About ten years ago, England had days like these on a regular basis – a powerful top end would build a platform, and the middle order would exploit a tiring attack to lift England fairly consistently to 400 and 500+ totals. Over the last six or seven years such days have been rare, with 300 more frequently the top end of their ambitions. One match doesn’t signal a return to those more productive times, but nor should it be ignored when it happens. England are in complete command of this Test match thanks to a record fifth wicket partnership between Zak Crawley and Jos Buttler, taking the team to a total of 583-8. Oh heady days.
There is ever a temptation to go overboard about young players when they first make their mark, and Zak Crawley’s 267 will doubtless lead to gushing praise and comparisons to others that don’t yet need to be made. It is enough to regard this innings as truly exceptional, and the player highly promising. He remains inexperienced to the point that this was only his fourth first class century in little more than 50 games, with an average of barely 30. Nothing at all to write home about. But there is a difference between identifying a young player with a modest record and believing he will develop into a fully fledged Test cricketer and simply persevering with someone for the sake of it. The modern day descent into besteveritis will likely mean that some of the praise is over the top in terms of the future career context, but that doesn’t, and shouldn’t take away from just how impressive he has been in this match.
It was an innings both of maturity and control – fluent throughout, solid in defence and despite admitting to nerves when in the nineties, seemingly unflappable as every milestone approached. It is one knock, but a hell of a knock, and if cricket is a game played in the mind, it can only help him believe he has all the ability needed to succeed. Rob Key, his mentor for many years is, and should be, extremely proud of him.
His partner throughout was Jos Buttler, a player whose own lack of a fine first class record made his initial selection a similar kind of punt, but with the difference that after nearly fifty Tests, he still had only one century to show for it. His wicketkeeping in the first Test too had shown significant errors, suggesting that the pressure was starting to show. Buttler isn’t an exceptional wicketkeeper by any stretch, but he is a generally competent one, albeit much less secure when standing up, as his lack of stumpings indicates. His selection in that role is a choice, a slightly compromised wicketkeeper picked for the runs he can score and the way he scores them. His shortcomings in his strongest suit were the main reason for his place coming under threat rather than his nominally primary role.
Here he was in control, his shot selection vastly improved compared to recently, and the pace of his innings suggested a player feeling in command for the first time in quite a while. The calls for him to be replaced were not in error, for stick with a player long enough and eventually they will score runs. But equally, when those calls are made, it needs to be acknowledged when he has come good, and as this series has gone on, he has looked much improved. Keeping faith with him cannot yet be said to be the correct decision, but the signs of him learning at last how to compile a Test innings suggests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that it will need to be acknowledged as a good one. Only time will tell, though there will be some players feeling that they too would have liked the degree of support given to Buttler, and the chance to repay that faith.
Two days, one innings; two players, two Daddy hundreds. The future can take of itself for both of them, today was very much their day, and they deserve all the plaudits going.
With a fine sense of crowd pleasing (even if on sofas and in cars up and down the country), Joe Root sent Stuart Broad in for a slog towards the end. Broad has become something of a national treasure over the last year or so, which is intriguing given that for so long he was a player who divided opinion so much, even when performing well. It is perhaps the fate of players who can change a match in a session that all too often it is asked why they don’t do it more often than celebrated for what a rare ability it is. But while his bowling has been of high quality (and seemingly increasing quality) for a number of years, his batting mojo seems to have returned, to some extent at least.
Broad’s batting decline led to it being both sad in itself and worthy of mockery. His resurrection – not to the near all rounder levels of ten years ago, but to a thrillingly attacking tailender – has changed perspectives from him being a figure of fun to one of adoration. Stuart Broad batting would empty the bars if they were open.
A short session attacking the Pakistan batsmen was available, and to the surprise of no one, inroads were made. Anderson picked up three, to take himself to 596 Test wickets, and a decent chance of reaching 600 by the end of the match. At 38, there is always the chance the end could come suddenly, and only the most churlish would lament him reaching such a landmark this week.
If Pakistan are to get out of this one, they will have to bat out of their skins, or hope that the weather gods are smiling on them more than they were in the Second Test. Conditions are one of the fickle factors that affect cricket, a random occurrence that can be utterly capricious. The visitors had every chance of winning the last match, and now they will probably need the weather to restrict their defeat to 1-0. No one ever said life was fair.
One last word on the weather. For this match the umpires have been given increased latitude in making up time at the start of the day as well as the end, and in moving the sessions around to maximise cricket. Some of the criticism in the 2nd Test was fully warranted, particularly around the inclination to go off the field rather than stay on. Yet here they have been proactive, and have learned a lesson. There was rain this morning, and lunch was pushed back to 2pm. As it turned out, that probably cost some playing time, with the weather sunny and dry during lunch, inviting more pointed comment. This was unfair, the umpires were doing their best to maximise play – they are not soothsayers when it comes to when the rain comes and goes. It was just a trifle unlucky. On this one, they should be cut a little slack.