At the beginning of play today, the match was finely poised with all three results possible. By stumps, the odds of either team winning seemed virtually unchanged. And yet, in spite of this, it was a great day of Test cricket with tension and drama throughout. I complain a lot about various aspects of the sport, but games like this remind me why I love it.
The day began with all eyes on Anderson, England fans hoping that he could break through India’s top order in the morning. Instead, it was Mark Wood who knocked out both Indian openers. Virat Kohli followed soon after, reaching far outside off the edge a wide delivery from Sam Curran to England’s keeper. Kohli has struggled overseas in recent years, averaging just 21.36 outside India in the six Tests he’s played since 2020. India have a wealth of batting depth, and I don’t get the sense that he is quite as well loved in India as Tendulkar was near the end of his Test career, perhaps Dhoni as well. Whilst he’ll certainly see out this tour, I could see him be encouraged to ‘retire’ from Test cricket if his form doesn’t improve in the next year or so. Joe Root had a dip in form himself before a resurgent 2021, but England don’t have any young batters seriously pressuring him for a place in the side like India.
England were rampant at this point, looking to take a few more cheap wickets and finish off the match today. Instead, an obdurate batting display from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane kept the hosts at bay as the two Indian batters were in for almost half the day and dragged the game back to something approaching parity.
Something which genuinely annoys me is when people, and this includes a large portion of the media, insist that batting strike rate is of any real importance in Test cricket. Aside from a few, fairly rare situations (a challenging run chase on day five, for example), it really doesn’t matter how quickly you score your runs. Every Test team in the world would prefer a batter with a batting average of 60 and a strike rate of 30 to one with an average of 30 and a strike rate of 60. And yet, despite this, there is a constant narrative that slow-scoring batters are putting pressure on their teammates. I think Rohit Sharma trying to hook a bouncer for six but instead toe-ending it to Moeen Ali or Virat Kohli reaching two feet outside off stump and edging the ball to Buttler probably put more significantly pressure on India than Cheteshwar Pujara playing cautiously.
I like aggressive batting as much as the next person, but I often appreciate innings like those from Pujara and Rahane today even more. Partly I enjoy the growing frustration of the fielding team as they throw everything into trying to finagle a wicket, but also because this is something which is unique to Test cricket. A match in The Hundred has 200 deliveries, Pujara and Rahane’s partnership lasted 297. There was tension and drama throughout, unlike most white ball matches where I usually only bother to watch the end of the second innings. Those looking to replace Test cricket with a three-hour music concert interspersed with some cricket are cutting off their nose to spite their face.
As the day reached its conclusion, England finally managed to take a few more wickets. In particular, Moeen Ali drew two edges from Rahane and Jadeja. Whilst I’m happy both for England taking wickets generally and Moeen doing well in particular, the English batters might not particularly look forward to the prospect of facing Ravindra Jadeja on a pitch which seems conducive to spin and has had the odd ball stay low. Any target over 200 could be very tricky indeed.
One thing which potentially makes England’s route to victory even more difficult are the overs lost in the game so far. After managing 90 overs on the day one, neither team has achieved this rather fundamental aspect of cricket in the following three days. Today finished 8 overs short, although England might have managed five or six more had bad light not intervened. The fielding teams on Friday and Saturday had no such excuse, when 13 overs went unbowled. Altogether, we have seen 21 overs less overs than we should have done with the only day which actually delivered the allotted deliveries being the one where it rained several times! Apart from cheating paying customers out of extra cricket, those 21 overs might make a huge difference in terms of whether either team can force a result tomorrow.
India’s captain made something of a spectacle of himself in the last few overs, seemingly gesticulating to the umpires that the game should be halted due to bad light whilst England were bowling their spinners. Trying to shorten the day’s play is rarely going to endear you to the paying public such as ourselves, and is at best gamesmanship. Kohli might be said to have a very Australian approach to fair play in cricket: That something can only be wrong if the opposition are doing it.
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