The worst part about one sided Test matches is that long periods of play can amount to going through the motions, at least for the team that is adrift in the match. Today was certainly in that category, for it wasn’t until the last 9 overs of play that the match perked up somewhat, as we arrived at the business end of events.
Not that any of this is remotely India’s fault, if fault is even the right word. From the beginning of play it was clear that India’s lead of approaching 300 was already likely to be enough, but with three days of the match to go, they could afford a leisurely day of run building, whilst needing to take few risks in doing so. The morning was largely soporific, India adding just 72 to their overnight score, whilst England were content enough after the initial burst to opt largely for containment. Pujara and Kohli accumulated nicely, with the latter much the more fluent, which perhaps surprises no one. All in all, it was that rarest of beasts in recent times – Test match batting.
Had the outcome of the match been in question, it would have been far more interesting to observe, for certainly England got some life in the air and off the surface, and even created the odd chance, though Buttler dropped one and Jennings another before the innings was done. It’s not been a happy time of it in the slip cordon, and most have been culpable at one time or another. A catching success rate against the seamers that amounts to roughly one in two is going to make life harder than it need be, if nothing else, but it also indicated that a team less generous than England were going to take wickets.
That there was movement in the air was indicated by how one that moved after passing the bat caught Jonny Bairstow on the end of the finger. It’s always worth finding an old wicketkeeper and asking them what that’s like – the wincing and head shaking rather gives it away. Little concentrates the mind about catching technique quite as much as being entirely aware of how much it hurts when you get it wrong. With Bairstow off to hospital for an X-ray that would reveal a fracture, Buttler took over behind the stumps – perhaps the one bright spot of the day being that England at least do have more than one wicketkeeper in the side
The dismissal of Pujara came as something of a surprise, not least to him, but given it was his first fifty in 16 first-class innings, he can be forgiven for taking his time over it, and the extended net that this second innings had become was ideal for playing himself back into form, which may yet be pivotal in the series. England didn’t give up, they kept at him, and certainly didn’t offer up many freebies, which is probably as much as anyone could ask for in the circumstances. What is notable is how few commentators were kidding themselves before the start of play that one fantastic session would get England back into the game. There’s an air of resignation about this match.
Kohli’s dismissal for 103 brought a nice statistical quirk, acutely observed in the comments here by Arron (nonoxcol), that he now has match totals of 200 runs in two Tests this series. A rarity indeed, and nearly enough to cause people to pay attention to what was going on.
Post tea, the urgency began to increase somewhat, at least in the mind of Hardik Pandya, while Rahane at the other stirred himself once in a while to score a run or two. India have entirely earned this right, and keeping the England bowlers out there while the pitch wears and the bowlers tire is as much a part of the game as anything else. But it lacks jeopardy, perhaps the most important element of a game of cricket and the reason to keep watching. For there was simply no need for India to worry about it; the runs were coming freely enough, and there was no time constraint to cause calculations to be made about time remaining. Nevertheless, a half hearted effort at a late injection of pace allowed Hardik to complete an enjoyable run a ball half century, and that was that, time for the declaration.
What invariably happens when a team is faced with a preposterous target is that various lists are put up about the highest run chases in history, and when the required runs are vastly in excess of the world record, the timeless Test between South Africa and England is mentioned. It’s a rite of passage for any cricket fan to be educated on what has happened nigh on a century ago to allow them to pretend that a given Test is not going in one direction only. Still, it passes the time.
A short session to bat isn’t easy, and Cook and Jennings did well to survive it, albeit with an element of fortune from time to time. But such circumstances often occur with a day remaining, as one side fights desperately to keep their wickets intact to have a chance of salvaging a draw on the last day.
There are two days to go.
OK, it’s theoretically possible that England could offer some decent resistance, but the problem is twofold: It’s not just that the player-who-might-conjure-up-a-brilliant-rearguard-in-the-fourth-innings-but-hardly-ever-does looks either hideously out of form or in terminal decline depending on whether someone is an (extreme) optimist or otherwise, it’s that the rest of the batting line up have no sense of permanence about them whatever. Even if they score runs, they do so quickly. This is a team without the slightest prospect of hoping to bat 150 overs (let’s be generous and assume some rain). Indeed, the absurdity of England’s position is such that they probably have a better chance of winning the game than they do of drawing it, and probably in about 120 overs too. Clearly this is pure whimsy, for there’s not a cat in hell’s chance of that happening, but it’s illustrative of an England side for whom the art of batting in a Test appears to be a receding memory.
The expectation must be that this is done tomorrow. And then the inquest can begin, with particular prizes on offer to all those in the media expressing surprise that this has happened again.