The Fragility of Momentum

In purely scientific terms, momentum is a quantifiable amount of energy, calculated by multiplying mass by velocity.  However, in sport, it seems “momentum” is one of those intangible measures where the power seems largely dependent on perspective.  I suggest that it is the commentators and pundits who are always looking for and analysing momentum.  And the momentum that is found is usually coloured by a desire to find a hint of a turn-around in form of the team for whom the said commentators barrack. Let’s face it: Professional, unbiased journalism is largely a thing of the past.  Most commentators barrack for one team or the other (except for the neutral sages).  Warnie is the worst but he is by no means alone.  How often is the “momentum” said to be with the team that actually lost the match, or is behind in the series?

In the real world, momentum does not change dramatically unless an appropriate opposite force is applied.  In cricket, momentum seems to change as the teams move from one match to the next.  Why?  I would argue that changes in conditions and team composition in many cases negate momentum from the last match.  And in sporting terms, what is momentum?  It’s not a scientifically measurable force but a perception of physiological advantage.

After a good last day in the 3rd Test, some were saying that Australia headed into the 4th Test with the momentum.  If Australia had limped home to a draw, clinging by a thread, nine wickets down, would England have had the momentum?  And would that have made one iota of difference to the 4th Test?  I don’t think so.  Key events that may have had an influence on the 4th Test were determined by the unavailability of Flintoff and the inclusion of Clark.

Who carried the momentum from the 1st Test?  Australia outplayed England totally and took many positives from that match.  While England may not have had momentum, even from the final day, they would have been psychologically buoyed from escaping.  Did any of that have an effect on the 2nd Test?  I don’t think so.  England swung the ball and Australia crumbled in the 1st innings of the Test.  England won comfortably, but only after Australia amassed 406 runs in the final innings of that match, finishing the latter part of the innings strongly.  Did that mean Australia took some momentum into the 3rd Test?  I don’t think so (or if it did, it didn’t count for much).  England swung the ball and Australia crumbled in the 1st innings of the 3rd Test.

Will the Poms take momentum into the 5th Test following a rollicking three hours of tonking in the closing stages of the 4th Test?  I really don’t think so – it was pretty meaningless.  When the cause is utterly lost, the mind and muscles enter a state of relaxation that it is impossible to simulate in pressure situations.  When there is nothing to lose, why not have a dip?  On rare occasions, the match may even be saved.  Botham did it in 1981.  Many great innings were played against the backdrop of futility.  Astle did it in 2002 with his record double century, Johnson did it in 2009 at Cape Town, Warnie, Lee and Kasper did it at Edgbaston in 2005 (and almost came up trumps).  Even Clarke at Lord’s.  The list goes on…

Swann, Broad and their buddies batted well but nobody should be fooled into reading to much into it.  They chanced their arm on a good pitch and succeeded for three hours.  Unfortunately for Australia, it is those foolish Australian selectors who seem to be taking the most notice.  In disturbing comments last week, while being exceedingly generous towards the ability of the Australian selection policy, Andrew Hilditch noted that Stuart Clark’s figures were the worst of the match (of the Aussies) and that his place was by no means assured.  Surely he is joking.  Clark’s inclusion immediately paid dividends for Australia.  He ripped out the middle order (maybe not such a great feat) but more importantly came on at first change and brought great pressure to bear.  There was no relief.  This seemed to inspire Johnson to follow suit and so on it went.

Once Clark was in the team, plenty of Pommies were admitting they had dreaded his inclusion.  Graeme Smith echoed similar sentiments when he was relieved that South Africa did not have the prospect of contending with Clark last summer.  Conversely, the Poms were putting their full support behind a terribly out of form Johnson to be picked for the 3rd Test – why would you do that if you really thought it would help your opposition?  The Australian selectors took four Tests to chose the right team – why would they assist England to wrestle back the momentum for the deciding 5th Test?

4 thoughts on “The Fragility of Momentum

  1. Pingback: Dongles :: Cricket Visionary :: Articles and Opinions on Test Cricket » Blog Archive » Bloody Muddy Manchester

  2. shock and awe! i agree! momentum shift is oftentimes a media beat up to fill news reports and column inches. england players bought into it before cardiff and damn nearly paid the price. paradoxically, it seems that england performs best when fleet street expects them to lose. i also think it’s madness to drop clark. but he such a good guy that he will take it with grace and humility and talk up the importance of a spinner on a dry oval track. a fast bowler making spin. watch this space…

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