You don’t need 10,000 Test runs in your back pocket to understand the importance of a first innings lead for England’s hopes in the Fourth Ashes Test and whilst history at the Melbourne Cricket Ground emphasises the point, it also reveals that recent exceptions to the rule all come in Anglo-Aussie contests. The Stats Zone investigates the detail.
The Boxing Day Test Match of 1982 was a hell of a contest; even between bat and ball – as well as between the two teams – throughout. The Aussies eked out a lead of three runs on first innings and were set 292 to win by Bob Willis’s side only to slump to 218/9 in the last dig. Allan Border and Jeff Thomson nudged their way towards the target with a last-wicket stand of 70 before Ian Botham removed Thomson with the Aussies four short.
In the 35 years that have followed, no other nation has been involved in a Test Match on this ground where the team with a lead on first innings has gone on to lose – England meanwhile, have taken part in three.
Notwithstanding that fact, it is doubtless that the MCG favours teams with runs in the bank. Pakistan were rolled out for 163 on the last day last season, even though a total of only seventeen wickets had fallen across the four previous days. Before that, West Indies were rolled out twice and India struggled to hold on for a draw in 2014; the only Test in Victoria not to produce a winner since 1997.
Spinners come into the game more in the second innings but don’t expect to see prodigious turn as the match progresses. Seam bowlers account for 74.66% of wickets over the last five years at the MCG although Nathan Lyon did buck that trend during England’s last tour Down Under, when his 5/50 helped to turn a 51-run deficit on first innings into a comfortable eight-wicket win. With that event in the back of their minds, England won’t fancy a stodgy fourth-innings chase here as they bid to avoid a whitewash and with the stats reminding us that posting totals gets harder as the match moves on, now is the time for Joe Root’s men to post runs that count, making this impressive alliance with Alistair Cook all the more important.