So then. We’re 163 ahead, with all ten wickets left, and three sessions of the match remain. Can we win from here? You bet ya. All it takes is a quick 50 from Root, a cameo from Stokes, and maybe even a belligerent knock from Duckett (who should be in his element in this situation), and Cook can safely declare with a lead of 300 at lunch.
If England can manage 137 runs (or there abouts) in the morning then we’ll be able to put India under significant pressure late on the fifth day. The hosts might even collapse, Australia in Hobart style, and hand the game to us on a golden platter. Easy huh?
Unfortunately, test cricket doesn’t usually work this way. It’s just as likely that Hameed and Cook will bat for slightly too long, or we’ll lose a couple of wickets, and momentum will be lost. It was interesting that Sir Ian Botham, usually the biggest pie-eyed and one-eyed optimist in the commentary box, expected England to play it safe, take a winning draw, and move on to Visak unscathed. He even endorsed such an approach.
However, although I can see the logic in playing somewhat conservatively, and refusing to give India a sniff, one thing is playing on my mind: in reality, how many times will England get into a winning position during this series? Perhaps it’s best to attack, and try to register a victory, while the going’s good. It might not happen again if India wise up and prepare raging bunsens in the subsequent games.
Interestingly, the bookies obviously think England will play it safe (or at least be unable to force a result tomorrow). I’ve seen them as long as 15-1 to win on day five, with the draw an ominous looking 1/43. Even leading UK tipsters like bettingtips4you, who are usually worth a look, doubt Cook will suddenly metamorphose into Michael Clarke and set up an enticing chase. Of course, it’s often better to give the opposition a sniff rather than batting them out of the game completely if you to want force a result. But does Alastair have the cojones?
Even if England do settle for a draw tomorrow, I think we’ll emerge from the first test with a great deal of credit. Many of us feared the worst after Dhaka – especially as our record in the first test of overseas series isn’t always great – but we’ve handled ourselves really well. The batsmen cashed in when conditions favoured them, and although India managed to scrape up to 488 in their first innings, our bowlers didn’t disgrace themselves by any means. I thought we stuck to our task with tremendous discipline and made India’s excellent top 5 work really hard for their runs.
Adil Rashid, in particular, bowled really well. I’m pleased to report that he was a lot more accurate than we’ve seen in the past. The long-hops were few and far between, he ripped the ball past the outside edge a few times, and his googly continued to cause problems. What surprised me was the amount of bounce he managed to achieve. When leggies get bounce they can be a real handful.
The other big positive from day four was the maturity shown by Haseeb Hameed. With Cook looking nervous at the other end, I imagine Ben Duckett might have lost his head a little and tried to replicate his cameo at Dhaka. Instead Hamed played with consummate composure, decent technique, and looked every inch a test opening bat.
We need to stick with this guy even if he struggles somewhat at home next summer when the ball’s moving around more. However one defines ‘it’, Prince Haseeb, as I’m going to call him (nauseatingly) forevermore, certainly seems to possess it. I love the way he plays straight, drives elegantly, and most importantly of all, shares a birthday with yours truly.
Although Cook eventually settled down and encouragingly found some rhythm as the evening session progressed, an alien inadvertently turning up at Rajkot might have suspected Hameed was the one with 29 test hundreds to his name, not his illustrious partner.
Before I sign off – and I look forward to hearing what others think will happen tomorrow – I just wanted to mention the pitch. On the face of it, scores of 537, 488 and 114-0 suggest it’s something of a road. It hasn’t really played that way though. It’s obviously still good for batting (how could it not be?) but plenty of deliveries are disturbing the surface. More than the odd ball has bounced alarmingly and really spat at the batsmen.
I wonder if there will be a tipping point when the surface suddenly becomes reminiscent of Dhaka and Chittagong? And if that happens, will it happen early enough to give England a chance of taking ten wickets in sixty overs? I doubt it but stranger things have happened.
Oh, and by the way, have you noticed how I refuse to even contemplate the possibility of an England defeat tomorrow. It can’t happen. Definitely not. Well, almost definitely not.
Written in collaboration with BettingTips4You