x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Captain's bold call could be key to series

Andrew Strauss was presented with the chance to join a select band who, in the last 231 Tests, have enforced the follow on by Australia. He decided against it.

LONDON // Comparisons between Michael Vaughan and Javed Miandad do not instantly spring to mind apart from the obvious fact they were both born in October and were stylish right-handed batsmen. Cricket statisticians, however, will also tell you they were the only two captains in the last 231 Tests to have enforced the follow on against Australia, who have ruled cricket for the better part of two decades.

Miandad, the Pakistan captain, had no qualms in 1988 when Allan Border's side were rolled over for 165 in response to Pakistan's 469. The decision was vindicated as Pakistan won by an innings and 188 runs. It took another 17 years for Australia to be asked to bat again, although India turned down several opportunities, mainly because of the prospect of batting last against Shane Warne. In fact, Warne almost made Vaughan's decision to enforce the follow on at Trent Bridge in 2005 look foolhardy when he took four wickets in 13.5 mesmeric overs to ensure England, having dominated the match for four days, were forced to limp over the line in pursuit of 128 for victory in a nerve-jangling final session.

Yesterday, Andrew Strauss was presented with the chance to join Vaughan and Miandad in an elite band. After much deliberation he decided against it. It was a bold call and the outcome of the match could not only go a long way to deciding the outcome of the series but also answer many of the question surrounding his tactical acumen. The timing of England's second-innings declaration will be important, but with a huge lead counting going into the fourth day Strauss has the sort of comfort zone he hoped for.

It is hoped Strauss will have learnt the lessons from the third Test of England's tour of the West Indies in February, when he was roundly criticised for his decision to bat on too long and set the Windies an improbable 503 to win. England ended up falling one wicket short of victory. The fitness of Andrew Flintoff, whose troublesome knee would have been unlikely to withstand two successive innings in the field, would have been a major factor in Strauss's decision yesterday but Ian Botham was leading the argument for enforcing the follow on, believing the unpredictable weather - rain is forecast for today - could yet save the tourists.

History suggests Strauss should have asked Australia to bat again, as the statisticians will also point out that 92 per cent of captains who do end up victorious, as opposed to 69 per cent who don't. Ironically, only three times in Test history have a team lost after asking the opposition to bat again, and each time the team on the wrong end have been Australia, most famously in 1981 thanks to the heroics of Botham.