Tag Archive | South Africa

The cricket blogger survey – one year on

WordItOut-word-cloud-600385Late last year, 104 current and recent cricket bloggers completed a survey. The results enabled me to write about the background and motivation of cricket bloggers; blogging activity and types; and views on future prospects for the pursuit. I had ventured that there would be a fourth post: my own thoughts on future directions for cricket blogging. That has remained unwritten, although some of my ideas will emerge later in this piece. Firstly, though, what has happened to those unpaid cricket writers?

In late 2014, about one-third of respondents felt they would increase their blog frequency and another third expected it to remain the same – chart below. This I argued, was evidence of energy in the sector, although concerns many mentioned about time available to write made me caution that the plans might not come to pass.

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One year on, and it is clear that good intentions have been hard to follow through. The chart below shows a snapshot for the first week of December 2015 of when the most recent post was published on the blog mentioned in the survey response.


Publication frequency in 2015 (for those blogs I was able to locate), compared to that reported for those blogs in the survey is shown below. The blogger attrition rate is 31%, which is over twice the rate expected by survey respondents, with another 20% dropping in publication frequency. (NB this may exaggerate the extent of reduced publishing: I am comparing self-reported frequency in 2014, with counts of posts published in 2015; and bloggers may have based their 2014 self-reports on peak season, not annual averages)


As I emphasised in the survey results posts last year, this is a diverse activity. For some, blogging is a stepping stone to a career. At least four of those whose ‘writing for free’ activity has declined, are involved in professional cricket coverage. Of the 25 who appear to have withdrawn completely from writing about cricket, some are continuing to post on different sites (I am aware of several bloggers who have done this).

In terms of blog type, the largest drop-out rate is found amongst those whose blogs:

  • feature essays (i.e. ranging across subjects, often based upon the writer’s personal experience)
  • are topical
  • had existed for less than one year or 3-4 years
  • benefited from fewer than 100 views per day

It is possible that those writers who have given up the pursuit have been replaced by others. A high level of churn is to be expected. I suspect, but cannot prove, that there are fewer independent, unpaid voices. This turnover probably hasn’t curtailed the quantity of blog-type material read on the web. Cricket blogging doesn’t have a very ‘long tail’ (in the Chris Anderson sense), but the turnover has had the effect of docking a few ligaments and sundry strands of the tail. Consolidation within the large sites – particularly cricinfo which continues to add new writers – keeps writing on the web healthy.

Finally, some personal thoughts on what can make a durable cricket blog. Starting with an obvious point: most of the very best writers are still writing. Great prose that describes fresh insight into the sport is the strongest guarantee. More interesting though, is to consider what might make a long-lasting web presence for a keen, if not outstandingly gifted, writer.

My sense is that specialisation has been under-employed. Topical cricket writing is well catered for in the professional media. The personal essay style requires particularly strong writing skills and the ability to connect specific experiences to a general audience if it is to stand out.

I have six suggestions for specialist cricket blogs that I would read. Each requires more refined knowledge that the generalist, and probably some access to sources, but I believe could be written as a dedicated amateur.

Spin bowling – Amol Rajan’s Twirlymen showed the depth of writing this topic can foster. A blog dedicated to spin bowling could meld news (performances of leading players), technical analysis, statistics, history and maybe interviews with players below the mainstream media’s radar.

Umpiring – again, an opportunity for a blog that brings together topical issues, statistics, law interpretation and, surely, high quality anecdotage?

Afghanistan – the most exciting story in international cricket? With a few sources, could there be somebody well placed to collate news, profiles and background stories on this country’s cricket?

Coaching – the importance of work on the practice ground and off the field has never been greater and has never had so many practitioners. Coaching guidance and recommended drills would be welcome, but a site with a broader purpose, debating and promoting the coach’s role would be a strong draw.

South Africa – from the fans’ perspective. I am thinking of something along the lines of, the recently retired, The Full Toss: passionate and opinionated about play, organisation and coverage of the national game

Cricket books – the paper publishing industry careers along. A dedicated blog would have no shortage of willing interviewees, not to mention free review copies.

If the quality of advice is to be judged by the practice of the advice provider, you might want to disregard the above. Declaration Game continues neither because of any notable success, nor owing to expertise in a particular area, but because, as so many bloggers noted in their survey responses last year, writing is reward enough.

Ryan Rickelton – South Africa under 19 cricketer

Photo by George Franks

Photo by George Franks

Handling the highs and lows

Ryan Rickelton describes both his great successes and his disappointments with the same calm precision. He appears to embrace each extreme of experience, in Kipling-esque fashion, as necessary parts of the road to realising his potential as one of South Africa’s most promising young top-order batsmen.

The modesty and groundedness of Rickelton, who turned 19 in July 2015 while in England playing for Sale CC, comes across when he talks about first recognising he may have a future in cricket. These positive thoughts didn’t occur after a particular innings, or when praised by a coach, but waited for something much grander.

There’s a week at the end of December when all the provinces’ age-group sides get together for seven days and play each other. 13 was my first year. Then under 15, I did quite well. I got two hundreds and two fifties. I ended up being the highest run scorer and player of the tournament. From there I got invited to Cricket South Africa’s national awards, where you get the Test player of the year announced. I was named out as the under 15 player of the country. From there, I had a bit of a go and said. ‘I want to do this’. I realised I could play a bit, but I wasn’t banking on it.

Two years later, a low point came. Rickelton was part of the squad of 23 players preparing for the under 19 World Cup, but did not make the final party of 15:

I was under Ray Jennings, and he was a different coach completely. And so as I walked in, I was a little bit sure of myself at that stage, I guess. But he brought me down. He actually took me apart to show me it was a different level. And it is.

With the World Cup (and Jennings) out of the way, Rickelton was back in contention for South Africa’s junior team and on the 2014 tour of England, had the opportunity to learn from his earlier disappointment. On debut, on the first morning of the 1st test, he opened the batting at Fenners.

The night before they lay out the order and luckily enough I was squeezed in… We won the toss, we batted first and got 400-odd. I got 85, batted through the day, to eventually get out 15 or 20 overs before the end of the day. Very disappointing on my part. Should have got a big hundred. Had a few good partnerships with the other guys and we kicked on and made 420 on a good wicket. From there we were able to control the game.

But Rickelton is very aware that success at the next level will require the same philosophical approach and ability to learn from success, failure, inclusion and rejection. Coming off a first season in English club cricket that sparked, but not consistently ignited, he goes straight into the Gautang pre-season two days after he lands back in South Africa. Aiming for a position in the Lions Second Team and then from there to work his way up, Rickelton acknowledges, “there are very good players in the system.. there are tons of good players out there. It’s not easy. But it always comes down to you.”

Photo by George Franks

Photo by George Franks

The key influences

Rickelton acknowledges the role played by two figures in his progress as a cricketer. Firstly his father, Ian (Sports Director at St Stithians Boys College, Johannesburg).

I’d say ‘Dad, can we go to the nets? We were quite fortunate, we lived on the school so could use the nets. We would spend hours in the nets, playing and playing and playing. We’d have fights sometimes. I’d sulk and he’d say, ‘I’m not going to coach if you’re going to sulk’. And sometimes he’d sulk because I’d be doing something else.

My father’s always pushed me on. I think after every game I’ve played, even at Sale, he’s the first guy I’d talk to. After every game played in England and the sub-continent. A bit more than a coach. He knows me inside out: what works for me, what doesn’t work for me.

He played schools cricket and probably could have gone on from there, but wasn’t able to attend a trial for Transvaal schools and then decided to join the army when he left school. So, his cricket fell away. He’s the first one to admit, it was a bit daft, but too late now.

The second influence is Bongani Ndaba.

I used to train with one of the coaches at the school, Bongani Ndaba. He loves coaching more than he loves playing. Knows technically everything about you as a player. So I used to work with Bongs when I was 10, 11 and still work with him today.

The sort of relationship where he knows what I’m doing wrong and lets me find out before he tells me. He’s been a big influence. Even if I kick on further, I’ll always go back to Bongs and Dad.

The stability of his father’s and Ndaba’s mentoring plays an even more important role for a young cricketer whose achievements have seen him move from one team at one level on to another at a higher level and then move again.

Each coach has their own perspective on the game and their own opinion on the player. A lot of them try to correct you or change the way you play for what they think is beneficial for you. There’s been times when I’ve tried to listen to the coach as I’ve gone up and I’ve said. ‘OK he’s my coach. I’m going to listen to him.’

And I’ve tried to do that and I’ll go and I’ll not score runs for a bit and my Dad will take me to the nets. ‘What are you doing? Go back to normal.’ So I’ve swapped back to normal. There’s always differences. Player-wise, it’s what works best for you.

Rickelton accepts that the coaches are trying to get the best out of the player, but the player must take responsibility for their own game.

South Africa and England compared

After a season as an overseas player in the Cheshire League, Rickelton has some interesting perspectives on club and junior cricket in this country.

Club here is way bigger than it is at home. There’s more connection. At home, I play club cricket and I just rock up on a Sunday, play from nine to six and go home. That’s it. There’s no club day where everyone comes to watch the firsts play. It’s not like that.

[In England] there’s a lot more support of club cricket. It’s all over the internet. Even the newspaper that rocks up at my door every week. It gathers a lot more support than at home.

Junior cricket, on the other hand, is markedly less intense in England than was Rickelton’s experience at St Stithians.

Cricket at that age is at school, so it’s forced upon them. After school, they know they’re going to cricket. They’re all friends from school, all in class together, all net together. It’s not club cricket where you can say I’m going to play this weekend, but next weekend I might go away. At school you have to be there.

At nine, ten, eleven, I used to practice four times a week, play two games. You’re there every day, over and over again. Whereas over here, some of the kids will turn up on a Monday, maybe play a game on Wednesday. That could be the difference.

Finally, with England touring South Africa in 2016, I asked Rickelton if he had seen anything this summer that should worry his country’s top cricketers.

Joe Root, as usual. Mark Wood – he’s a bonus to the side. Good pace, good movement. James Anderson might struggle a little bit.

A lot more responsibility on the batsmen to not get knocked over for 200-plus. South Africa’s a place where you’ve got to put on 350, 300 minimum.

A prediction?

We’re going to take it.


Post updated 20 September 2015 to correct factual inaccuracy. 

Graeme Smith declares

Embed from Getty Images

Graeme Smith’s Test career ended in defeat and South Africa’s first series loss in five years and 15 series. He must have drawn satisfaction from his final, albeit unsuccessful, day of Test cricket as his middle and lower order battled and came so close to eking a draw from a game in which they were profoundly outplayed.

Smith’s records as captain – most matches, most victories – have been celebrated. There’s another record he holds, less well known, but which makes the denouement of his final Test ironic. Australia won at Cape Town with time almost, but not quite, up after declaring in the third innings. Smith is the most prolific declarer in Test history, having called time on South Africa batting in the third innings of a match 25 times. Yet, only eight of those declarations were converted into victories – producing a success ratio of 32%, below the average for the game and a long way short of the proportion achieved in recent years of Test cricket.

South Africa have become known for being a team hard to beat and one that finds it hard to speculate to accumulate if the victory isn’t coming comfortably their way. Smith’s statistic of only converting 32% of declarations – made when ahead in the game – into victories gives fuel to this notion of a risk averse South African side. The purpose of this post is to assess whether, from the perspective of the target-setting declarations, this is a fair assessment of Smith’s career, which in so many respects deserves to be remembered for the effectiveness of his leadership.

Smith’s third innings declarations spanned from his third Test as captain (v England at Edgbaston in July 2003) to his 107th and penultimate Test (v Australia at Port Elizabeth). In total, these declarations yielded eight victories, 16 draws and a single defeat. How many of the draws were likely victories spurned through over-caution?

Three of the draws can be discounted immediately. These weren’t ‘target-setting’ declarations, but decisions to close the innings to end a match that hadn’t progressed beyond the third innings. Adjusting for these, Smith’s win rate increases to 36%. A further adjustment, to take out two games where the fourth innings was prevented by rain from running its course, lifts the success rate to 40%.

The chart below shows the target set and estimated number of overs remaining in the match for each of the 22 ‘live’ declarations (including the two rain-affected games). Matches that were won by South Africa are green, defeats in red and draws in blue. The dotted turquoise line indicates the current record fourth innings chase in Test cricket (418). On ten occasions, Smith has challenged opponents to set a new Test fourth innings record.

G Smith decs 1-page-001

Smith’s teams have won each of the matches where they have given themselves over 150 overs (five sessions) to bowl out the opposition. They have won only one-third of the nine games when they had 100-150 overs. Not a single game has been won with the declaration leaving a day’s play (90 overs) or less.

To test for examples of over-cautious captaincy, it makes sense to start with the four matches where Smith set a target of over 400 and gave his team over 100 overs to secure the victory (a fifth, when the final day was rain affected is excluded). Should he have declared earlier?

In only one of the matches (v England, Cape Town – Jan 2010) does it appear, with the benefit of hindsight, that more overs could have delivered a victory. England were nine wickets down and 170 short of the target after the 141 overs were delivered. In the other matches, the opposition were three, four and five wickets down at the close of play. In each case, bringing forward the declaration by an hour would not have substantially increased the chance of a South African defeat, but may have helped a victory push, although that seems unlikely given the position of the game at the end of day five.

Teams batting third create time to bowl the opposition out by batting, if not aggressively, then enterprisingly. The chart below shows the run rate per over achieved by South Africa for each of the 22 ‘live’ declarations. The colour of the bar indicates the match result: green – win; blue – draw; red – defeat.

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The picture is mixed. Three of the four third innings with run rates below 3 per over presaged draws. But three of the five third innings with the highest run rates were also in matches that concluded in draws.

Smith has earned praise for several of his declarations. The defeat against Australia at Sydney in 2006, when South Africa were 1-0 down in the final Test of the series, came about following a “sporting declaration” by Smith – and tremendous attacking innings by Ponting. His next declaration, against India at Durban in December 2006, showed no signs of being scarred by defeat. Smith set the visitors 354 at a rate of almost one run per over slower than his team had amassed their third innings total. He was rewarded with a comfortable victory and a squared series. At Headingley six years later, Smith was credited with “happy daring” when 1-0 up in the series with two to play, he set England 253 in 39 overs.

Taken together, these observations point to criticism of Smith’s negative approach as a captain when setting the opposition a target being overstated. There are examples where he could have ventured more in pursuit of victory. But there are also examples of bold declarations, just as there are of frustration in the face of stubborn, unanticipated fourth innings salvage jobs.

Where Smith’s team appears to vary from the norm in Test cricket declarations is the failure to convert the majority of situations where 100-150 overs remain in the game into victories. In an earlier analysis of target-setting declarations in Tests between 2009-11, All the time in the world, I found that only four of 17 (24%) declarations made with 100-150 overs left in the game resulted in draws. Smith’s career record is 67% (six of nine).

The key to Smith’s apparently low conversion of declarations into victories has not been the timing of his declarations, nor has it been the urgency with which his side has batted in the third innings of the match. If there is a deficiency it lies with the concoction of factors that have made South Africa relatively ineffective at dismissing sides in the fourth innings. In that mix may be: the lack of top quality spin bowling, unhelpful wickets, unadventurous captaincy in the field and, of course, ill-fortune. What do you think accounts for Smith’s mediocre record of driving home match advantage into victory?

Close match-ups and one-sided matches

Australia’s cricketing decline at the end of the last decade opened up Test cricket to one its most evenly competitive eras. A pack of well-matched teams have traded blows and consistently defeated a second group made up of weaker teams. This period may be about to close as South Africa are now pushing ahead of the pack.

The group of well-matched teams numbers six: Australia, England, India and South Africa – all of whom have maintained ICC rankings of above 100 since 2008 –  Sri Lanka and Pakistan – the former in decline, the latter ascendant.

This post considers the contests between these well-matched teams and assesses the sort of match outcomes produced. The aim is to test whether this era of relatively evenly matched teams has led to competitive test cricket.

The six teams provide a possible 15 bilateral contests. 12 of these match-ups had two or more series (including two test contests, aka two-offs). Two had just one series (South Africa v Pakistan and SA v Sri Lanka) and no test matches were played between Pakistan and India.

The chart below shows the outcomes of the 12 contests with two or more series. Five of the 12 contests saw each side winning a series. Only two of the contests were one-sided – one team winning all series. At this level of analysis it seems to have been an era of competitive, close match-ups. South Africa provide something of an exception, losing a series in only one of the contests. All the other teams lost series against three opponents.

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The six Test teams contested 33 series in this period. The chart below shows the distribution of series results. Two-thirds were closely contested, using the indicator of a drawn series or a one test margin. Almost half saw both sides winning matches. But there were some one-sided affairs.

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This post ends with a match-level analysis of how close the contests were. To do this I have introduced the concept of the ‘major’ victory, where the margin of victory is significant. I settled on two measures:

  • a victory by 6 wickets or more (using median partnerships, 75% of a team’s runs in two completed innings would be scored with the loss of 14 wickets)
  • a victory margin in runs equivalent to 25% or more of the runs scored by the winning team in the match.

In total, 100 tests were played in these 33 series. 25% were draws; 49% were home wins; 26% away wins. The incidence of major victories, home and away is shown below. Playing at home or away, 73% of victories were by margins that I have considered to be ‘major’.

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Included in the major victories are three where the winning team scored 40% more runs than its opponent; 23 innings victories and 9 victories by nine or ten wickets.

(I have not attempted to assess teams’ relative positions in drawn matches, relying instead on the notion that those games are indeterminate. I acknowledge that a detailed review of drawn games would show some that one team was odds-on to win but for weather interruption.)

The impression of how closely contested these fixtures were shifts as the analysis moves from the high level analysis of series results down to individual matches. At the higher level, there were few one-sided contests as most involved both teams winning a series or one team victorious in a series but drawing the return series. Looking at individual series results two-thirds had teams drawing or separated by a single result. But at the individual match level, almost three-quarters of victories were by significant margins.

This is the paradox I call close match-ups and one-sided matches. In a future post, I will look in more detail at the matches to see how two even teams end up with uneven results.

It never rains but it pours: Australia and South Africa share an English summer

For a few days in early July, the cricket teams of Australia and South Africa will overlap, both being at play in England. With the exception of the international limited overs tournaments, it’s hard to pinpoint when this last happened. But step back exactly one hundred years, to 1912, and for four months the two teams toured England, playing matches against the counties, Tests against England and Tests against each other.

This summer is the centenary of Test cricket’s only ‘world championship’. The world’s top three teams – and only Test playing nations – competed throughout that season. Cricket followers in England were treated to: Hobbs, Woolley, Barnes, Fry, Rhodes, Faulkner, Taylor, McCartney, Gregory and Bardsley.

The  conclusion of influential witnesses to this feast of top class cricket appears to have been: that it should not happen again. How had a venture of such ambition failed to engage and develop an appetite for more?

The series was the brainchild of South African magnate, Sir Abe Bailey. After the slow start that has become the norm for all countries new to Test cricket, South Africa won their first series in 1905/06 against England. Six of their first seven series were played at home, but this success spurred on the idea of a grand challenge on English soil.

One of the explanations for the Triangular Tournament’s flat reception was that the South African team was in decline and provided poor opposition in the Test matches. In eleven completed innings they topped 200 four times. They escaped defeat in only one of the tournament games – a wash-out against Australia.

Nor were Australia the draw they might have been. They were not at full strength. Personal differences amongst is elite cricketers saw players of the calibre of Victor Trumper and Clem Hill left out of the touring team.

The three captains: F Mitchell, CB Fry, SE Gregory

Memorable cricket was played, however. Jack Hobbs scored a century on a wet and then drying pitch at Lord’s against Australia that he modestly noted as being, “specially pleasing to me”. Australia’s Matthews’ became the first and only bowler to take two hat-tricks in one Test match in the opening encounter against South Africa at Old Trafford. Sidney Barnes was in irresistible form for England, taking 39 wickets at an average of 10, proving deadly against South Africa at the Oval, returning 8-29 (13- 57 in the match.) But none of the matches was tight as comfortable victories or soggy draws ensued.

With England’s wettest June since records began just behind us, and a month’s rain falling in a single July day, it is pertinent, but no consolation, that the summer of 1912 suffered similarly. Rain took playing time out of more than half of the matches in the triangular tournament – played over three days. A Country Vicar (writer in The Cricketer) wrote of the day at the end of June when he and his wife had planned to travel to Lord’s to see England play Australia:

We awoke to the sound of rain – not just a passing shower, or a gentle drizzle, but a steady, relentless, persistent deluge. It was hopelessly wet.

We remained at home – a bitter disappointment!

Many of the matches were contested on pitches exposed to the weather. In a tactic that seems very distant, batting sides wanted to get out to the middle soon after a rain delay, while the pitch was dulled by the wet and before its spite was awakened by the drying sun. Scoring was further depressed by slow, sodden outfields.

The quantity of Test cricket played has multiplied in recent decades. Yet the record for the number of Tests played in a single English season – nine – continues to be held by this summer one-hundred years ago. Each side played the other teams three times. And this, for some, was another reason for wanting the Triangular Tournament set aside as an experiment. Jack Hobbs wrote:

the enlarged programme interfered very seriously with county cricket and anything that has that effect cannot be good for the game. . Nine test matches in one season cut too much into the county cricket programme – the backbone of the game.

International cricket spoken of as international football is now and not as the commercial underpinning of the sport that it has become. Hobbs had nine innings in the series, and another 51 that summer, the vast majority for Surrey. That puts his complaints of international ‘over-kill’ into some perspective, particularly when stood alongside his modern day county confrere, Kevin Pietersen, who despite his own stand against the bloated international schedule, won’t bat ten times this season for Surrey.

The commercial side of the tournament features prominently in Wisden’s overview. It reports total receipts of £12, 463 4s.2d (£1.2m in today’s money). The MCC and each county received a little under £160 (£16,000). In 2007, the ECB distributed £1.75m to each first class county. The cause of these disappointing figures, exacerbated by the weather, was the lukewarm interest in the matches between South Africa and Australia at Nottingham and Manchester, despite their scheduling for Bank Holiday weekends. It’s the ‘attendance’ risk faced by any multinational sporting event: the quality must be exceptional to overcome the absence of partisanship.

Amongst modern cricket fans keen to see Test cricket retain its primacy, there is support for a World Test Championship. The Triangular Tournament was exactly that and similar challenges to those faced in 1912 would have to be overcome if a modern equivalent were to be successful. There would be less dependence on ticket-sales as television rights and sponsorship would be the competition’s commercial engines. But the competition would remain prey to poor weather, drawn matches and host nation indifference towards many of the contests. My view is that Test cricket’s formula for success continues to be pairs of well-matched sides meeting each other infrequently, but over concentrated series of matches.

Australia will leave England very shortly, their number one ODI ranking narrowly retained despite defeat. South Africa begin their warm-up for a Test series that could see them supplanting the hosts as the top ranked Test match team. These rankings, overrated statistical constructs, are nonetheless transparent and official tables of merit. They allow every international fixture to fit into a wider framework. To me, one of the charming features of the Triangular Tournament of 1912 was that the method of determining the winner had not been agreed before the contests began. In fact, it remained obscure until the eve of the ninth and final match between England and Australia. Both were unbeaten (although England had more victories) and so this match was declared as ‘winner takes all’, and six days made available to reach a positive result. England triumphed at the Oval on day four, 22 August 1912, completing four victories to Australia’s two.

Note: a comprehensive history of the tournament, its planning and aftermath is found in Patrick Ferriday’s ‘Before the Lights Went Out’.

Who dares is occasionally defeated

Test cricket can be construed as a game of scarce resources: wickets, time (in playable conditions), overs, new balls, fresh bowlers and in recent years, unsuccessful DRS reviews. The captain’s job is to eke out the greatest return from those resources. He is competing in a sport where, as in warfare and chess, it’s not enough to gain a position superior to the opponent, one has to defeat the opponent by exhausting their resources (or their ability to call on those resources).

My interest in the third innings declaration stems from it being a juncture where one captain has to weigh up, from a position of superiority, how much to risk, sacrificing one scarce resource to make the most of another, in order to increase their chance of victory. I have presented evidence that captains sometimes err towards caution, costing their team victories. This is the first of two posts which looks at the captains whose experience helps persuade the majority to keep batting for a few more overs, to extend their lead. These are the captains who declared and lost.

Jackie (George Copeland) GrantWest Indies v England, Kensington Oval, Bridgetown – January 1935

Grant was the first captain to have surrendered the scarce resource of third innings wickets in a losing cause. Wisden records he was “a sound tactician and an admirable captain.” So what went wrong? Grant’s declaration is the most unusual of this odd bunch. He declared when his champion bat, George Headley was the sixth man out, setting England a total of 71. Seventy-one. At 7-2, 29-4, 48-6, it was, as surely no-one at the match said, game on. Wally Hammond though, ensured England prevailed, making 29*.

Such abnormal tactics were a response to an abnormal, rain-affected pitch. The two captains took turns hurrying the opponents to the crease in the hope of finding more benign conditions for their batsmen. Wyatt declared England’s first innings 21 runs behind. Batting again, Grant altered his batting order, but when Headley, down the order  at seven, failed, the declaration came.

Modern captains may think there is nothing to learn from Grant and Wyatt’s battle of wits, so anachronistic the conditions in which the game was played. I think everyone can learn from the series result: 2-1 victory for the West Indies. Everyone except the modern captains playing two-off tests, where resources are so scarce that ground lost cannot be made up.

Norman Yardley: England v Australia, Headingley – July 1948 (see header picture)

I cannot resist the cliche that Yorkshiremen aren’t known for their generosity, yet Yardley lost a match in front of his home crowd, England having scored 496 in the first innings. The match is rightly known for Bradman, in his penultimate game, making an unbeaten 173 and batting with Arthur Morris in a partnership of 301 on day five. So, was Yardley at fault, 2-0 down, with two to play, to set Australia 404 in five minutes under a day’s play? I don’t think so, although the top six: Morris, Hassett, Bradman, Miller, Harvey, Loxton are amongst the best ever.

The contemporary account, in Wisden, is clear: England made ‘a succession of blunders’. Pre-match: selection (omitting Young, a left-arm spin bowler); and fifth day: poor leadership from Yardley, poor bowling that didn’t make the most of the wicket taking turn, and sloppy fielding. But it’s not the declaration that’s criticised, although many were surprised to see England’s ninth wicket pair bat for two overs on the fifth morning. Hindsight has been kinder to Yardley and England, as Australia’s achievement is recognised. It remains the fourth highest fourth innings total made to win a Test match.

Dudley Nourse: South Africa v England, Port Elizabeth – March 1949

This match had the tempo of a track cycling race. Three and three-quarter days of steady accumulation, scoring at around two runs per over, and then a burst of activity in the final 95 minutes as England accepted the challenge of chasing 172. Crapp hit ten from three successive balls and the game was won with a minute to spare.

Nourse’s declaration came as a surprise and appears as an afterthought. Trailling in the final test of the series, his team had an 85 run lead before losing the first wicket of their second innings. But they batted on, slowly, into the final session of the match. If a lesson is to be drawn from Nourse’s experience at Port Elizabeth, maybe it is that a single, isolated bold move only serves to make a team vulnerable. However, England lost seven wickets in their chase, so Nourse was not far from conjuring a victory from very little, if any, match advantage.

Gary Sobers: West Indies v England, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad – March 1968

It was another 300 tests before the error was repeated and it has become the decision that is most associated with the captaincy of cricket’s finest ever all-rounder. Sobers lost the match, but only nine West Indies wickets fell in the game. Their first innings total topped 500 and they led England by over 100 as they began their second innings. The declaration set England 215 in two and three-quarter hours. Weighed against Sobers’ men was the injury to Charlie Griffith.

To have had a meaningful chance of victory, Sobers could not have delayed the declaration. But it showed a little too much leg to the England batsmen who won for the loss of just three wickets and with three minutes to spare. Wisden records that Sobers had been “fatally persuaded” that England would be vulnerable to Butcher’s occasional leg-spin, as they had been in the first innings. It was the only positive result of the series, with England’s tailenders twice hanging on at the end of a match for a draw.

Graham Dowling: New Zealand v West Indies, Auckland – February/March 1969

Sobers, fewer than 12 months later, became the first of only two captains to have been on both sides of an unsuccessful third innings declaration. Sobers and Dowling both lost matches they might easily have drawn – although Dowling sacrificed fewer third innings resources, declaring eight down. Neither lost when behind in the series. Indeed, this was the first of a three test series.

Dowling gave the West Indies five and a quarter hours to chase 345. A third innings partnership between Nurse, who scored 168, and Butcher accounted for half of the requirement. The victory was achieved deep into the final hour – a very fine batting performance on a final day that lacked the excitement of three (or four) possible results as New Zealand did not threaten. One week later, they won the second test, which was followed by a drawn match, leaving the series tied.

Declarations six to eleven will follow in a future post. The first five feature two captains chasing victory when behind in a series, two setting inviting targets that were expertly chased down and one captain who saw sacrifice as the only road to success in extreme conditions. All the matches happened long before I was aware of cricket and I have relied on Wisden accounts. I would be fascinated to hear of other perspectives on these matches.

My series of articles on test match declarations are now found together under the menu title ‘declarations’ at the top of this page.