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Soup of This Day #129: Blown Round By The Wind, Thrown Down In A Spin

January 29, 2012

Néphila inaurata - Madagascar
The Red-Legged Golden Orb-Web Spider (Nephila inaurata) of Madagascar. It’s web is so strong that it can sometimes trap birds or bats. It’s a shock for all concerned – Photo: Bernard Gagnon, 2007. Bernard Gagnon is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Test cricket is a trial. This should not be a surprise to anyone – That’s why it’s called ‘Test’ cricket and not ‘Relaxed’ cricket.

Because it’s testing.

A Test match nominally runs for 5 days. Each day can run for up to 6 hours of play and so it can take up to 30 hours of competition to get a result.

The hours of play can be affected by weather – Like baseball and unlike football, cricket is not played in the rain. Test cricket is also not played in the dark and in Test cricket artificial light from say, light towers, is not accepted as a substitute. The light towers can only be used to supplement natural daylight. At the point at which they take over from natural light the game is halted – At this time you’ll hear the phrase ‘bad light has stopped play’ and everyone will troop off early for a hearty dinner.

In England you hear that phrase sometimes before they have even bowled a ball so everyone troops off early for a hearty brunch.

Across the 5 days each team gets a go at batting in 2 innings, for the most part alternating their shot at accumulating runs. For example, in the 4th Test between Australia and India, which concluded today, the Aussies won the toss and chose to bat 1st on an Adelaide pitch known to be as flat as a surfboard. This means runs and the lads duly provided those as advertised, so many in fact that Australia chose to declare their 1st innings closed at 7 for 604.

Sidebar: A declaration can occur when the fielding side can’t seem to get everyone on the batting side out and the batting side decide that they’re really quite bored with that.

In reply India’s batting largely failed – Their only highlight was a defiant 116 from the fiery youngster Virat Kohli. In spite of that century India were all out for 272, 332 adrift of the hosts. Because the gap was over 200 runs India could be made to bat again immediately. This is called ‘enforcing the follow-on‘ and it allows a team to postpone their 2nd innings, if they so choose, while they keep their boot on the throat of a hapless victim.

It’s not for Australia.

Since Thursday March 15, 2001 Australia just never seems to enforce the follow-on, instead opting to bat again, building an insurmountable lead and bowling the opposition into oblivion before the close of play on Day 5.

This is primarily because Thursday March 15 saw the conclusion of 1 of the most remarkable Tests in the history of the game. It was played at Eden Gardens in Kolkata and it featured, like the Test that concluded today, India and Australia. Australia won the toss and chose to bat, notching up a very decent 445 all out. In reply India were woeful and slumped to a paltry 171 all out, still 274 runs adrift. Australia, rather understandably, enforced the follow-on, giving the Indians another chance to bat.

Which the Indians took with relish. At 1st they eked out runs, losing top-order batsmen at regular intervals. By the time they lost their captain Sourav Ganguly they were 4 for 232, with 6 wickets left and needing another 42 to make Australia bat again.

Enter VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid. The elegant Laxman, who looks as if he will topple over so lanky is he, went on to compile 281 runs. Dravid, known as ‘The Wall’ for his stoic defence, could not match him but his 180 was handy nonetheless. By the time the 2 of them were done India had amassed an astonishing 7 for 657 declared, setting Australia a challenging 384 on a wearing pitch.

The Aussies would make just 212, giving India an extraordinary 171 run win, in the process splattering large amounts of egg across Australian faces. The players might since have largely changed – Only Ricky Ponting remains on the Australian team from that time – but the whiff of that egg remains – Australian captains don’t enforce the follow-on.

To be fair to current captain Michael Clarke, there were several reasons beyond ‘that time in 2001’ not to enforce it in the current Test. For 1 it was hot. Scorchingly hot. And when you’ve had a long hot day in the field with your bowlers toiling it’s wise to give them a rest. For 2 enforcing a follow-on at Adelaide, a batsman’s wicket, means that you’ll likely be chasing on Day 5. Nobody wants to chase at Adelaide on Day 5. Bad stuff happens. Ask England about 2006. That was bad for them.

And last, for 3, a trio of Indian players remain from that 2001 Test in Kolkata. At the time of writing Sachin Tendulkar has 15,470 runs, more than any other player in the history of the game. That figure is 2,182 more runs than the 2nd place Rahul Dravid – Balls bounce off that Wall and run to the boundary it seems. 15th on that all-time list, with 8,781 elegant runs and the 3rd Indian veteran from Kolkata, is, you guessed it, VVS Laxman.

All 3 are in the twilight of their careers – Laxman’s elegant movements have been augmented by a perceptible creak. The Wall meanwhile has holes in it. Unfortunately the holes are right in front of his stumps and are between his bat and pads – Dravid has been clean bowled 9 times out of his past 13 innings. Tendulkar has been ok but his chase for a 100th 100 (51 in Tests and 48 in One Day Internationals) has stalled such that he looks mortal. In spite of this though nobody with that 2001 Test imprinted on their memory would enforce a follow-on with those 3 in the mix. When they are in their 90’s and seeing out their days at the Sunnyvale Retirement Home for Cricketers, woe be the opposition that insists on them following-on.

So Australia batted again and declared on 5 for 167, setting India a round 500 to win across 1 and a half days. Now, the world record Test chase is 418 and on this pitch the record is 315 (Set in 1902 in a time-unlimited Test across 6 days). Still, records get broken and Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar have some form in that department.

It was not to be for the tourists. Tendulkar made just 13, marching off to a standing ovation from the Adelaide crowd. Dravid made 25 and he too was feted from the park – At least he was not bowled this time, being caught at gully. Laxman reached 35 before elegantly whipping the ball from off stump, a shot he has become famous for. So famous that Clarke placed Sean Marsh at short midwicket, in exactly the right place to take a sharpish chance. It may well be VVS’ last Test for India so he too got generous applause.

With their top-order gone, India limped to stumps on Day 4 at 6 for 166, the angry Virat Kohli, their last hope, run-out in the penultimate over of the day. Curiously Kohli tried for the run in order to protect the nightwatchman, Sharma, who had in turn been sent out to protect the inexperienced Indian wicketkeeper, Saha. In being caught short of his ground Virat did protect the nightwatchman but Saha had to bat anyway. It’s like sacrificing your knight to protect a pawn that wasn’t really in danger anyway. A bit pointless.

The final 4 wickets put up token resistance this morning but succumbed still 298 runs behind. The Test series thus finishes 4-0 to Australia and captain Michael Clarke, who knocked out 626 runs at an average of 125.20, got the gong for player of the series.

Meanwhile, New Zealand were hosting Zimbabwe in a Test match of their own at Napier. The Kiwis had declared their 1st innings closed at 7 for 495 early in the morning and then skittled the hapless Africans for just 51 runs. Even Australia would have enforced a follow-on so the Black Caps did and dismissed the Zimbabwe side once more, this time for 143. The result therefore going to the Kiwis by a walloping innings and 301 runs.

Over in Madagascar, just the other side of Mozambique and the Mozambique Channel from Zimbabwe, they recently undertook a task that makes playing New Zealand in Test cricket look easy. Over the course of 5 years and with a team of 80 people they made a dress composed of the web of the golden silk orb-web spider. Each day they went into the highlands, captured 24 spiders and then strapped them in to a special harness which allowed the collection of the webbing material. At the end of the day they’d release the spiders. They estimate that it took 1 million of them to make the garment.

That’s 8 million legs then.

The same team provided a sample cloth to the American Museum of Natural History in 2009. Here’s a short film on that:

Yeah, ok.

According to Nicholas Godley, who along with Simon Peers made the frock, finding people to milk spiders is ‘a challenge’ because they get bitten and therefore ‘it’s not something everyone wants to do.’

No @#$%, Nicholas.

Interestingly enough, as Dr Ian Tattersall, from the AMNH is talking about the cloth you can just make out a ‘Chart of Civilisation’ in the background. I’m wondering where milking millions of pissed off spiders to make a dress factors in on that scale.

Wherever it does fit, and maybe it earns a place on that chart via artistic merit alone, it was obviously a trial getting it made. I’m going to nominate it as an example of ‘Test weaving’.

Because it’s surely testing.

Blown Round By The Wind, Thrown Down In A Spin

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