There will always be slow days in Test cricket when patience is required from the players and the spectators and this was one of them. On Monday this became a waiting game especially for England fans yearning for something to celebrate.
The obstacles came from the weather (of course) and from some excellent, obdurate batting from Pakistan on a pitch that declines to deteriorate. Around the corner was the possibility of an England victory and, as we have been reminded so frequently, Jimmy Anderson’s 600th Test wicket and that is where those landmarks remained. As things stand the latter is more likely to take place than the former on the final day. Pakistan are 100 for two and Anderson took the wicket of Abid Ali, his 599th in Test cricket.
It was not a good day to drop what seemed like a straightforward catch behind the stumps since there were so few chances of taking a wicket. Not for the first time in his career Anderson found the edge of Shan Masood’s bat; the ball sailed towards the gloves of Jos Buttler but never actually hit them. It must have deviated treacherously before hitting Buttler’s thigh. On this occasion Anderson was more mystified than mortified. After the chaos of Sunday night this was the fourth drop off Anderson’s bowling in 37 deliveries.
We have been informed that on Sunday night these dropped catches stemmed from dangerously dark light; on Monday morning from devious swing after the ball has bounced. But they say it has absolutely nothing to do with the imminence of Anderson’s 600th wicket, which might add a bit of tension to those hands.
The impression given is that no one in the dressing room is conscious of an impending record; wins rather than personal landmarks are the goal. Well, yes, maybe, but these things are not mutually exclusive; there is no shame in being conscious of the stats. Players expressing surprise about personal records, their own or somebody else’s, are not always convincing. In a distant era the protestation “I never read the papers” was always dodgy, especially after a good day. Some are motivated by the stats; the great Richard Hadlee was one of them and Stuart Broad probably is today; this does not make them lesser cricketers; it may enhance them.
Admittedly Anderson gives the impression that he is not too bothered by landmarks; they seem a bit of a hindrance to him. He may not want all that attention. It took him an age to get past Ian Botham’s 383 in the Caribbean in 2015. Here the news bulletins have decided that Anderson’s 600 is a national event. This does not appear to have affected the bowler greatly, just the catchers.
So there was frustration for England. Ollie Pope was compelled to leave the field after damaging his left shoulder trying to save a boundary; nothing much was happening out there and then it started to rain. After an early lunch Broad managed the breakthrough when Masood padded up against him. Masood reviewed but he need not have bothered since it was the impeccable (so far) Michael Gough who had raised his finger.
This heralded the arrival of Azhar Ali, who might have been expected to open the batting since he appeared on Sunday night with Masood. However it transpires that since the umpires took the players off before announcing that play had started Pakistan could resume with their normal opening pair.
Azhar was watchful yet assured from the start of his innings. He was now moving automatically into the right position. Before his century on Sunday one could sense him fretting about that. At the other end Abid was digging in dutifully, deflecting the ball away for his runs. The pitch was now brown and true and the ball soft.
Soon Root turned to Dom Bess but there was not much help for him either – except from the experts in the commentary box. Earlier in the day he had enjoyed chatting to Shane Warne on the subject of spin bowling – and who wouldn’t? So every delivery seemed to be scrutinised. It was just as well Bess had discarded his earpiece by then.
Bess bowled perfectly well. There is a tricky balance to be found especially for a young spinner, bowling on a true surface to Pakistan batsmen who are adept against slow bowling. The yearning is to have him aiming wider of off-stump in pursuit of either edge of the bat but the margin of error when bowling that line is greatly reduced.
Bess has advanced significantly over the past 18 months; he is eager to listen and improve. Now there is more energy on the ball and he has become more accurate; he is also learning how to bowl on non-spinning pitches. His meteoric rise came about because he had the opportunity to play on helpful surfaces at Taunton; without that he would not be anywhere near the England team. As I may have mentioned before, in the modern game the spinner leaving the bat has become more successful, partly because they can benefit from those “DRS” lbws and this summer there have been a lot of right‑handers in the opposition. Hence Bess has had a tough gig.
Eventually Anderson found a glimmer of reverse swing and Abid was lbw just before bad light and more rain intervened. No doubt the slip cordon, like everyone else, will be on red alert when he resumes on Tuesday (weather permitting).