Another good day for England. Although we lost both Cook and Hales early on, Root, Vince (yes, Vince), Bairstow and Moeen took the game away from Pakistan. Nobody went on to make a big score – although Jonny might seal a century tomorrow morning if Cook decides to bat on – but collectively the batsmen did enough.
So now the million dollar question: when should Cook declare. At one point, after I’d got a few ales under my belt, I advocated declaring overnight. “Pakistan will never score 311 on the 5th day” I said “they’ll be scared because of their enormous tail”. But the sober reality is that this pitch is now as flat as a pancake. England looked pretty much untroubled all day. There’s very little movement for the seamers, not much carry, precious little swing, and absolutely no turn whatsoever. Batting out the 5th day should be a piece of cake for Paksitan … if they can handle the pressure.
The optimist in me, however, doesn’t think Pakistan’s batters will handle the situation well. There might be a good crowd at Edgbaston tomorrow, and if England take a couple of wickets in quick succession, the atmosphere might become quite raucous. What’s more, both sides will know that England only really need six wickets before they’ve got an end to bowl at. Misbah might have to do the job himself.
In many ways test cricket is played in the mind. We’ve seen teams capitulate before and we’ll see it again. Pakistan will know they blew their big chance to win the game yesterday evening when they bowled very poorly and surrendered their lead all too easily. Now they’re battling to save the game, the psychology will be intriguing. And let’s face it, they’re not the most resilient of teams.
As it’s Saturday night as I write this, and the result is still up in the air, I won’t do too much analysis for now. We’ll talk about Vince’s innings, and yet another casual dismissal, when the game is done. There will be plenty of time to talk about the repetitive nature of England’s other dismissals too: once again Root was out after top edging the spinner, and Ballance went across his stumps too far and was caught at leg slip.
For now let’s just hope that tomorrow brings victory after a day of high drama. Test cricket needs close finishes, and it would be a real shame if the pitch wins, Warwickshire laugh all the way to the bank, and the fans (and players) leave the ground bemoaning a lack of excitement. I sense much will depend on the timing of Cook’s declaration.
Over to you, Alastair.