Cover Story: The death of the draw

With attack being the primary trait that attracts captains and the word ‘intent’ doing endless rounds, most cricketing nations have seemingly forgotten the glue that binds Tests: patience.

Stunner: England’s Jonathan Bairstow pulls off a spectacular one-handed catch to dismiss K. L. Rahul off the bowling of Craig Overton in the second innings of the third Test in Leeds.   -  Getty Images

Ever since shepherds used a clump of wood to strike a spherical object in ancient Britain, cricket’s essence was essentially to kill time. Hustling those seconds, swallowing those minutes and keeping boredom at bay seemed to be the willow game’s primary objective, at least in its nascent stage before the sheep were nudged back from the pastures under darkening skies.

The sport later acquired a structure, the two innings per team concept and it could even go on for eternity like those timeless Tests of yore. Later the five-day cap was imposed and Tests had a finishline. It had its unique rhythms enacted on freshly cut grass and a brown turf with statutory breaks for lunch and tea. It was pastoral and made its peace with the scorching sun and impish rain.

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Readers of a certain vintage would even remember the rest day when the Test took a mid-contest break and the players stretched their sore limbs. The rest day is long gone and what we have are Tests extended across five consecutive days, that is when they last the distance. We live in an age of wireless connectivity, rush-hour traffic, Twitter-brevity and WhatsApp wishes, and cricket too has its kinetic avatars — One Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20s, either lasting a day or flickering as a frenzied evening indulgence.

But Tests have their innate charms and most blue-chip cricketers are convinced that it is the long-form that burnishes their legacy, while the shorter versions bolster their bank balance. And Tests have one defining aspect which ODIs and T20s never have: the result that rests on a stalemate, referred to as the draw, and at times one that is also mentioned as the ‘dull draw’ with its alliterative fatigue.

Yet, the draw exists besides the twin impostors of triumph and defeat. And it is the draw that is becoming increasingly rare unless the weather intervenes or rival teams wrestle it out for five days without getting a vice-like grip. The death of the draw with accompanying numbers across decades has been culled by ace statistician Mohandas Menon and can be referred to in the subsequent pages. It is a cold pointer to how Tests and squads are seemingly turning their back on the honourable ‘we-finished-equal’ template or perhaps they can only either win or wilt in defeat.