “Bat first, give one hour to the bowlers, next five hours are yours.” Therefore initially after the storm has been weathered, one can enjoy batting as the wicket will help the batsman. This suggests that batting 1st does have its own advantages. Statistically too if we see the batting averages of almost all great batsmen, their batting averages in the 1st innings is distinctly higher than their batting averages in the 4th innings of a test match.
What about batting in a Test’s 2nd and 3rd innings? Conventionally speaking, the wicket on the morning of the 1st day of a test match offers some assistance to the quick bowlers and then eases out. On the 2nd and 3rd day of the test match, the wicket is at its best behaviour and then on the 4th day it starts assisting the spinners. Finally on 5th day batting becomes difficult. Therefore classically speaking, batting is easier in the 2nd and 3rd innings of a test match than in the 1st.
What is different about the 4th innings of a test match? Many factors come into play. Some of these are a wearing pitch, turn, unpredictable bounce, target to chase, past history, demons in mind and so on. Due to one/all or combination of these factors, we see lesser scores in the 4th innings than in other innings. In the history of Test cricket only 27 batsmen have scored more than 1000 runs in the 4th innings with only 6 having an Average above 50. These are Graeme Smith (53.7), Ricky Ponting (50.4), Sunny Gavaskar (58.5), Gordon Greenidge (53.2), Younis Khan (60.2) and Geoff Boycott 58.7. Interestingly two of the undoubtedly greatest batsmen of all time, Sachin and Lara do not have great 4th innings records at all. Sachin has statistically the maximum test runs at 1625 but the average is only 36.93. Lara has 1404 test runs @ 35.1. Three other greats namely Dravid, Kallis and Laxman have 1552 @ 40.84, 1293 @ 40.31 and 1095 @40.56 respectively.
Lets also take a look at Test tons scored in 4th innings. Only Younis Khan has 5 while Smith, Gavaskar, Ponting and Ramnaresh Sarwan have 4 each. Sachin has three, out of which one knock of 136 versus Pakistan was probably one of the best ever knock in a losing cause. It was versus Pakistan at Chepauk with a bad back and on terrible batting conditions against a fantastic attack of Waqar, Akram and Saqlain. Sachin was out with only 17 runs left. Sachin did play a role in India’s highest chase at home, a stunning 387/4 which eclipsed the earlier highest of 276. In this innings Sehwag had made the job easier with a 68 ball 83. Scahin with 103 not out and Yuvraj 85 took India to a historic win. It is pertinent that 10 years earlier, versus Pakistan, during the 136, Sachin had walked in at 6/2 and those days once he was out the team collapsed. Wouldnt a typical Sehwag start helped ? Definitely, yes.
Who are my top five 4th Innings batsmen? Do Boycott with an average of 58.76 and three 100’S and Gavaskar with an average of 58.25 with four 100’s select themselves, edging out Graeme Smith and Gordon Greenidge. While i would be inclined to keep Sunny Gavaskar, Smith edges out Boycott simply because of his match-winning feats in the last innings of a Test match. Smith has 27 test tons, 19 in winning causes and 8 in draws. Incredibly South Africa has never lost a Test where Smith has a ton. He has 4 tons in 4th innings and all 4 were wins. As a young friend says, “Hats off to this master finisher and warrior”. Ricky Ponting is next at with an average of 50.3 and 4 100’s. He is followed by Younis Khan who has an average of 60 plus and has 5 100’s in 4th innings. Recently he took Pakistan to a winning score of 382/3 at Kandy versus Sri Lanka which was a great feat, considering they were 215 all out in 1st innings. Younis is the only test cricketer to score 3 back to back 4th innings test hundreds. VVS Laxman despite a 4th innings average of only 40 is my Number 5. He has figured in two thrilling chases. From 124/8 versus Australia, Laxman with 73 not out too took India to winning target of 216 with Ishant Sharma for company. In the second, VVS with 103 not out helped India chase 257 versus Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. Laxman also had a matchwinning 96 in the 3rd innings of a test at Durban and the epic 281 at Eden, which maybe changed teams views of enforcing follow-on forever. Hence for me, though his 4th innings average is 40.5 he edges out others. My top 5 therefore are Gavaskar, Smith, Ponting, Younis and Laxman.
What about Sir Don Bradman, owner of the enviable test average of 99.94 which will probably stand the test of time. He scored 734 runs in 4th innings with 3 100’s @ 73.40. While 73.4 is awesome, its less compared to 99.94. Therefore this too proves that 4th innings batting is the toughest.
Two thoughts come to mind? Is it that batting has become easier in the recent past with pitches remaining true. If one sees the history of test cricket, there have been as many as 49 scores of 350 plus in the 4th innings, while 21 are in the last 10 years. 9 Out of 49 resulted in wins out of which 4 are in last 10 years. We are also often seeing 4th day finishes which means the 5th day does not come into equation, so has the value of a 4th innings knock slightly decreased. I leave these thoughts for you to reflect on.
It would be fair to conclude that ultimately a team to win has to pay well , whether batting 1st or last. For instance India in their disastrous tours of England and Australia lost several times even when they batted 1st. West Indies when they toured India during Sachin’s last Test series lost twice though they batted 1st both times. The golden rule therefore remains that to win, bat, bowl and field well. Even so, everything remaining the same, the romance of a 4th innings knock either in a stirring chase for victory or a battling knock for a fighting draw will always have a special place in the history of test cricket.
Do you agree/disagree with my choice of top 5 as above?