England’s quest for a fourth successive win was thwarted once more by the weather, as the third day of the second Test against Pakistan in Southampton was abandoned without a ball bowled.
With the first innings of the game still incomplete – Pakistan are 223 for nine after choosing to bat on Thursday morning – a draw looks the most probable outcome, damaging England’s chances of putting pressure on India and Australia at the top of the ICC’s World Test Championship.
Only the top two will qualify for the final, currently scheduled for next June – though the coronavirus pandemic, which has already caused the cancellation of several matches, may yet force a postponement.
But with 40 points available for each win in this three-match series, England went into it knowing that only a 3-0 victory would allow them to cling on to the coat-tails of the two leaders.
They trail India by 94 points, and Australia by 30, though the Australians have a series in hand. Meanwhile, tough winter assignments against Sri Lanka and India have placed an onus on England to win everything at home – and their set of result this summer already includes an unexpected defeat by West Indies.
The impasse in this game, which has seen only 86 overs bowled across the first three days because of rain and bad light, is likely to leave England 1-0 up going into Friday’s third and final Test here – though the long-range forecast for that game is also mixed.
If their lead remains slender, England will face a tricky decision over which of their bowlers to pick as they look to wrap up their first series victory over Pakistan for a decade.
James Anderson began this biosecure summer expecting to play in only four of the six Tests because of rest and rotation. But in this game – already his fourth – he has looked close to his best in returning figures of 24-5-48-3. Since he needs only seven more wickets to become the first seamer in Test history to reach 600, the temptation will be to play him on Friday, and get him over the line.
One solution would be for England to leave out off-spinner Dom Bess, who has not bowled a ball so far in this match – having also drawn a blank during the second Test against West Indies in Manchester.
That would allow England to recall either Jofra Archer or Mark Wood, and leave the spin bowling in the hands of Joe Root. Equally, they could protect their series lead by strengthening their batting, which could mean a first Test cap for Gloucestershire’s James Bracey.
For the time being, there was frustration at the Ageas Bowl yesterday when a damp outfield persuaded the umpires there was no chance of play. What little rain did fall was never stronger than light drizzle, but thick cloud cover and a lack of wind meant the surface didn’t dry as quickly as normal.
Bad light was also a factor, but there seemed precious little urgency among the match officials to set the groundstaff to work. And when the rain did arrive shortly after 5pm, an abandonment quickly followed.