Pakistan must be wondering how they contrived to lose this game. Having been 257-2 one ball before the close of play on day two, a mere 40 runs behind England, they would surely have expected to go on to win the match. Even though their first innings wasn’t as big as it could have been, it still left them with a lead in excess of 100.
Indeed, although England wiped off the deficit without loss, they were soon back in some kind of trouble at effectively 23-2 and again though less so at effectively 179-5. That turned out to be the final chance to win the game, from there Moeen and Bairstow took the match away from Pakistan and by the start of play today a draw was about the best they could hope for.
Cook has not been especially brave with his declarations during his captaincy but there could be few complaints (whatever the eventual result) with today. The plan was clearly to throw the bat and declare as soon as possible and Moeen rather helped by taking the first over from Yasir for 20. He might be a flawed player (albeit one who has had a great year to date with the bat) but he is exceptionally unselfish. He could have a better batting average than he does by quietly ensuring the red ink, but many a time he has got out desperately seeking runs when batting with the tail. Today his immediate assault ensured that it was quite clear England were going for the win.
344 was the nominal target, but despite a pitch that was still flat, and despite the usual panic about Pakistan making it, the history of the game makes it clear that such targets are unlikely in the extreme. But there was no reason at all the tourists couldn’t bat out the day, the surface showed no signs of breaking up – if anything the only concession to four days of play was for it to have got slower and lower.
When batting out time a key requirement is to have a good start, but Hafeez once again decided to give England a boost. Having slapped a long hop to point in the first innings, this time he decided to hook Broad straight to Woakes at fine leg. Batsmen make mistakes, it’s part of the game, but this was poor batting and given the circumstances, somewhat irresponsible.
Still, there was a recovery from there, Azhar Ali joining the hugely impressive youngster Sami Aslam. For a time, all seemed serene and England were, if not flat, somewhat subdued.
It was not long before tea that all hell broke loose, four wickets falling for a single run as Anderson, Finn and Woakes ripped through the middle order. Edgbaston is the most raucous, noisy ground on the English circuit, and when the home team gets on top – especially with the ball, it creates an air of expectancy and certainty that another wicket is round the corner. Enough sportmen are quick to say that the crowd can be the twelfth player for it to be obvious that this does make a difference, and it takes a strong team to resist that kind of atmosphere.
When Finn (who bowled at times with something approaching his old hostility) persuaded Sami to leave a ball that darted back in to the crash into his off stump, it was all over bar the shouting. An entertaining last wicket partnership merely delayed the inevitable slightly.
Make no mistake about it, this was a fine England victory. The lower order strength in batting rescued them from an unpromising position, and when the seamers get some shape through the air, they look lethally dangerous. England’s bowlers are superb exponents of making the most of favourable conditions, where they look toothless is when there’s nothing to help them, for they don’t have the raw pace or hostility to trouble opponents on flat and unhelpful surfaces/conditions. No matter, for all bowling sides can be criticised for the times they don’t succeed, but England do have a useful unit, one that might be completed by a truly Test class spinner. Ah yes, the Moeen question – he has a poor average but it’s worth noting that he also has a very similar strike rate to Nathan Lyon. It’s hard to see anyone else being a radical improvement, which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be tried of course.
Today they forced a win they had little right to expect. It was great to watch, and a perfect example of why those who talk about four day Tests are quite simply wrong.
England can go to the top of the ICC Test rankings if they win the final Test. That is perhaps more reflective of a number of flawed sides in world cricket than anything else, for there is no outstanding team in the game, only ones who look good sometimes, dreadful others. A degree of uncertainty is not something to be unhappy about, though winning away in the modern era looks increasingly difficult to achieve.
This was a second good Test from three this series. If the final one of the summer approaches it then it will have been one of the better ones in recent years. It was therefore slightly disappointing that Edgbaston was barely half full for what was likely to be a good final day. This time it wasn’t about the pricing, as £16 for adults was well judged and good value.
It was a weekend, England had a good chance of winning and it was cheap. But not full or close to it. Perhaps this is having unreasonable expectations, misremembering a time when there were queues to get in; certainly the 80,000 spectators over five days seems a number the authorities are pleased with. It just doesn’t feel like cricket can ever again truly capture the public, and that’s a deep concern.
England 2-1 up, and no one has even thought about the score across the whole tour. I suspect most have forgotten about it. Which probably says it all.
One final point. The over rate today was excellent. Indeed had they needed to really push they might have been able to squeeze another in. Funny that.