In isolation, this effectively one-off Test at Edgbaston has rewritten some long-standing records. England’s highest chase, also the highest successful chase against India, Tuesday’s 378/3 was the fourth time England had overhauled a target of 250 or more in four consecutive Tests. No other side has done it more than twice. At the core of this emphatic win has been England’s no-holds barred school of batting, reflected in their run rate of 4.6 per over across four Test wins in just over a month.
To be able to sustain such a steep scoring rate across eight innings and against two quality bowling attacks like India and New Zealand is a phenomenal achievement considering Test cricket, despite the growing influence of the white-ball game, is yet to yield such numbers on a consistent basis. A decade-wise analysis reveals three-plus runs per over became a norm only this century—3.20 in 464 Tests during the 2000s, 3.22 in 433 Tests in the 2010s and 3.07 in 93 Tests played in this decade. The only other decade that witnessed a similar average was the 1910s (3.01 rpo) that witnessed the emergence of great strikers of the ball like Jack Hobbs, Victor Trumper and South African all-rounder Aubrey Faulkner.
Scoring speeds, and to a lesser extent scoring itself, surged since 2000 mainly because of shrinking grounds, heavier bats and rules favouring batters. In fact, the top 10 Test series comprising two or more matches with a run rate of four or more have all come since 2000. Subcontinent pitches, because of its nature, have yielded high averages—like Pakistan (4.35) against India in 2006 or India (4.38) against Sri Lanka this year.
Where pitches have been slightly better, mismatched opponents have played a huge role in shifting the balance. Like in 2005 when England thrashed a Bangladesh bowling attack for 447/3decl and 528/3decl at Chester-le-Street and Lord’s to average 5.13 runs per over for the series, till date the highest in Test history. Equally distraught were Zimbabwe when they conceded 5.13 runs per over in South Africa the same year, or Zimbabwe against Australia (4.69 rpo in 2003) and Bangladesh in New Zealand (4.62 rpo in 2019).
It can also be argued that scoring rates have increased substantially not because of the surface or the bowling but because of the batting philosophy. In fact, this was the hallmark of all the great teams of the past. Take for example the Australian team that hadn’t lost 25 Tests in a row (including 20 wins) between 1946 and 1951. For that entire period, they were scoring at 2.88 runs per over, a shade higher than the 2.62 average during the 1940s. West Indies, who still hold the record for the longest unbeaten run (27 Tests, including 17 wins) between 1982 and 1984 scored at 3.31 per over when the going rate for that decade was 2.86. Parse that phase to their record of 11 consecutive wins, all coming in 1984, and West Indies’ scoring rate had increased to 3.57 per over, almost a run above the average for that decade.
A measure of the greatness of that West Indies batting line-up was realised yet again almost 17 years later in 2001 when Australia broke that record to win 16 consecutive Tests but still came short of their average with 3.49 runs per over. Even India, during their 19-match unbeaten run (including 15 wins) between 2015 and 2017 scored at 3.35 per over. It was Australia under Ricky Ponting though—armed with clean strikers like Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist—that truly revolutionised Test batting. For 16 wins in a row between 2005 and 2008, Australia scored at 3.7 per over. England may have a long way to go to match that consistency but if these four matches are any indication, Test cricket could be set for another batting overhaul.
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