Wednesday, 28 October 2015

What next?

Wednesday, 28 October 2015
It wasn't quite the great escape England had dreamed of. Though Root, Bairstow, and Buttler had all fallen before lunch, and Stokes shortly afterwards, England were still battling it out with seven overs to go. The lower order became heroes - Rashid (61 from 172) and Wood (29 from 95) facing the most balls by a ninth wicket pair in the fourth innings of a test match, before Wood fell with 11.2 overs still to go. But after all that hard work, one late mistake from Rashid saw it all come to nothing. The shot will haunt him, but you can't criticise the man in his second test who batted the longest of England's batsman. It goes down as a heavy defeat, but it wasn't a surrender.

Now, with one match left to be played, England will be considering their options. England's batsmen are struggling to convince, and it was the collapse on the third morning that really cost them the match. They dug in on the final day, but even so it was numbers eight and ten who shone the most. The most likely change, one looking close to certain, would be for Taylor to come in for Buttler, with Bairstow taking on the gloves. There's no doubt of Buttler's talent and that he'll be important for years to come, but he's struggled so much since the second half of the summer. His confidence seems lost, and his natural game has disappeared. And the problem with wicketkeepers is that when the form disappears so much with the bat, mistakes can creep in with the gloves as well and it soon becomes difficult to justify a place. I do feel for him, but it will be hard to argue if this is the outcome. And with his immense importance to the limited overs teams, I feel that maybe the World Twenty20 should be looked upon as the priority.

Another option would be to bring Hales into the side, potentially making a second change and leaving out Ian Bell, the other man under huge pressure. Moeen Ali was always going to be a makeshift option as opener, and though he did a decent job in the first test, here he just wasn't looking the part. His second innings dismissal, going after the ball when there's a match to be saved, did not reflect well on him. I don't though want to be too critical of Moeen - he's being given such a difficult role when having no prior first class experience of the position. Really England are still struggling to work out where he fits best into the batting line up. At the moment, they might look stronger with a genuine opener there in Hales; the problem is that Hales has done very little recently to set the world alight. But if he's on the tour, then he has to be in contention - because otherwise why is he there? I would though expect England to stick with Moeen Ali for the next test, but his temporary role looks unlikely to be made permanent.

England will also be hoping for that slice of luck at the very beginning of the match. These are the kind of pitches you want to be batting first on - and not be batting last - but so far Misbah has won both of the tosses for Pakistan. It's the tiny moment you can do nothing about, but yet it can make a world of difference: all going to plan, the spinners would have the benefit of bowling with runs on the board - and a better chance to capitalise on the early strides the seamers have often made. Containment is not the natural game of Moeen or Rashid, and it's something they haven't been successful at - both having economy rates comfortably above four runs per over. But when the pressure of the scoreboard has been in play, the wickets have come more freely - just think of that final day in Abu Dhabi. The opportunity to bowl on a final day pitch - all going well, of course - would be such a boost for a spin twins, giving them a stage to shine and a license to attack.

England aren't quite out of this series yet. Pakistan will be favourites for the final match, sure, and absolutely deserved to take the series lead after that second test. They have the better bowling attack and better batting lineup for success in these conditions, and their whole team has contributed in a way that England's hasn't. With the bat it feels like there's always someone to score the runs - Asad Shafiq, Shoaib Malik, Younis Khan, and Misbah having all made centuries, and Mohammad Hafeez coming within a whisker with 98. And with the ball there's Wahab Riaz, who made the second test Pakistan's with some devastating bowling on day three; and Yasir Shah, causing havoc on his return from injury. Somewhat unsung too, are the opening bowler Imran Khan and the spinner Zulfiqar Babar, who has bowled far more overs than anyone else, including the small matter of 42 maidens.

But still it shouldn't be all doom and gloom for England. There's still a match to go, a match to get something out of this series, and there are some good points to pull strength from. There's the way the first test burst into life on the final day, thanks to the monumental innings of Alastair Cook and the debutant Rashid showing just how dangerous he could be. There's the way they came so close to getting something from this second test, the lower order showing a lot of character in refusing to roll over and die. Against Australia at Lord's, the end came much, much sooner. There's the way the pace bowlers have contributed: Wood being more of a hit in the second test; Stokes having a four wicket haul in the first; and Anderson having great figures for someone considered most effective in the swing-friendly conditions of home (Broad though has been a blip, with just two wickets). With the bat Joe Root's golden run is going on and on, and Cook looks in the mood to play those long, long innings just like his first (injury permitting). If they had a bit more support, then who knows, things might start falling magically into place.

As ever, it would be a tall ask, but I still don't think it's completely out of the question. England's flaws are clear to see, but even so I've seen enough glimmers to give me some hope that maybe they could get something out of this tour - though Pakistan will be the clear favourites. Both matches have gone the distance with more than one result possible in those final overs, two thrilling finales to show the series is full of life. Here's hoping for a third.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Two Short Legs © 2014