Thousands of cricket supporters watching England try to chase down 319 to win on the final day of the Second Test against India yesterday, either sitting in their seats at Lord’s or via whatever screens were to hand, looked on in utter astonishment as in the space of a few mad minutes first Prior, then Stokes and finally Root pulled short balls from Ishant Sharma straight into the hands of waiting fielders as if they were demented festival –goers on speed, incapable of saving themselves from themselves.
It looked very bad. It was very bad. But it was not some wild bacchanalian orgy of intoxication. England were working to a plan, hatched well in advance – perhaps at the team meeting the night before. For this Moores and Cook must take responsibility.
Here is Coach, Peter Moores, speaking to Sky 4.00pm after the presentations had been conducted, “Once we got them to bowl short, and they were bowling short, and we started to skip along, you thought, if you could do that for 30 or 40 minutes and get the target under 100, the pressure would be back on India.”
It is here, 2.30 minutes in:
“Once we got them to bowl short.” See off the swing bowlers, master the spin, Dhoni will reach for the short stuff … Cricketers are sharper than pundits need to allow them to be, but perhaps they are not so worldly wise.
Were England really ever ‘skipping along’? Sure, Root and Prior at first seem comfortable pulling with high hands down on the ball and put on a quick and adroit 25, but, when once Sharma managed to get the ball shoulder height and/or when the ball was outside off and needed to be fetched back, the odds changed.
Was that not the time to be highly discriminatory? Was it not the job of the Coach to advise and the Captain to decided to call a halt; to review the tactics.
With Prior gone (198/6), England’s task was not under 100 and the next batsman was coming out on a pair. “Hang on in there a bit Stokesey. No heroics. Tell Joe to see off Sharma and let’s have a look what they do with the new ball.”
As it was, Stokes predictably perished (201/7) and, unaccountably, Root, although always looking at ease against Sharma, persisted with, of all shots, the pull (201/8). His dismay at his dismissal demonstrated how hard it is for batsmen to think clearly out in the middle until it is too late. He needed to be told, “Games changed”. The clear thinking had to come from the coaching staff and the Captain at that moment. It didn’t.
Pietersen knew a thing or two: Moores is no more than a conditioning coach. Cook is not a captain. England are in a state of confusion that Downton and Whitaker have not been able to clarify for them.
[As Growl Tiger reminds readers in his comment below: “In cricket, as in chess, a gambit should only be accepted if you have evaluated that it leads to the better endgame.”]