Following England cricket for as long as I have should mean that days like these bring unfettered joy. We never used to beat Pakistan like this. Indeed, for a long time, we never really used to beat Pakistan. They had the lightning pace, and swinging bowling that gave domestic batsmen terrors. They would find the resistance of such technically proficient players like Javed, Inzy et al a difficulty too far. Then, if that wasn’t enough, they’d throw a Qadir, a Mushtaq, a Saqlain at you. It was a tough life playing Pakistan.
What has been so noticeable, on English surfaces, is the lack of batting. The last two series have witnessed Pakistan batsmen being all over the place. If I recall, they didn’t make a century in 2010, and just Misbah has made one here, and you wouldn’t put much money on any of them doing it in the remainder of the series. If England bat as well as they did here, and bowl up to standard, it’s going to be tough to see Pakistan putting up much of a fight. Maybe, just maybe, they need to bat first. That might be the key.
It’s 1-1, but it doesn’t feel like a close series to me at this point. Over the last few days I’ve been reading Andrew Strauss’s (aka Comma) book on the 2010-11 Ashes. It must be recalled that on that tour we won three tests by an innings. We demolished them. In the book Strauss says the aim for him was to lead “the greatest England team ever”. That team, as we might recall, carried one batting passenger (Collingwood) while the rest of the team played out of their skins. The point being, that while that team is in the reckoning for the best team we’ve ever put out (2005, IMHO would have battered it) this one isn’t. It’s carrying too many passengers, has won a game thanks to the bowling being superb, and two batsmen making around 500 runs between them, and is prone to some periods where it loses ideas. Yet it has inflicted a 330 run defeat on Pakistan – a team ranked above them in the World list – and it feels as though this isn’t even a surprise. Test cricket is, at this stage, truly baffling. It just feels totally sub-standard. I don’t know if that’s true, but too many teams fold like cardboard under any pressure. I have little hope for the rest of the series being competitive. God, I hope I’m wrong.
So while the main, faintly ludicrous, debate last night focused on whether we should declare or not, I think next week might see calls for one of the two stars of the Lions display today, Duckett and Bell-Drummond, to be included in full squads soon. I wouldn’t be opposed to that. Vince has had five tests, and not done anything to make him indispensable. Ballance has had two back and won’t be ousted yet, but he’s in Compton’s Chair – the selection not endorsed by the media and with no real reason to bring him back – and that’s like the old ducking stool at the moment. But this team prides itself not on short-termism and risk taking, as that has to admit you are wrong, and give off the appearance of not knowing what you are doing. At a time when the selectors have copped some flak, risk aversion might be the order of the day.
I found this game sadly lacking. I’m past the loyal fan boy stage, and now in to wanting to watch contests. It’s like going to watch a top club like Real Madrid play one of those lower Primera Liga sides, and it turns into a 5 or 6 goal romp, with Ronaldo filling his boots. Sure, it’s a pleasure to watch the greats turn it on, but there are only three big clubs, the better competition is few and far between, and it all gets rather dull, unless you support that team. England are winning tests when they get their heads well in front, and when challenged can turn it on (Jo’burg) or flop (Lord’s v Pakistan). I can’t make my mind up about them at all. I think that a team seriously contemplating itself as being World #1 can’t have a top 5 with Hales, Ballance and Vince. That’s indicative of something about test cricket.
Joe Root is a superstar, no doubt, and his average is now over 56. I’m not writing the “greatest ever” stuff just yet (he’d been in the team less than four years) but he is something we have not had for a while. Truly reliable. We’re bound to ruin him.
We have some time between now and Birmingham. Thanks for the comments over the last few days. I’ve enjoyed the writing more than the match! I’m really sorry I can’t be enthused, but those of you who are, good luck. You won’t carry me with you, no matter how much you try. You know that. And you know why.
Just for giggles, and as a finale, here’s this. From Comma’s book….