Test cricket’s obituary might well have been written by many on the IPL’s payroll, but Lord’s witnessed the subtle charm of Test cricket and why the body is far from cold.
Certainly, 26 May 2018 was not a day that will match the legendary status of Botham’s Ashes or South Africa’s heroic Sydney Test victory in the 1990s. It might not be a match that will be replayed for decades or have millions of hits on YouTube, and it’s not a day of cricket that will turn the heads of the IPL masses.
Admittedly, Test cricket’s evolution might still have many twists and turns in store for us all, but what it did show was that it is the battlefield on which mighty warriors can slug it out and wage war physically as well as tactically over hours and even days.
When England captain Joe Root was trapped lbw by Mohammad Abbas for a well-played 68 off 120 balls (with eight fours), the England innings was in total disarray and the five-day Test was looking like being put to be before the Sunday.
Openers Alastair Cook (1) and Mark Stoneman (9) were gone, along with the rest of the top six, Dawid Malan (12), Jonny Bairstow (0) and Ben Stokes (9) all flopped out when their country called on them for mightier efforts.
With six wickets down and only 110 runs on the board, England still needed 69 runs to send Pakistan back in for their second innings. It was not looking good by any stretch of the imagination.
Enter 20-year-old Dominic Bess on his Test debut, having scored just five in the first innings and failing to take a wicket in 17 overs during Pakistan’s first innings, during which he was England’s costliest bowler, going for 3.47 runs to the over.
But it was time to cometh the hour, and the debutant partnered Jos Buttler to knuckle down at their task. Over the next 101 minutes, the pair added 125 runs for the seventh wicket, seeing play through to the close to allow England to regroup and start again tomorrow, with fresh tactics and resolve in the can.
Buttler was undefeated on 66 off 130 balls (six fours) and Bess had reached a maiden Test half-century. Bess has only one first-class century to his credit, but he’ll be motivated to see his name etched on the honours board at Lord’s by registering a Test century at the home of cricket, as will Buttler. The latter has a handful of first-class centuries under his belt but, to date, no Test century. The script is Hollywood-tight for dramatics on day four, although Father Time could equally throw a spanner in the works.
The Pakistanis all bowled well, with the figures of the day going to Mohammad Amir (2-35, economy 2.05), Mohammad Abbas (2-36, economy 2.40) and Shadab Khan (2-63, economy 3.31).
England will start the fourth day with a 56-run lead and four wickets in hand. With two days still available for battle, everything is pointing towards a Pakistan win, but that is the beauty of Test cricket. It is why the game will never die. Evolve? Sure, it needs to shed some bits and grow some new pieces, but the ebb and flow of a Test match, as well as the opportunities for a team to change their fortunes, is what makes Test cricket so special to us.
After all, it reflects life and how, even if we keep losing session after session, as long as we stay in the fight, we have the chance to turn our fortunes on their head and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat… or, equally, grab defeat from the jaws of victory!
England could easily be bowled out in the first session tomorrow morning but, quite possibly, they might just build on their seventh-wicket partnership to put Pakistan under pressure. The smart money is banking on Pakistan but, to the credit of Test cricket, England have time on their side and, unlike in limited-overs cricket (or ‘drastically limited-overs cricket’), time – and how each team uses it – can sometimes prove to be the deciding factor in any Test match.
Main photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images