As has become traditional for me, I return from a busy work trip of a fortnight to then spend the next week flat on my back ill. Great. The teasing about it being malaria or dengue fever has already begun.
You might think this perfectly allows
me to watch the cricket, but instead I fall asleep through most of it, which given the nature of play in the UAE might actually be the best way to experience it.
So England lost and have gone 1-0 down in the series. As most have pointed out, it stems entirely from the first innings collapse that saw a position of some strength turn into almost certain defeat in a couple of hours. After two matches, the series has turned on a single session, for England could well be 2-0 up in this series had things gone slightly differently at key moments. Them’s the breaks, sport has always been about seizing the moment when it arrives, and England have shown themselves less than perfect at doing so for some time.
To some extent it could be said England haven’t learned from their last visit to the UAE, some of what happened then is happening now, yet a difference is that it is possible to see England winning in Sharjah and squaring the series – last time it just got worse by the match.
The batting is obviously a concern, as only Cook and Root are getting any runs, but this isn’t exactly new, and has been an issue for some time. Cook loves these slow pitches – he’s an extremely odd kind of opener, one who is vulnerable to pace and the moving ball (more so than many openers) but an outstanding player of spin. Equally, his levels of concentration are the stuff of legend, so his first Test mammoth effort don’t actually come as a surprise; it’s what he does, and does so well.
Root is now getting to the point where we have to start wondering if he’s not just going through a rich vein of form, that maybe he really is this good. Because if so, he’s going to shatter every England batting record there is.
Mark Wood is one who can hold his head up, and not just for his bowling. We know he can bat, but his innings yesterday showed a depth of character as much as anything. In his primary role, he’s been a revelation. The pitches offer him nothing, so he’s taken them out of the equation. It’s clever, thoughtful and effective.
Adil Rashid too has shown why those who called for him a year ago and more had a point. He’s been inconsistent sure, but leg spinners are. The trouble is that they are all measured by Shane Warne, who is pretty much the only leg spinner ever who wasn’t inconsistent and wasn’t expensive. Rashid is a Test novice and has done ok. His batting too has been good, all of which should mean he has a decent shot at the South Africa tour. Whether it will…
Ian Bell is once again under pressure. Given that he’s hardly alone in struggling, it seems a bit unfair to single him out, but that’s what the media do, usually having been given a nod that it’s a consideration by the Powers That Be. If it is near the end, it’s a sad way for a player with his record and skill to fade away. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that this may well be it for him.
Jos Buttler too has struggled, and for the first time it seems to be affecting his keeping as well. Players do go through poor form, and those that are backed tend to come through the other side. Some players are backed for a couple of years to allow them to do so. It’s more about what is best for him at the moment, but mid series always seems a peculiar time to change horses, especially if it’s just three matches as it implies the selection was wrong in the first place.
Likewise, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Moeen isn’t an opening batsman.
For Pakistan, a quick word about Misbah ul Haq. He’s been captain for a few years now, a player less honoured in his own land than abroad. Pakistan cricket was in meltdown when he took over, the hangover from the spot fixing episode, the continuing inability to play matches at home. Misbah has given them back their self respect, and led from the front throughout, all while giving the firm impression that anyone wanting to suggest match fixing to him had better have their hospital arrangements in place beforehand. He’s been a terrific player, one who has performed far above expectations of someone in the autumn of his career, but more than that he’s been a leader. Whatever happens to England, it’s hard to experience anything but pleasure that one of the good guys has led Pakistan out of the darkness.
And with that, I’m going back under the blanket. Ugh.