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Ask the Spider: Ask The Spider #130
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Q: South Africa wasted the chance to take a much bigger first-innings lead than 484 when they declared with just four down in the First Test. Could they have threatened the biggest post-second-innings lead if they had batted on?

A :Quite possibly they could have done, yes. Their eventual lead in the just-concluded Test at Centurion Park comes third in the list of authentic Test match second-innings leads (Sri Lanka took landslide margins over Bangladesh in 2007 and Zimbabwe in 2003/04 in woeful mismatches), and they also forfeited the chance to inflict an even more imposing deficit when the same captain, Graeme Smith, declared six down in the Test at Lord's against England in 2003 with a lead of 509. Smith was absent when, in 2006, the South Africans had Mahela Jayawardene to thank for taking pity on them and declaring five down with a lead of 587 in the Test at the notoriously runway-esque SSC. On all three of these occasions, the lead-taking team won the match easily (both of South Africa's victories came within four days despite a second-innings revival by their opponents) so could quite conceivably have targeted a bigger lead and not wasted the chance of victory had they so desired.
Q: And how about the biggest ever lead on first-innings?

A: It is unlikely that the record for the biggest lead after both sides had finished their first-innings' will ever be broken - it stands at 702, inflicted by England on Australia at The Oval in 1938. The reason it is unlikely ever to be broken is that this was a timeless Test, so England could bat for 335.2 overs in the first-innings (still, their captain Walter Hammond eventually declared, though only after it was confirmed that Don Bradman would not be able to bat after fracturing a shin) without worrying about forfeiting their chance of victory. The second-biggest lead in a finite Test after the above-mentioned Sri Lankan one in 2006 is 570, inflicted by Pakistan on New Zealand at Gaddafi Stadium Lahore in 2001/02. And there are four further leads in serious Tests under legitimate circumstances which top the SAfricans' 484: England's 563 over West Indies at Sabina Park in 1930 (again a timeless Test); Australia's 504 over England at The 'Gabba in 1946/47 (a six-dayer); Australia's 493 over South Africa at The Wanderers in 2001/02 (again this could have been more, as they declared seven down and ultimately won in two-and-a-half days); and West Indies' 490 over India at Eden Gardens in 1958/59 (where they declared five down and ultimately won in little over three days).
Q: Since Andrew Flintoff retired, England have played 11 Tests in a row (excluding the four against Bangladesh where they rested several players) and in each have picked an attack featuring just four specialist bowlers - and all indications are that this will last at least another couple with the last two Ashes matches. When was the last time they went this long without picking a fifth specialist (whether or not he was also a capable batsman like Flintoff)?

A: Funnily enough, it wasn't actually so long ago - in Flintoff's lengthy hiatus lasting from the start of the home summer of 2007 to midway through that of 2008, they played 17 Tests and fielded just four specialists in each. That period involved little of the stability which has characterised the more recent one, not least because of the fact that Flintoff's return was always eagerly anticipated. Ryan Sidebottom and Monty Panesar were pretty much constants (Sidebottom was only brought in for the second of these matches due to Matthew Hoggard's injury in the first) but the rest rotated like there was no tomorrow, partly due to injury and partly due to the fact that many of those tried proved not to be good enough, either at that time (such as James Anderson and, possibly, Chris Tremlett) or ever (such as Darren Pattinson and, in all likelihood, Liam Plunkett). However, to find the last time before that requires going back quite a bit - to 1990 and 1990/91, in fact, when England played 13 in a row with just the four specialists. Neither the batting nor the bowling, in that spell, had the stability that it has enjoyed in the current ongoing one. The current side appears to have the potential to form England's most settled group of cricketers in several generations - maybe, in fact, since Test cricket begun.
Q: Is it true that Greg Chappell never missed a Test through injury in his entire 13-year career?

A: Indeed it is. Chappell Jnr. had three spells out of the side, each shorter than its predecessor. After debuting in the Second Test of the 1970/71 Ashes (and marking the occasion with a century), the first time he missed any Test cricket was 1977/78 - the same time most of the best cricketers in Australia were missing, having chosen to take themselves out of the equation by signing for Kerry Packer's arrangements instead. Those players missed 24 Tests; Chappell returned and played throughout the period which lasted from the post-Packer reconciliation at home in 1979/80 to the watershed which was the end of the 1983/84 series against Pakistan (the last game saw Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee retire alongside him), though in this time he opted-out of two tours, to England in 1981 (six Tests) and Pakistan in 1982/83 (three).
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