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Strauss had a tricky decision to make

cricket Updated: Jul 20, 2009 22:17 IST
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England skipper Andrew Strauss had a tricky decision to make Sunday -- the time to declare the second innings in the second Ashes Test against Australia at Lord's. With a lead of 521 runs, he chose to close the innings, leaving the visitors to get 522 runs in two days and in the process giving himself enough time to bowl them out.

Strauss, however, had a lingering doubt as in recent years some teams chased down 400-plus scores to win. Australians, too, topped the 400-mark though they lost by 115 runs here Monday.

Only last December, South Africa hunted down 414 to beat Australia in Perth and did so with six wickets to spare, while England were on the wrong end of things when Kevin Pietersen set India 387 to win in Chennai. India also got home with six wickets in hand. Both teams could have chased many more.

Strauss could have put defeat out of question by batting for a while on the fourth morning, thus allowing himself the luxury of setting attacking fields for as long as necessary.

Captains tend to make sure they don't leave anything to chance. During the most recent Ashes series in Australia, Ricky Ponting made two seemingly ultra-cautious declarations in Brisbane (where he set England 648) and Perth (where they were left 557) even though he had an all-star attack containing Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. England topped 350 both times but were never in contention.

The all-time Test record run-chase was also set in recent times, by West Indies in 2003, when they overhauled a target of 418 to beat Australia. A big factor in that result was that Australia’s bowlers were weary as Antigua was the second of back-to-back Tests. This game is similarly the second match for both sides in two weeks. Bowlers’ legs might be sore, not least Andrew Flintoff’s.

Strauss also needed to take into consideration that Lord’s wickets of recent vintage have lasted very well and batting has scarcely been harder on the fifth day than it was on the first or second. After following on, South Africa batted out the last two days of a Test match there last year, as did Sri Lanka in 2006.

The pitch for this match had, however, helped spinners a fair bit than usual. Graeme Swann was effective in the fourth innings with a four-wicket haul. But the man who terrorised the Australian batsmen was Man-of-the-Match Andrew Flintoff who claimed five wickets in the second innings despite bothersome knee.

Highest successful fourth-innings chase at Lord’s:

344-1 West Indies vs. England, 1984
282-3 England vs. New Zealand, 2004
218-3 England vs. New Zealand, 1965
191-8 England vs. West Indies, 2000
141-8 Pakistan vs. England, 1992
137-3 England vs. Australia, 1890
136-5 India vs. England, 1986

Highest fourth-innings totals in Tests

654/5 England vs. South Africa, Durban 1939
451 New Zealand vs. England, Christchurch 2002
445 India vs. Australia, Adelaide 1978
440 New Zealand vs. England, Nottingham 1973
431 New Zealand vs. England, Napier 2008
429/8 India vs. England, The Oval 1979
423/7 South Africa vs. England, The Oval 1947
418/7 West Indies vs. Australia, St John's 2003
406 Australia vs. England, Lord's 2009

Highest winning fourth-innings totals in Test cricket

418/7 West Indies vs. Australia, St John's 2003
414/4 South Africa vs. Australia, Perth 2008
406/4 India vs. West Indies, Port of Spain 1976
404/3 Australia vs. England, Leeds 1948