The Illustrated Lexicon Of Cricket : “Attritional Cricket”

No. 2 in a much delayed series.

If you’ve been listening- in to the commentary on the recent Test match in Sri Lanka, you’ve probably come across the phrase “Attritional cricket“.

Steven Finn, for instance, is quoted as saying –

“We played some good, attritional cricket; we were very patient and we got our rewards at the end of the day.”

and Graeme Swann commented –

“It is attritional cricket that is going to win this game … As it was very attritional, it doubles the effort required to get to 154-1,”

and so on.  But what does it mean?

It is generally used to mean a cautious style of play, with the batsmen taking few risks and hoping to accumulate a large total by wearing the bowling side down.  But who invented this tactic?

Although there had been some experiments with the style in the 19th century by the American batsman “Stonewall” Jackson (in an attempt to counter the dominance of the Philadelphia Club),  it is generally agreed that it was first brought to perfection by Sir Douglas Haig.

(As may be seen in this photograph, Haig’s defensive play drove opponents to extreme measures – such as an 12-man, 1-woman slip cordon.)

Haig’s theory was that – in the days when Test Matches were played to a finish – if the batsmen made no attempt whatsoever to score runs and simply concentrated on not getting out, then the bowling side would eventually die of exhaustion, or be forced to concede the match. 

A little known fact is that Haig was the original choice to captain England on their tour of Australia in 1932-33, and had assembled a team to put his plan into operation, including Bert Block of Yorkshire (famous for his quip “We’ll get ’em in no balls“) and Albert Bore of Warwickshire (later to become the leader of Birmingham City Council).  

But wiser counsels prevailed.  Sir Pelham Warner declared that, if  Haig were allowed to put his plan into practice, “the future of the Empire itself would be at stake”.  The rest is history.  Attritional cricket – in its purest form – was first ruled “unsporting” by the MCC and then outlawed under the Geneva Convention.  

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