England”s bowlers have been generally excellent in Pakistan’s first innings, which made it all the more frustrating that they lost the plot after knocking over the first eight wickets.
In the first Test in Manchester, they had a bad spell after lunch on the first two days and here they had another crazy hour or so before bad light brought an early tea. The skies were grey, the lights were on and the new ball was in the hands of Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes.
So why did England have five men on the boundary and why did they start trying to bowl short and employ cunning plans when all they needed to do was keep aiming for the top of off-stump?
There really was no need to do anything differently. If they had carried on as before, bowling the accurate lines and lengths that had reduced Pakistan to 176 for eight, they would have bowled them out for well under 200. It wasn’t as if they were bowling to Virat Kohli or Steve Smith, guys who routinely bat well with the lower order. This was Mohammad Rizwan we’re talking about — a Test novice with one half-century before this, trying to make his way in English conditions.
Well played to him but he would have enjoyed the fact England departed from the plans that had served them so well, especially after lunch, when they made a slight adjustment and bowled fuller with predictable results.
People will give Joe Root credit when England win — and they’ve won their last six Tests when he’s been in charge. But he’ll also understand that criticism will come his way for sessions like this.
Having said that, if my bowlers all average 25 or under in home conditions, as Broad, Woakes and Jimmy Anderson do, I’d want them to point out to me there shouldn’t be men on the fence when the No 10 is in.
I’d want them to say, ‘I’m Stuart Broad, I’ve been bowling beautifully all summer and I’ve got more than 500 Test wickets to my name. I back myself to bowl normally to Rizwan and Mohammad Abbas and to get them out.’
This kind of thing would be a worry if England’s bowling this summer hadn’t been excellent 95 per cent of the time. But I think we can still write it off as an aberration in these conditions.
It’s a bit like what we saw with Anderson last week. Because we’ve grown so used to his excellence down the years, it came as a shock to everyone, including Anderson himself, when he briefly let his standards slip in Pakistan’s first innings at Emirates Old Trafford. In a sense, it only highlighted how good he is the rest of the time.
That’s not to say England don’t need to take a look at why these periods of play happen. In their last three series it hasn’t mattered that much, because they’ve been up against vulnerable batting line-ups in South Africa, West Indies and Pakistan.
The problem will come if they lose control in Australia, with Smith 150 not out on a flat pitch and the Kookaburra ball doing nothing off the seam. That’s when these things can catch up with you.
It was a shame, because they’d bowled well and it was doing so much through the air that even Broad was swinging it. If anything, they might have bowled even fuller than they did. At times there were too many what we call ‘pretty’ deliveries, with the batsmen beaten by short-of-a-length balls that don’t really threaten the outside edge.
After England were able to collect their thoughts at tea, they came out and bowled a fuller length. Sure enough, Broad trapped Abbas leg-before with his first ball. It was just strange they hadn’t worked it out earlier.