There will be plenty said about this Test, the blow by blow accounts of what happened and why. It was genuinely remarkable, and the problem with the grade inflation of besteveritis is that all the superlatives have been used up on far lesser events and performances, leaving many to reach for the same words for something that did astonish.
Yet it should not be forgotten in the afterglow of praise for England’s approach of somehow extracting a win from a terrible pitch that plenty were queuing up to criticise as reckless both England’s approach to the second innings as they lost wickets, and also the declaration itself as far too generous.
Perhaps it is confusion, that Stokes and McCullum really mean it when they say they are prepared, as Warne would have put it, to lose to win, but there was a strong logic in what they decided that went far beyond simply dangling a carrot.
England could not have won the game had they batted on and only offered Pakistan a chance if they wanted to take wild risks. The final five wickets might have fallen in a heap, but the chiselling out of the top order batsmen required there to be the genuine prospect of a successful run chase. It wasn’t a matter of chucking everything on red and hoping for the best, it was a hard headed calculation as to the best prospect of winning. Had Pakistan chased it down, it still would have been a fine pursuit, but it wasn’t generous, it merely opened up a possibility sufficiently widely that there was little choice but for Pakistan to try to win given the time available, and that is what brought England in with a chance of bowling them out.
This isn’t always going to work, but it probably is England’s best chance of regular success. They aren’t an outstanding team by any means, and some of the stalwarts who have bought in to the new ethos are coming to the end. England will collapse in a horrible heap from time to time, but that was happening anyway, there was little to lose by trying this, and thus far it is working. That it won’t work every time is not the point – it can’t be argued that there will be criticism when it goes wrong given that there was plenty of criticism here even when it went right – in fact absolutely perfectly.
Outcome is everything. Its like the shot that just clears a fielder for six; there will be praise for it being a great shot, but if it falls two feet short and is caught, there will be cries that it was reckless. Same intent, slightly different outcome, but it is unhelpful to say the least to criticise the intention based on how well it turned out.
Yes, if they try this in the Ashes it might go wrong. Or it might go brilliantly. Either people buy in to what they’re attempting and accept it is a high risk but thoroughly calculating strategy, or call for them to do it completelt differently and traditionally overall. There’s not that much middle ground, and it’s certainly not reasonable to criticise the overarching strategy when it doesn’t work only to be adulatory when it does.
We know Test cricket is in trouble. This is a way of saving it for the future. Stokes has talked about his determination to do something to popularise the best format of cricket there is, and he deserves everyone’s support for that, because it’s really important, and a damn sight more so than a three match Test series.
You’re not going to find me having a go at them when this goes tits up and England get hammered, not even if it’s in the next Test. I love every element of what they are doing and I want more of it. And we are going to lose matches.
I made a flippant observation this morning that Ben Stokes would make an outstanding Sunday 2nd XI captain, but within that is a serious point – the creativity required for that thankless task is something he possesses in spades. It is genuinely a high compliment.
Strap yourselves in, we’re in for a hell of a ride.