England vs Pakistan: 1st Test, Day Three

Lords tends to be one of the quieter grounds in world cricket; even when full it is more a murmur than a roar, yet in the last hour of play today the crowd were vocal and supportive, particularly towards the outstanding Chris Woakes and the desperately unlucky Stephen Finn.  The reason why is straightforward enough, for this is a Test that has been a scrap from the first ball, with both sides harbouring legitimate hopes of victory.  With all the suggestions and plans for ensuring the relevance of Test cricket, the involvement of those at the ground was due not to gimmicks, or innovations, but to two sides battling to gain the upper hand in a Test that has been excellent throughout.

Perhaps some would then think it churlish to begin with a complaint, but it’s the same one as on the first two days – that the over rate was sufficiently poor that the full 90 weren’t completed in the day.  That it was only two overs short is not the point, they have an extra half hour to complete them.  It’s very simple – stop cheating the spectators and talk about them being cheated will also stop.

With the most obvious difference between the sides being in the lower order, it was natural cricketing perversity that ensured that while England’s fell away in the morning to be bowled out 67 adrift of Pakistan’s first innings score, the tourists decided that today was the day when theirs would perform.  Yasir Shah for one is engaged in a personal contest with Chris Woakes for all rounder of the game, merrily dispatching England bowlers with disdain just when England might have thought they had the upper hand at last.  It capped a fine day for him – in removing Finn this morning, Yasir had become the leading wicket taker in Test history after 13 Tests (an arbitrary number for sure, but evidence of the impact he has made on the game).

Indeed, for most of the day England looked to have clawed back much of the first innings deficit, especially when Pakistan were reduced to 60-4 following an impressively dreadful shot from the captain.  The best matches are those that swing one way and then the other, and a hideously out of form Younis Khan may at the end of matters consider that his crabby, laboured 25 was vastly more important than the number suggests.  Asad Rafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed carried on that work in much more fluent fashion, along with the aforementioned Yasir.  They had a little help, Cook and Bairstow dropping very catchable chances, both off the luckless Finn but with a lead of 281 with a couple of wickets still in hand, Pakistan are in a very strong position.

That they are is despite the best efforts of Chris Woakes, who once again was the star of the show with the ball, although rather surprisingly he was held back early on.  How impressive his match has been is perhaps best illustrated by how he’s reduced his Test bowling average from 41.25 on Thursday morning to 28.18 now.  Yet he doesn’t appear to be doing anything greatly different – a fairly consistent bowling action, line and length, and a little bit of movement off the seam.  In the last few Tests he had mastered the art of being parsimonious, and perhaps the wickets he is now taking are to an extent created by the impression of being hard to get away he has begun to foster.

Around 300 never seems that big a total to win, but history is against it, not just at Lords but in Test matches generally.  It’s rare to chase down that many, indeed over 300 has only been done 28 times in the history of the game, which given the number of Tests played is a miniscule number.  There is a constant underestimation of the difficulty in reaching targets of that size, amongst players and commentators as much as anyone else.  So it was that Nasser Hussain talked about England being comfortable up to 280, when they should be anything but.  It’s not a criticism of him, as it’s something heard widely from all quarters on each occasion it comes up in a match, but make no mistake, England are in a spot of bother.

What it does mean is that there will be a result in this match, possibly tomorrow, possibly early on Monday.  Mickey Arthur at the close of play stated that Pakistan had hoped for a lead of 275, and allowing for the usual kidology that is always present in interviews, there was little doubt that he was delighted with their position.  That’s certainly not to say that England cannot win this, but the bookmakers are being a little generous (patriotic money presumably) in cricketing terms in making them the favourites.  While Yasir Shah may be felt to be the biggest challenge based on the first innings, the seam attack underperformed a touch first time around, and with the warm weather and bone dry pitch, both conventional and reverse swing should add to the level of difficulty.

This has the makings of an excellent series, and praise be it’s been enjoyable to watch.

Day four comments below