There remains one challenge left in this game. The second test is now a matter of can England take ten Pakistan wickets in the time they allow themselves to level the series. They have a lead of nearly 500, more than enough if they wanted to declare overnight, as it would take one of the greatest miracles of test cricket to see our visitors overhaul that, and it now really rests on whether Cook wants to bunt a few more pretty meaningless runs around, or get this over with as soon as possible so the assembled media can hit the links a day early if they possibly can.
Like watching a Steve Davis or Stephen Hendry snooker final when on their game, there is plenty to admire about how England have gone about this match, but then I just never took to those two players because there was, well, just a lack of charm in the whole thing. And yes, I know it derives from THAT series, and I know three years ago, when we were charmlessly winning the Ashes I wouldn’t have said that, but emotions and instincts change over the years. I’m reading Andrew Strauss’s book on winning the Ashes in 2010/11, and there’s a bit about how lovely Alastair Cook is, and how he is the nicest man around, and he’s such a hard worker and doesn’t go on about it. And I stop, and I think, am I wrong to really not care for him? Is it me making the mistake here, and not those who seem so in hock to his aura? I do think hard over these things. I really do. But I can’t just get past the Ashes thing. I really can’t. This has meant to a dripfeed of animosity, that makes me feel numb when I see England handing out such a thrashing.
Because we can’t have it both ways. We can’t laud the Pakistanis for a magnificent display, while they sit above us in the world rankings, and then as soon as they are getting duffed up we bemoan Big Three cricket. Pakistan’s position in the world test arena is a miracle. We all know they’ll never play a home test against England and Australia ever again. Ever is a long time, but I doubt we’ll go to Pakistan in my lifetime. They are an exiled team, playing cricket in empty stadia, and yet they are where they are. It’s not because of any Big Three that they are suffering. It’s circumstance, and certainly their poor relations with India are driven by national politics, not cricketing issues. So on this one, I think we have to say “well done” to England on being in the position they are in. (There are a myriad of other views with the West Indies, who have been demolished by India in Antigua. Are they mediocre yet? If not, when will they reach that lofty standard?)
What did we learn on Day 3? Not a lot. England cashed in, then decided not to enforce the follow on. I have no problem with that, others do. Farbrace at the end, after he finished his audition for the new Mr Men movie – playing either Mr Happy or Mr Chatterbox – was keen to say it would be better to bat the second time with a good pitch than have to on a bad one. Quite what target a team 400 behind almost on first innings would set England is something I’m not sure about, but I’m sure the first test in the UAE, and the legend of Kolkata are in their minds. That’s not a very positive mindset, but then it does ensure we won’t have even the merest hint of losing the test. Cook has been rattling along, Root has come in and got going, while Hales struggled again. The batting looking very dependent on the two big cheeses at the top of the order these days.
As for the wickets, I have to confess I could only watch one day of the test this weekend, due to family stuff, and that was yesterday. After a shopping trip this afternoon, the TV went on, and my lights went out (sick border collie overnight, woken by motorcycle idiots this morning) and the enthusiasm to watch never returned. There was rain, and I saw bits of the action, but it’s not a contest any more, and this is just accumulation for accumulation’s sake now. The sort of thing Australia did, when Slater or Warner would pick up that bargain bucket second innings ton against defensive fields and worse bowling. Will England regret not bowling in overcast conditions? I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell us if they did.
Day 4 tomorrow, and England will probably bat for another hour or so. If they’ve got to lunch without declaring then I’ll probably hear Sir Ian explode from my London office. So don’t declare until lunch, Alastair. England have played well, but I’m sorry, it’s just not exciting to me. Can’t help the feelings, I’m afraid.
Day 4 comments below. It’s getting a little testy….