This blog has been on something of a mission to talk about over rates over the last year or so, but even by the woeful and unpunished standards of that time today was something special. Only 81 overs were bowled in the day, and that was thanks to the innings change being at tea, otherwise it would have been in the seventies. That is 10% of the day’s play not completed, and rightfully there has been much comment about it.
Yet it is merely an extreme example of something that is considered acceptable. In no other sport would this go on – can you imagine a football match finishing after 81 minutes for example? People have paid good money to go to these matches, and they are being shortchanged repeatedly. What normally happens is that the match referees take into account delays such as reviews, repairing the bowlers footholes and so on – but this is nonsense. The additional half hour is there precisely to cater for such things, it is not part of the playing time.
No excuses, no justification. Today is merely an extreme example of the game not giving a stuff about those who pay to watch.
During what play there was, England actually had an exceptionally good day, perhaps even more so considering it wasn’t one of those magic days where nothing can go wrong. Instead, on a pitch that has shown no signs whatever of breaking up – indeed it appears to have got flatter – they worked hard and stayed in touch through the dint of those efforts rather than anything extraordinary. The wickets were shared around with the exception of the luckless Finn who cannot buy one at the present and suffered yet another dropped catch towards the end.
Woakes again was excellent, Anderson was miserly, and Broad showed what he has added to his game in the last few years – namely the ability to keep things tight and pick up wickets even when not at his very best. Broad in particular is one of those divisive characters who gets criticism despite having a truly outstanding record in recent years. He has a bowling average of 22.69 in the last two years. This isn’t just good, it is truly world class. Yet he still gets stick when he has a less than perfect day. It’s hard to know what more he could possibly do to win the detractors over.
For Pakistan, a lead of 103 might have been less than they had hoped for, but it would have still been an immensely satisfying outcome from the first innings. Stats can be manipulated to express a desired outcome, but the one that only 3% of matches have been lost by a side taking a lead of 100 or more does emphasise the strong position in which they found themselves.
It could have been better still – Misbah continued his one man mission to give hope to all those over the age of 40 with another good innings, cut short rather unluckily from an inside edge that deflected off pad and heel back on to the stumps. After his departure the innings began to fall away, despite the best efforts of the increasingly impressive Sarfraz Ahmed, ultimately left stranded on 46 as the tail fell away.
Flat as the surface was, England were in some difficulty with the match position, and Cook and Hales deserve immense credit for batting to the end of the day without either being dismissed. Pakistan’s bowling could have been better certainly, but there’s always the temptation to lay the blame on the opposition rather than praising England. Confining Cook by not bowling anything wide of the stumps for him to cut is extremely easy to say, and not terribly easy to do. The way Australia managed it in 2010/11 was exceptional – but that is not normal, or cricket would be a far easier game than it ever has been. Likewise, Hales may have a weakness outside off stump, but he batted with good discipline and reined his instincts in. In some ways this was his most impressive innings to date in the Test side.
So with England now in the lead with all 10 wickets in hand, it could be argued that the match is now level, and numerically this is so. But psychology plays a funny role in cricket, and an effective 17-0 it may be, but the effort in getting to parity cannot be overlooked. England have made a very good start, but 120-0 can all too easily become 150-3; still not a bad innings but in the match context 50-3 is back in trouble. Therefore for England to get into a good position they will need to bat exceptionally well tomorrow too, they are the vulnerable team in this match still.
The draw is now a good possibility though, with two days remaining it’s hard to see circumstances where England are sufficiently comfortable to be in a position to declare, so at worst Pakistan will likely have less than a day to bat should things go perfectly for England. Pakistan remain the most likely winners, and perhaps England’s best chance of victory is to be bowled out, sometime towards the end of play tomorrow. Another 300 would represent a perfect fourth day and be a stiff target. But another 300 would also require England to bat out of their skins.
This could yet become an exceptionally good Test match.
Day Four Comments Below