What are declarations in cricket?
It is the possibility of being able to declare an innings closed that marks cricket out as a game of ultimate sophistication. Whereas most other sports have a set time limit or a requirement to reach a pre-determined score, cricket allows the captain a certain degree of judgement to decide whether he has enough runs, a sufficiently powerful attack or low enough opinion of the opposition to call a halt to his own side’s innings and lay down the challenge to his opposite number.
The other captain then has to make a decision as to whether the combination of conditions, the opposition attack and his team’s batting strength favours an attempt to score the required runs or play conservatively for a draw. His strategy can change depending on the state of the match at various natural junctions in play as he weighs up the equation, but it all helps to make cricket such a fascinating battle of wits as well as skills. If a captain takes the necessary number of wickets to win the match, his declaration was timed to perfection. If he fails, it is always his fault for batting on too long.
It is only in traditional games of cricket that declarations are possible. It is one of the reasons why purists enjoy the timed form of the game more than limited overs cricket. Having said that, it took a particularly innovative piece of captaincy to have the regulations governing one-day cricket changed to prevent declarations.
Somerset went into the last of their 1979 Benson and Hedges Cup zonal matches at Worcester with nine points from their previous fixtures. Worcestershire had six, as did Glamorgan who were also playing three points available for a win, it was possible that wins for Worcestershire and Glamorgan, playing against the unfancied Minor Counties South side could have lifted both into qualifying positions for the quarter-finals, at Somerset’s expense. If all three finished on nine points, the rate of wicket-taking would come into play, with Somerset enjoying an advantage over Worcestershire on that basis as they started the match.
With the top two sides from each group qualifying for the next, lucrative stage of the competition, Somerset only needed to keep their strike-rate better than Worcestershire’s to be certain of going through. Consequently, after Somerset captain Brian Rose and his opening partner, Peter Denning, had faced one over from Worcestershire’s Vanburn Holder, he declared. The only run came from a no ball, but Rose’s action denied Worcestershire the opportunity to improve their strike-rate.
It took just ten balls for Worcestershire to score two runs to win and end the match but start the furore. The hundred or so paying spectators had their money refunded, while the Test and County Cricket Board (then the governing body of the game) voted by 17 to one to disqualify Somerset from the competition for “bringing the game into disrepute”.
0pinions on Rose’s decision was certainly not all his own, varied from those who damned his actions as being ‘not cricket’ to others who admired him for exploiting a loophole in the regulations fashioned by the very body that disqualified his county. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, the regulations were changed to prevent anyone from declaring in limited-overs cricket in the future.
Where declarations are possible, they can sometimes appear to be cruel on batsmen hoping for personal achievement. Going into the third Test against Australia in 1995, England were two-nil down and needed a win in Sydney to keep their Ashes hopes alive. Graeme Hick had been batting for four and a quarter hours to reach 98 not out when his captain, Michael Atherton, declared to set Australia 449 to win. They reached 344 for seven by the close.
It might seem a hard decision when Hick was only two short of his century, but Atherton might well have gone on too long as it was. To be fair, rain and bad light seriously limited his options in the field, while Hick blocked three balls in what was going to be the final over of the innings. He never did get a hundred in an Ashes Test.
Australian captain Mark Taylor declared against Pakistan in Peshawar on the 1998/99 tour when he was on 334 not out at the close of the second day. It might be thought that was enough for anyone and the time was right to declare. However, his personal score was level with the highest innings by an Australian batsman in Test cricket, and Taylor would not bat on the next day merely to go past Sir Donald Bradman’s record match was drawn anyway·
Most Test captains will err on the side of caution when it comes to timing their declarations when a series is at stake. Not so Garry Sobers in 1968 at Port of Spain playing against England. Neither side had achieved a victory in a series characterised by some pretty unexciting cricket until the final day of the fourth Test. West Indies began that day on six without loss and enjoying a lead of 122. Sobers batted on until that lead was 214, and declared with eight wickets in hand and 165 minutes of play remaining.
England won by seven wickets and clung on in the fifth Test in Guyana to take the series. Sobers was pilloried in the West Indies for declaring when he did to the extent that for years afterwards, whenever he went through a Caribbean airport, there would be some customs officer who would delight in inquiring of him, “Anything to declare?”