David Owen ©ITG

One difference between British and American sports fans of my vintage is that we in the UK accord proper respect to the concept of the draw. 

In North American Major League team sports, draws are seen as inherently unsatisfactory, an outcome to be accepted only after a stretch of overtime has failed to break the deadlock, if then.

In traditional British team sports - whether football (i.e soccer), rugby or cricket, in its old-fangled white-flannelled, red ball guise - by contrast, the draw is regarded as one of three perfectly acceptable results.

Unless, perhaps, you are North London football club Tottenham Hotspur; by beating Leicester 3-1 on Sunday (February 10), Spurs took their draw-less Premier League streak to a record 30 matches, not far off the equivalent of a full season.

Cricket - uniquely? - actually offers four possible outcomes, since it distinguishes between a draw and a tie.

Through its rarity value, moreover, the tie - when sides finish level on runs scored and all wickets of the team batting last have fallen - could be regarded as the most distinguished result of all.

The first Test match was played in 1877 and there was no tie until 1960, 83 years and 497 games later.

British sports fans are more accepting of the draw ©Getty Images
British sports fans are more accepting of the draw ©Getty Images

There have still only been two ties and the recent Test between the West Indies and England in Saint Lucia was the 2,346th.

Not for nothing is J.H.Fingleton's gripping account of the first tied match in Brisbane between Australia and the West Indies called The Greatest Test of All.

Yet if you want to perplex an American sports fan, simply tell her that international cricket teams sometimes contest matches lasting for five days, the equivalent of 30 hours' playing time, without deciding a winner.

At the beginning, I said sports fans "of my vintage" because nowadays things are becoming rather less clear-cut.

For one thing, draw-riddled soccer is eating the world - including North America, which is preparing to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

In the meantime, the growing dominance of limited-overs cricket - a form of the game in which you do not need to bowl the opposition out to win even if you have batted first, making draws as well as ties rather uncommon - is turning the sport increasingly into a binary win or lose affair.

So, pottering around a second-hand bookshop in Oxford the other day, I was delighted to discover a work that conveys, for the most part elegantly and succinctly, why the possibility of a draw - if not always the actual outcome - is to be cherished.

Quite simply, it can add a subtlety and an extra dimension to proceedings that is too often lacking in wham-bam limited-overs fare.

In matches handled by alert and like-minded captains, the opportunity to draw also enhances the prospect of most players thoroughly enjoying their afternoon's cricket, even when the balance of forces is lop-sided, a far from negligible consideration at grass-roots level.

In a limited-overs match where one side is markedly stronger, the winner will usually be obvious by early in the second innings, if not before, making for dull cricket for the remainder of the match for players and spectators alike.

A time-limited match will still be hard for a substantially weaker team to win, but a draw may be well within their capabilities, putting the onus on the captain of the stronger team to draw on her guile in order to conjure the victory.

Full disclosure: I only picked up the book, originally published in 1988, because it happened to be written by someone - E.M. "Ted" Rose - whom I actually played against at least once.

American sports usually include a method to break deadlock ©Getty Images
American sports usually include a method to break deadlock ©Getty Images

And, to be completely honest, that match has probably lingered in my memory because I happened to hit the winning runs - off the future author's bowling.

Rose captained Limpsfield, a village in a lovely corner of the east Surrey commuter-belt south of London, in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Though there was nothing especially remarkable about them, they were usually one of the better sides in the league.

Having read this book, entitled somewhat ironically in this context How to Win at Cricket, I now better understand why.

Rose's basic point is this: in a timed cricket match, in order to have the best chance of winning, you need, paradoxically, to keep the opposition thinking it is in with a shout, preferably a good shout.

The reason is simple: when batting first in such a match, if you are to win you will need to dismiss 10 opponents, and batsmen are far tougher to dislodge when concentrating single-mindedly on defending their wickets.

This can lead to absorbing, seemingly counterintuitive tactics.

It might be appropriate, for example, to bring on a less menacing bowler after a good batsman has been dismissed, so as to help the opponent to keep somewhere close to the required run rate and prevent them shutting up shop.

This makes particularly good sense if a high proportion of scoring shots are in the air, putting the batsmen at risk of dismissal if a fielder has been stationed in the right place.

The idea is that a good captain, by experience and astute observation of opponents, arena and general playing conditions, can glean enough data to remain one step ahead of the other side, even if the scoreboard indicates the match situation is tight.

One can imagine the accomplished captain gradually coaxing the opposition to take the bait, like a fly fisherman with a trout.

There are many variables and much to absorb, however.

Rose comments that he often comes off the field "feeling like I have been picked up like a wet rag and wrung out through a mangle".

He also makes the point that "350 for one against 27 for nine is still a draw", making it imperative when batting first not to declare too late.

Test cricket provides four different potential result outcomes ©Getty Images
Test cricket provides four different potential result outcomes ©Getty Images

In a limited-overs match, such carefully-calibrated stratagems are less often needed, as taking wickets is secondary.

To paraphrase the author, 200 all out against 199 for none is still a win. 

The availability of a draw also encourages more evenly-matched teams to continue chasing until late in their innings, making for more interesting, even enthralling cricket, since they know that if necessary their last two or three batsmen can switch focus solely to defence.

But, of course, by that point the fielding side only has a wicket or two left to take.

Rose's methods require a dash of courage, since they entail embracing the possibility of defeat.

But quite apart from maximising enjoyment of a wonderful game, the stats demonstrate that, in the right hands, they are mightily effective.

In close to 800 matches over 17 years, Limpsfield managed 442 victories and only 160 defeats. 

A record to be proud of.