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Runs in fourth essay double-edged sword

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that this recent spate of high scores in the fourth innings of a match will have a major impact on the game, writes Pradeep Magazine.

cricket Updated: Jan 04, 2009 01:35 IST

The past year may have been one of gloom, with the dominant theme being predictions of doom, but not for sport in India, and certainly not for followers of cricket.

If the abiding memory of 2008 will be the reserved calm with which Abhinav Bindra reacted after becoming the first gold medal winner for India in the Olympics, the frequent and frenzied victory celebrations of the cricketers was the recurring theme of the year.

South Africa may have stolen a march over India in the race for the pole position, which for long was the preserve of the Australians, but if you are an Indian and an idiot-box watcher, India is already the No 1 team in the world.

It may well become one, given the strength of the present team, but it requires more than just winning at home to be declared the world champions.

In this pleasant chase to grab the number one spot, India did themselves proud by scoring 387 in the last innings of the Chennai Test. History tells us that any chase in excess of 250 runs in the fourth innings is not an easy ask. To have chased more than 350, and that too easily, speaks highly of the ability and mental toughness of the Indian team.

As if to prove a point, the South Africans went one step ahead and successfully chased more than 400 runs in the fourth innings, away from home, to proclaim themselves worthy claimants for the champions tag.

What did not get as much notice was that even the bottom-placed team in the pecking order made 400 runs in the last innings of a Test. Bangladesh may have lost that Test against Sri Lanka, but to have scored so many runs, that too against opponents who have a Muttiah Muralitharan in their attack, cannot be easy.

Even the best teams in the world would dread to face the artful dodger on the fifth day of a match.

Are these fourth innings scores just an aberration, or are teams now mentally attuned to chasing or making huge scores even while batting last? Or, have wickets all over the world become progressively easier and slower for batsmen to flourish and bowlers to suffer?

Those willing to lend an eager ear to conspiracy theories would find it easier to agree that television companies and sponsors, who suffer financially a lot if a Test ends in less than five days, have also ensured that wickets no longer are made to favour bowlers.

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that this recent spate of high scores in the fourth innings of a match will have a major impact on the game. It could just be the oxygen Test cricket needs or, in the long run, it could make captains far more conservative and cautious when they are setting up targets for their opponents.