Underdog Day Afternoon: Test Cricket Does it Again

The ECB are the lucky organisation.  They’ve done remarkably well to get Test series on this summer, with the help of the two visiting sides, but over the last couple of years they have been rewarded with some quite extraordinary finishes to international matches.  Overall, it’s hard to make a case that they deserve their exceptional fortune, but this summer, perhaps they do.  For today was one of those days that cricket can throw up, and which few sports can match.  It’s not just the drama of sport, it’s the elongated nature of it that is, if not unique, unusual.  Tension builds over time, over days.  A five day Test match is a special beast, and one to be cherished, particularly in these times where the whole concept is under threat.

The lack of crowd means that it’s not quite the same, it is a facsimile of the sport we know and love, but it is entirely forgivable and a price worth paying for the time being to be able to see it on television or listen to it on the radio.  That it can raise spirits in a time that needs spirits raising is an added bonus, but perhaps speaks most centrally to the value of sport itself, whatever the money men may insist.

The narrative of a Test match twists and turns, winds and loops, offering succour to those who need it, and exacerbating the pain of struggle for those who are finding sporting life difficult.  That England owed their win most of all to the twin innings of Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes added a delicious twist to the summer, for Buttler has been rightly under pressure for his place, both due to a lack of runs and his indifferent keeping in this match.  One swallow never makes a summer, but irrespective of the wider issues about the best choice for the wicketkeeper/batsman role, today was very much his day.  He played with freedom, confidence and aggression – his natural game, certainly, but one he’s struggled to display throughout his Test, and indeed county, career.  It is forever the case that selection and choice is wrapped in the paper of a thousand dilemmas and agendas, but on the day a player performs like this, only congratulations are needed, and only pleasure derived – both for a player and a human being.

In the post match interviews, Jos Buttler said that he felt that if he didn’t get runs today, he might have played his last Test for England.  Professional sport can be brutal, and the truth is that he may well have been right.  The personal tales weaving through a team game are endlessly fascinating.  Irrespective of merit, Buttler can enjoy his moment, while Joe Denly never got to experience his.  Such are the narrow margins, and Buttler’s quietly spoken charming nature makes it hard not to be anything but delighted for him.

Chris Woakes hasn’t been under remotely the same kind of pressure, for he is a bowler first and foremost, but his lack of runs had been noticed, most particularly by Shane Warne who demonstrated his usual monomania on a subject he’s newly discovered.  If runs had been hard to come by for him, today he was exceptional, as though he’d shrugged off any doubts and simply decided to play his shots.  Sometimes it works, and today was one of those days.  As is so often the case, when a player succeeds so dramatically, it’s hard to understand why they’d been having problems up until that point.

Pakistan should have won this match.  They outplayed England for three days, and added sufficient useful runs this morning to be in a strong, if not quite unassailable position.  Yet even that should have been a disappointment to them, for at times during this game England looked outclassed by their opponents.  England had a shot at victory today alright, but they really shouldn’t have been that fortunate.  If there’s one side-effect of the Ben Stokes absurdity in the World Cup final and at Headingley, it is that this England team will genuinely believe anything is possible, that they can win from anywhere.  It is a heady mental state to possess, and one that can materially change outcomes in a tight situation.

At 117-5,  the game seem almost up, Ollie Pope had just received a ball that had burst through the top and exploded off the pitch to give him no chance of avoiding gloving the ball in the air.  With a deteriorating surface and only Buttler and the bowlers to come, Winviz sternly informed the world, who couldn’t possibly have seen the evidence with their own eyes, that Pakistan were strong favourites.  What happened though was that as the ball got older and softer, the turn was still there, the bounce still inconsistent, but much more slowly off the pitch.  It was enough for the batsmen to cope.

There will be regrets from the tourists.  England got closer to their total in their first innings than should have been the case, largely due to Stuart Broad taking the long handle at the end, and in Pakistan’s second innings their overwhelmingly dominant position was steadily thrown away.  England bowled well, certainly, and gained a toehold in a game they had little right to be considered an equal party.  It remained profligate to toss away wickets and offer up a chance that oughtn’t to have been there.

It remains to be seen whether this first Test will be Pakistan’s best chance and if they wilt in the remainder of the series, but they have the talent to defeat this England team, they arguably have the greater obvious talent of the two.  Perhaps with two such mercurial sides nothing should surprise anyone, and if they both live up to the reputations for cricketing madness they have garnered, the next two matches might be a lot of fun.






10 thoughts on “Underdog Day Afternoon: Test Cricket Does it Again

  1. metatone Aug 8, 2020 / 7:27 pm

    I felt like in some ways the lack of matches started to tell on the Pakistan bowlers. They got a little tired. They remained willing and stuck at it, but that little edge of zip and threat went a bit. So I can see that they might be better in the next match.

    Of course, England can bowl more consistently and might have better balance if Stokes is fit, so pluses for both sides potentially.

    Major plus for England and I guess Graham Thorpe, England rarely looked comfortable against 2 leg spinners, but they didn’t collapse the way I expected. Big plaudits for the mental resolve of Buttler and Woakes, they did it under real pressure.


  2. Northern Light Aug 8, 2020 / 9:39 pm

    Once in nearly 50 tests doesn’t save Buttler for me. Surely you need a WK who can catch or perform stumpings, otherwise why not just sit a sack of cement behind the stumps?


    • thelegglance Aug 8, 2020 / 9:40 pm

      A valid point of course, but you can’t drop him after a match winning innings, that wouldn’t be fair either.


      • dArthez Aug 8, 2020 / 9:52 pm

        You mean, it would be unfair to drop him after he gifted Pakistan, what 150 runs to make the Test interesting to begin with? (yeah, I know that is exaggerated, but he did drop Masood on 45, so one can argue that that drop alone was 111 runs).

        One can just as easily argue that if there had been a competent keeper, England would have been comfortable winners chasing an almost nominal target.


        • thelegglance Aug 8, 2020 / 9:54 pm

          Yep, I do. Because it’s two different issues – the one about whether he’s the right choice anyway, and the reality that having scored runs he’s safe. Should it be that way? Probably not. I don’t think anything has changed, but it probably does.


  3. Ruth Aug 8, 2020 / 10:48 pm

    I have to commend you on your description of Warne’s comentary, His MONOMANIA is so annoying, particulary lying in bed in the wee small hours. He just doesn’t draw breath nor think his his partner on air has anything to contribute.

    Wasam when he was allowed to speak, is such a contrast. I must add I enjoy Ebony too, much more than Isha Gul.

    Surely someone at Sky can take these presenters aside and give them some advice.

    I was disappointed that Pakistan din’t win, maybe next week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • dlpthomas Aug 9, 2020 / 5:47 am

      Sky should have kept Bishop and let Warne enjoy lock-down in Melbourne,


  4. Neil Aug 8, 2020 / 11:18 pm

    I thought the interview with Buttler straight after the game was telling. The lad looked completely drained and virtually showed no jo at all, focusing on his wicketkeeping errors rather than his efforts today.
    Players drop catches. It happens.

    I thought sky were excellent this morning, particularly Nasser. He honed in on Ali and his captaincy. Turned out to be key, some woeful captaincy during the main partnership.


    • thelegglance Aug 8, 2020 / 11:42 pm

      I’ve always found the captaincy while things are spiralling out of control issue utterly fascinating. I’ve never had strong enough views to come to a conclusion about the hows, whys, or even how to stop it. But the disintegration of a team’s leadership is always extraordinary to watch.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Giles Falconer (@gmf56) Aug 9, 2020 / 10:37 am

    I’d say Jos’ batting earns him another few Tests, but I’d bring Foakes in to keep (assuming Stokes can bowl), and leave out a bowler – probably Jimmy on current form. If Stokes can’t bowl, then I think Jos has to keep again. But it’s a risk.

    NB I’d also like to play Leach for Bess, assuming he’s fit.


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