It was all going swimmingly in the morning. TMS were even predicting a day 5 finish. The pitch looked so tame. There was no pace, no swing, no sting. It was almost Melbourne 2017ish. And everyone assumed it was just a matter of time before Alastair Cook signed off his test career the way he started it: with a ton.
But then lunch happened. And it was a completely different game thereafter. Whatever the ball ate with its pasta – steroids I assume – produced an almost surreal change in conditions. Suddenly it was swinging like a sexually frustrated couple with a liberal attitude to monogamy. And England’s batsmen were predictably flummoxed.
Having said that our batting took a while to collapse this time. Somehow Cook and Moeen – who looked anything like a test No.3 in these conditions – managed to survive until tea. Mo played and missed 30 (yes, thirty according to Sky’s statisticians) times.
And the Alastair that looked destined for a ton metamorphosed back into the uncertain opener we’ve seen for the last couple of years. The crowd were willing him on, but when a ball from Bumrah seamed back into him a little too much, we discovered that his infamous tank was empty after all. Groan.
The afternoon session was a painful exercise. Ishant, Shami and Bumrah had the ball on a string, and our batsmen came and went like cheap referendum promises. Root lost his balance (not for the first time) and was pinged in front. Bairstow (not for the first time) got a little squared up and nicked one behind, and Moeen’s luck eventually ran out.
Dear old Mo concentrated really well, and showed he has the patience to bat up the order, but I fear his game isn’t quite good enough at this level. He’s just too vulnerable in a couple of areas – not least outside off stump. He might do a job this winter but I fear Australia’s pacemen will have him on toast if he bats 3 in next year’s Ashes.
Although it’s tempting to lay into our batsmen yet again – after all, 133-1 to 198-7 is a weapons-grade collapse – this time I do have a little sympathy for them. The ball really did hoop around corners during the last session. Pant had an absolute nightmare behind the stumps. Several balls swung prodigiously before they reached the batsmen, and then swung even more once they passed the bat. It was like watching cricket with a hurricane Katrina style cross-wind. No wonder our batters struggled.
Having said that, England batsmen of bygone eras probably would have coped a lot better. This lot can’t really adapt their games successfully (not with any level of consistency anyway) due to their heavy diet of white ball cricket. Their day one run rate of 2.2 per over just about said it all really. They saw the ball swinging, freaked out a bit, and completely went into their shells.
It’s quite funny when you think about it. England collapse in a heap when they play their natural game and attack. This time they knuckled down, hardly played a shot in anger and …. collapsed in a heap.
Only three things in life are certain: death, taxes, and England batting collapses. At least it felt reassuringly familiar when we were reduced to 181-7. I felt a bit light-headed when there were three figures in the total column for the loss of just Keaton Jennings.
Let’s see what tomorrow brings.