For any given situation, the worst plausible conclusion is the abject lack of it – leaving it inconclusive. Imagine, after years of fighting, the Allies and Axis come to a mutual agreement that no one party is stronger than the other, and it is best that they shun fighting. No one gains or loses anything.
Sounds bizarre, does it not? But quite interestingly, bizarre and cricket are not strangers. Among the plethora of seemingly outlandish, yet accepted-as-normalcy phenomena in the sport, lies the enigmatic occurrence that we call a Test draw.
Two teams try to produce their best performance – not just for one given day, but five days at a stretch, and not just for a few overs, but for 450 overs. Ultimately, it often fails to produce a winner, with the players shaking hands and accepting a draw.
One might praise the game for having room for non-partisan outcomes, but it is not particularly what the fans cherish. For in anything binary, there is an element of sporting coquettish wherein there is the lure of euphoria when a team wins, but also the dread of defeat when the outcome is not favourable.
The grey area that draws usually are essentially added to the monotony of a format which was experiencing a steep decline in popularity since the advent of packaged entertainment, or in cricketing terms, T20s.
The Dip in Draws, Resulting in More Results
But while the purists might lament the soaring popularity of the shortest format of the game, it has had a role to play in reviving the longest format, albeit not in a rather conspicuous manner.
Draws, in modern-day Test cricket, have turned out to be rare occurrences. Of the 41 Test matches completed so far in 2022, only six could not produce a winner – less than 15%. One of those six matches was affected by rain, while four were played on decks which hardly had any purchase for the bowlers.
Only seven of the 44 Test matches played in 2021 were drawn, while between 2019-20, the figure was seven draws in 61 matches. The percentage of drawn Test matches in a calendar year has consistently been under 20%, which has had a role to play as fans, despite being caught in an era of numerous T20I bilaterals and a host of franchise leagues, are rediscovering their love for the white kits, red balls, tea breaks and everything in between, as they flock to the stadiums in huge numbers like in the ongoing series between Australia and South Africa.
As, there remains on offer, a result.
This particular trend can be noticed from the middle of the last decade, as while there have been years where draws were not very common, they never quite became a rarity over a span of time.
But, let’s add some context here. The year exactly a decade ago, 2012, might not have witnessed what the Hollywood movie of the same name suggested, but cricket fans had to witness 10 draws in 42 matches. The year prior to that saw 12 of the 39 matches resulting in draws.
|Timeframe||Matches||Matches Which Produced a winner||Matches Drawn||Draw Percentage|
It was the era where there two distinctive batting styles were still widely prevalent – there was an unambiguous way of batting in Tests, which happened to be a craft known to most, while the art of T20 batting was still in its nascent phase.
The Fusion of Different Batting Approaches
Over the past decade, and more so in the last few years, there has been a fusion of the two. England’s unflinching ‘Bazball’ approach to the red-ball game is celebrated not only because it frequently produces favourable results, but also because the brand of cricket appeals to a wider audience, and is not merely restricted to the nuanced traditionalists.
Earlier this month, England defeated Pakistan on a track which could easily have been mistaken for the national highway if not for its texture and colour. It was hailed as something only England could have done, as throughout the match, the Three Lions maintained a scoring rate of around 7 runs per over. In a Test match.
On being asked about his team’s approach, skipper Ben Stokes’ reply was simple, yet supremely effective: “We wanted to come here to Pakistan and carry on with our mantra of exciting cricket. I’ve got no interest in trying to play for a draw, the dressing room has no interest in playing for a draw.”
Teams like England are setting templates for others to follow, and while not everyone might be successful using the same mantra, it certainly is serving the purpose Stokes highlighted – making the format exciting.
The requisition of yesteryears’ Test ‘specialists’ has hence experienced a sharp dip, and even the exceptions are having to mend their ways to adhere to the new template. India’s Cheteshwar Pujara might have a career Test strike rate of under 45, but only a few days ago, he scored his last century at a strike rate of nearly 80.
The Lure of a ‘Championship'
Besides the change in batting approach, another factor is in play behind the drawdown of draws – the ICC World Test Championship. In essence, it is only a trophy on the line after a series of bilateral tours, but the general enticement pertaining to a ‘championship’ has had an effect on how teams approach the game.
With most countries producing pitches that facilitate results, and most teams ditching the traditional brand of Test cricket, there seems to be a prevailing sense of optimism about the format.