I don’t think I’ve ever felt so nervous waiting for a batsman to reach three figures. I didn’t even particularly care about the wickets falling at the other end for a period. It was all about Rory Burns. Could he reach those three magical figures?
When the moment finally arrived I was chuffed to bits for the bloke. He waited years for an opportunity – far too long in fact – and it came in Sri Lanka, where spinners are the staple diet. And as we all know, spinners aren’t Rory’s favourite dish.
Things improved slightly in the Caribbean where he made a promising start, but then the runs dried up again. People were beginning to talk. Can Burns do it? Is his technique good enough? Why does he look like he’s having a neck spasm every time the bowler runs in?
But today the doubters were silenced. It looks like England might have found themselves an opener. It’s all very well scoring runs against popgun attacks, or when conditions are particularly favourable, but this was a tough hundred made against a very good attack.
Yes he had his share of luck, and he didn’t always seem to know where his off stump was, but he battled incredibly hard. And when the opportunities to score came along he usually cashed in.
What impressed me most was Burns’s approach and body language at the crease. He was positive from the outset – not necessarily in terms of runs scored but his feet moved well and he was positive in defence. He had energy. And other than the occasional aberration he looked the part.
And what a difference a big contribution from one of the openers makes. England haven’t had that in a meaningful game for a long time. With the exception of his big ton at the MCG in the most benign conditions imaginable, and his farewell ton at the Oval, Alastair Cook failed to produce in the last two years of his career.
But today an England opener faced up to a quality attack, on a decent but hardly belting batting wicket, and finally played what could turn out to be a match defining innings. It makes such a refreshing change. And the team is in a strong position as a result. Well played, Rory.
The other thing that impressed me was that Burns set the tone. He inspired his teammates to play proper test innings. Joe Root looked out of form at the beginning but he dug in and managed to score a valuable fifty. Ben Stokes also continued his World Cup form by playing sensibly as conditions dictated.
The result was that the team ‘compiled’ – and when did we last use the word ‘compiled’ when describing England’s batting? – a proper test match innings. That run rate of 2.6 per over absolutely delights me after the ephemeral crap we’ve put up with since Tom Harrison very unhelpfully suggested that the team needed to play positively and risk losing to win.
England’s position looks very promising on the scoreboard overnight – and today was a really good day – but we shouldn’t get carried away yet though. There’s already quite a lot of spin so I wouldn’t want to chase much more than 150 in the 4th innings.
We need to set our sights on a lead of at least one hundred if we can get it. And then the bowlers will need to dig deep.
At the least the news on Jimmy Anderson looks relatively positive. But should we risk him? There’s much to ponder.
But tonight we should all be feeling very positive. This has been a good test match thus far. And England are in a good position to win it.