If only Ricky Ponting, Australia’s cricket team captain, had read the research I mentioned in my last post by Sohail Akhtar of the University of Salford on the optimal time for declaring in a game of cricket. For the uninitiated, in Test Match cricket, each team bats twice (two innings) over a period of five days. A team batting in the first three innings of the match may have built up such a commanding score that declaring is sensible, in order to give enough time to bowl the opposition out and win the game. Anything less than bowling the opposition out twice will result in a draw (or even a defeat).
This paper has gained another observation to its dataset by the recently completed First Ashes Test between England and Australia, played slightly bizarrely in Wales last week. Australia dominated proceedings and cruised into a 200-run lead with just over a day of play remaining. Wisely, it would seem, Australia declared on 674, even though they had four wickets in hand. When Australia dismissed England’s five best batsmen for just 70 runs 90 minutes into the final day’s play, the decision looked safe. Yet somehow England’s lesser batsmen dug deep and held out, and by the end of the day’s play Australia had only bowled out nine of England’s ten batsmen and the match was declared a draw.
Akhtar’s analysis showed that declarations should be made earlier, and in this case that surely holds true. An earlier declaration would have left England needing to hold on longer, and even had England made it past Australia’s total, it would have been a formality for the Aussies to have got the required runs once they began their second innings. As it was time ran out, and Australia did not get the win their performance richly deserved because of a decision by Ponting to declare that came too late.