Almanac Cricket: What is happening with fourth innings in Australia?

‘Harry, Lord Reserve Carnegie’ – Kate Birrell


In the wake of India’s outstanding victory in Brisbane, English cricket statistician Andrew Samson offered a fascinating insight via Twitter. Since December 2013 Australia has conceded over 300 runs in the fourth innings of a test match seven times. The next highest figure for any other country is three.


In a period where Australia’s strength has generally been its bowling, this raises some interesting questions. There is, of course, the possibility of a selectively chosen statistic. That selection of December 2013 starts with a series where England twice passed 300 in a final innings run chase. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a trend. Given most recent results, it is a trend not favouring Australia.


For the record, the seven instances are as follows:


Date Ground Country Score Result (for Aus)
Dec 2013 Adelaide England 312 Win
Dec 2013 Perth England 353 Win
Dec 2014 Adelaide India 315 Win
Dec 2016 Brisbane Pakistan 450 Win
Aug 2019 Leeds England 9/362 Loss
Jan 2021 Sydney India 5/344 Draw
Jan 2021 Brisbane India 7/329 Loss



The stand out fact is that 6 out of the 7 occasions occurred in Australia. The lone overseas instance was Ben Stokes’ miracle at Leeds. This has to be saying something about modern Australian wickets.


My first suspicion was the influence of drop-in wickets on test cricket in this country. But this isn’t borne out when you dig a little deeper. Sydney and Brisbane have so far resisted the urgings of the AFL for drop-in wickets. The Adelaide occurrences pre-date that ground’s conversion to drop-ins. Likewise with Perth, which only moved to a drop-in pitch with the move to Optus Stadium. So none of these run chases occurred on a drop-in wicket. So much for presumptions.


This suggests that Australian curators may have been doing their job rather too well for the home team’s liking. By preparing wickets that don’t deteriorate, whether drop-in or not, could our curators be providing succor to our opposition? Or are they just prioritising the demands of administrators and broadcasters? Given the number of recent tests that have finished in three days or less, perhaps this really just confirms the magnificent vagaries of turf wicket preparation?


What role do Australian team tactics and personnel play in all of this? This period covers three different Australian captains – Michael Clarke, Steve Smith and Tim Paine. The makeup of our pace attack has varied, but Nathan Lyon has been the sole specialist spinner in all these games.


For those who inclined to the theory that Lyon struggles to bowl sides out in a fourth innings, his figures in these chases make for mixed reading. They are, in sequence, as follows:




It could just be that the amount of over-spin that Lyon imparts on the ball, enabling the bounce and flight that has often made him so effective in first innings, becomes less of a weapon on a final day. Perhaps he is less adept at switching to side spin? Or is this a question of team balance? Does Lyon suffer from being the only specialist spin option?


I’m inclined to think the wickets are the biggest factor here. Drop-in or not, wickets at Australian test venues don’t usually deteriorate like we might once have expected.


Like most aspects of the marvelous game that is cricket, many other theories could be plausibly offered. I’d be interested to read what you think.



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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Tony Taylor says

    “This suggests that Australian curators may have been doing their job rather too well for the home team’s liking. By preparing wickets that don’t deteriorate, whether drop-in or not, could our curators be providing succor to our opposition?”

    Been happening for years. CA and the VBP (Valued Broadcast Partner) are getting the five-day wickets they want. No country prepares hospitable wickets like we do.

  2. Tony Taylor says

    Oh, and it was okay when Warne and McGrath were rolling sides on day five pitches, but ever since January 2007 we have coughed up big fourth innings tallies. Hell, it took only two Tests – Sanggers and the Shrees threatened to chase down 500 in Hobart. Luckily Random Rudi Koertzen baled us out with a howler.

  3. John Butler says

    Tony, I had my tongue in cheek to an extent with that line. I don’t actually think there’s a direct instruction to curators to make flat decks. In any case, that’s often easier said than done.

    I actually think it’s a good thing we don’t generally prepare home pitches. But I might be a bit naïve in that regard. :)

    I tend to think that if we just prepare classic bouncy Australian wickets that suits us in any case.


  4. John Butler says

    Re your second comment – without doubt Australia’s task of bowling sides out on the fifth day has got tougher once Warne retired.

  5. Tony Taylor says

    Don’t underestimate McGrath’s importance in cutting down the opposition top order. He was an absolute master at plucking crucial wickets.

  6. John Butler says

    You are correct. Never underestimate Glenn McGrath. :)

  7. citrus bob says

    Interesting discussion gentlemen.
    Perhaps we need an inquiry (Government sponsored of course) into cricket. I vented my spleen in another column so will leave it that.
    Thought the wicket was a ripper myself and have not mentioned before but all our fasties are alike. need someone like Jhye Richardson who was very good when he played against Sri Lanka.

  8. citrus bob says

    At my age I am inclined to be forgetful. Lyon does need support but the sub-continent players do pay him with ease.
    What is wrong with Zampa or Swepson being given a trundle at this level.

  9. JB, I am right on board for this theory.

    I was most disappointed – and tweeted* at the time – with the Sydney wicket in that it did not break up and/or deteriorate. I don’t care how good the Indian tail-enders are, there should be more assistance on Day 5 for the bowlers. *My tweet was along the lines of: is it only MCG drop-in wickets which get criticised for their lifelessness? The Sydney Test is now a shadow of its former self, and that is all to do with the flat decks being prepared, in my opinion.

    Same goes for the Gabba. The occasional delivery did a bit, but in general the wicket was as true as you would hope to see for a fifth day pitch.

    It is interesting that in Adelaide, where a little more grass is left on the deck for the pink ball, there seems to be a bit more life and excitement.


  10. John Butler says

    CB and Smokie, each person has their own idea of an ideal wicket. I don’t think tosses should be deciding games, but sometimes that just happens. When that’s deliberate, I think the game in general suffers.

    What I think this trend indicates is that commentators’ expectations should be changing to reflect what has actually been happening in the last decade, not 100 or 40 years ago. I saw very little evidence of that in the last 2 tests. Expectations are being created on wrong assumptions.


  11. Daryl Schramm says

    Sydney – huge pot holes on leg side, just right for Marnus to explore from around the wicket. Also Lyon bowling too flat. More air, more spin, more doubt. Brisbane – to a lesser degree Lyon, again little flight and Marnus under utilised. It is more a lack of imagination combined with a belligerent application to ‘process’ that contributed to the outcomes of the past two tests. I don’t have the outcomes of all test matches handy JB. There are a lot of gaps in the list provided.

  12. John Butler says

    Daryl, I agree re Marnus. Was definitely worth more of a bowl in each of the last two tests.

    Paine looked a little stuck, tactically. I wonder about the role of a coach in this at times. Some might help. Some might hinder.


  13. Peter Flynn says

    I would analyse the bowling, the bowlers and the tactics of the bowlers.
    And therein will lie the answr(s).
    I wouldn’t worry too much about the pitches.
    I also think Australia are an ordinary Day 5 Test cricket team..

  14. Lyon looks dead set pedestrian to my eye. Rarely bowls with any loop or width. Keeping it tight on leg is containing but not wicket taking against quality players of spin.
    I’m not critical of Paine. He is generally a decent keeper batsman – and clearly the best captaincy option.
    I am critical of Langer. He sticks with the percentages and predictable. Lacking courage and vision to inject fresh talent and tactics into the side. India had a squad mentality. Australia had water boys.
    Malthouse in whites.

  15. John Butler says

    PF, upon further consideration of these specific matches, I tend to agree. There’s more to this than pitches. But I also think many of the wickets are different in character than before. We’re not adjusting.

    PB, absolutely right about the squad mentality. We seemed very static in our strategies and tactics. India made a virtue of necessity.

    PS: It is very hurtful of you to bring up Malthouse’s name in my presence. :)

  16. JB – do you think T20 is a factor here? What struck me about India’s impeccable run chase on Tuesday was their execution of the key attributes of T20 – ability to pace themselves, up the ante when required and to improvise shots (sure, one poorly executed reverse sweep cost them a wicket but they gathered lots of runs from shots that would until recently have been inconceivable in Test cricket). For much of the day, the asking rate was around or above 4 an over, a daunting rate by conventional Test standards, but a walk in the park by T20 standards. I had similar thoughts about Ben Stokes’ extraordinary performance at Leeds in 2019. As much as we might dismiss T20 as hit and giggle cricket, I reckon the experience of T20 has completely altered the mindset and techniques of modern players to the point where many of the past assumptions about 4th innings run chases have been made redundant.

  17. John Butler says

    Stainless, I completely agree.

    30 years ago, a target of 100 of the final 20 overs would have been as likely as not thought too risky to chase.

    The mindset is completely different now – both the understanding of what is achievable, and how to achieve it .

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