Twice in the two Tests in the current series against New Zealand, England set challenging goals to chase down fourth-innings goals: 277 at Lord’s and 299 at Trent Bridge. He had a centurion on each occasion – a cool Joe Root at Lord’s and a brilliant Jonny Bairstow at Trent Bridge – as he had too many (five wickets) to spare.
Add to that South Africa’s exploits against India earlier this year, when they chased 240 in Johannesburg and 212 in Cape Town, and there have been four significant batting performances in less than six months in 2022. And we have not even mentioned about Pakistan. Epic fourth-innings reaction to the 506-run target in Karachi three months ago, when they inflicted an almighty scare before framing Australia for a draw at 443 for 7.
Four successful run-chases in a relatively short period of time begs some questions: Are these targets being hunted down more often now than before? Has fourth-innings batting generally gotten easier over the years? Let the numbers tell the story.
To begin with, there have been only four other years when more than 200 goals have been chased: five times in 2006, six times each in 1998 and 2003, and seven times in 2008. With half a year to go, 2022 is a good chance to challenge that all-time record. Since the beginning of 2019, over 200 successful 12 have been followed; In the six-year period from 2013 to 2018, this happened only seven times.
However, these fourth innings victories only highlight the success stories teams have had to chase down such goals without looking at the number of opportunities. To know the success rate in these situations, you also need to know how many times teams have set such goals over the years and before.
In 2022, there are 14 instances when teams have been asked to chase 200 or more; Targets range from 212 for South Africa against India in Cape Town to 506 for Pakistan against Australia. As mentioned earlier, four of those chases have been successful, six have ended in defeat, and the remaining four have been draws. Four out of 14 give a success percentage of 28.6. This is a huge improvement from 2021 (three out of 24) and 2018 (nil out of 29).
In 2008, the teams averaged 37.37 in the fourth innings, compared to 33.64 in the other three. As mentioned earlier, he was also the year of a record seven examples chasing over 200 goals. This includes South Africa’s 414 for 4 in Perth and India’s 387 for 4 against England in Chennai. In fact, six out of seven targets that year were over 250 targets. Since 1960, only 55 successful pursuits of over 250 goals have occurred, of which about 11% have occurred in one year. Given those astonishing numbers, it is hardly surprising that the overall fourth innings average that year was so high.
In fact, the six-year period between 2003 and 2008 was particularly good for fourth-innings batting: 15 of the 24 successful chases of over 200 goals in that period were over 249. (That’s 27%. Such total chases since 1960.) Even in 2007, the fourth innings average was higher than the first three innings, while the ratio was much closer to 1 in 2003 and 2006. Overall, in those six years, runs per wicket in the fourth innings were 32.97, and in the first three innings it was 35.14 to 0.94. The highest in that period was 2005, when the ratio fell to 0.78.
The 2000s were an excellent decade for batsmen in general – pitches were, relatively speaking, flat across the globe; The bowling attacks were thin; And this is also reflected in the fact that even the tough fourth innings goals did not let the batting teams down.