Today’s play has been more a Test of players’ and fans patience, rather than the cricketing skills of the two sides as we hoped. The rain and thunderstorms have meant that our focus has been on the skies, rather than the playing field adjacent to an out-of-town hotel complex near Southampton. In truth, the BBC weather forecast looks depressingly wet for the duration of the game, and so it might be a tough task for the two teams to contrive a result in the circumstances.
England sprang a slight surprise in their selection for this game, choosing Sam Curran over Mark Wood to replace the rested Jofra Archer. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, Curran is probably the bowler best suited to today’s damp and cloudy conditions as well as being a useful lower-order batsman at times. However, both Archer and Wood were selected for the first Test of the summer in a move which was supposed to help England prepare for the Ashes in 2021/22. I love watching Curran bowl in England, but I am very dubious of his effectiveness overseas.
The other change to England’s lineup was Zak Crawley replacing Ben Stokes, who has left for New Zealand due to a family emergency. Joe Root might be a little relieved, returning to his more comfortable sport as number four in the batting lineup, but Stokes’ departure is a huge blow for England. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of Crawley based on what I’ve seen so far. The other recent batting debutants, Ollie Pope and Dom Sibley, just look like Test players to me. Their batting seems largely confident, assured and technically sound. Crawley, who has a first-class batting average of just 30.51 and a Test average of 26.10, doesn’t look ready for international cricket to me. I would personally have preferred to pick Ben Foakes today, as I think that he’s a better batsman than Crawley as wellas a better wicketkeeper than Buttler.
Pakistan only made one change from the previous Test, with Fawad Alam replacing Shadab Khan. Fawad Alam’s return to the team is notable for two reasons. First, there has been a 11-year gap since his last game for Pakistan in 2009. Second, his first-class batting average is 56.78. That is astoundingly high, and begs the question: Why has he not been playing for Pakistan before now? I certainly don’t regard Pakistan as a team of such batting strength that they can afford to leave talent like that on the sidelines for a decade.
Pakistan won the toss, and did what almost everyone does nowadays and chose to bat first. What play there has been today can be divided into two halves. In the first, before a two-hour rain delay, almost everything seemed to go Pakistan’s way. Jimmy Anderson made a breakthrough in his second over of the day, taking the important wicket of Shan Masood and at least starting the process of backing up his fiery pre-match press conference. What followed was a series of spurned chances as Jos Buttler’s case of the dropsies had evidently spread to the slip cordon. Rory Burns and Dom Sibley both dropped clear chances to take Abid Ali’s wicket from Broad and Woakes’ bowling, whilst a fine edge by Azhar Ali was missed by everyone (including the umpire). It was a truly uncanny period of play, where it seemed like there was nothing England could do to take a wicket. Pakistan’s luck couldn’t hold out forever though, and Azhar Ali edged one from Anderson to Burns in the slips who held on this time.
Soon after, the heavens opened and the players left the field for over an hour. When play resumed, Pakistan’s luck deserted them as England took three wickets in the space of twelve overs. Burns and Sibley both redeemed themselves for their earlier mistakes by holding on to catches at slip from Curran and Broad’s bowling respectively. Fawad Alam’s day 11-year wait for a Test run continues too, as Chris Woakes trapped him lbw for a 4-ball duck.
After a frustating start to the day for England, they’d be pretty happy about the situation at the end of the day. Pakistan are 126/5, and it would be an incredible feat for them to turn that around and win the Test and the series.
During the Lunch break, I happened to listen to a small part of Test Match Special. I was surprised to hear Mark Ramprakash’s voice, as I didn’t think he had any media aspirations. What didn’t surprise me, although I obviously made a note of it, was his opinions when it comes to selecting batsmen.
Q: “What is it that makes management back somebody, despite the statistics sometimes?”
Mark Ramprakash: “Well it’s all subjective. It really is. A change of coach can mean that there’s a change of emphasis on the lineup. It can happen in any sport, really. The question I’d ask is, if you’re a number five batsman, yes you bring your batting to the team but what else do you bring to the team? Now sometimes there are leadership qualities that we, looking from outside, don’t see. The importance of someone’s presence, the way they speak in team meetings, the way they are around the group. They may add some other qualities other than their batting. There’s always a balance between stability, trying to build some faith and consistency in your players and in your selection, but also there is a fine line before you can become a bit complacent. You do need to have competition for places, I guess that’s the balance Pakistan will be thinking about.”
To remind everyone, Ramprakash was England’s Test batting coach from 2014 to 2019. It is one of the truly baffling thing to me about cricket, and particularly English cricket, where there is so much emphasis on off-the-field attributes when it comes to selection. Players who struggle keep their place because they are ‘hard-working’, ‘well-liked’ or “the way they are around the group” whilst stronger cricketers are cast aside because they are ‘lazy’, ‘distrusted’ and ‘like to look out of windows instead of paying attention to a middle manager waffling on’. You can’t imagine football fans accepting their team fielding a weaker sidedue to one of the players being a bit of a knob, because their fans value victories over everyone in the team having a jolly time and being friends off the pitch. Nor with any other professional sport, that I can think of. It genuinely puzzles me, why this attitude remains in English cricket and the media.
Hopefully there will be a lot more play tomorrow. If you have any comments, on the game or anything else, post them below.