The ideal Test match has both sides scoring around 350 in the first innings and 250-300 in the second. In other words, it’s a match in which both batsmen and bowlers have the chance to flourish. Ideally again, there should be at least two centuries and a couple of five-wicket hauls. The game should ebb and flow and it doesn’t matter if it ends in a draw. Indeed, a draw may be the right result. One example of such a game was the Lord’s Test in the 1953 Ashes series. Len Hutton and Keith Miller made hundreds. There were brilliant innings from Arthur Morris (89) and the young Tom Graveney (78), and fine bowling from Ray Lindwall and Alec Bedser. On the fifth day England escaped from what seem certain defeat thanks to an epic stand between Willie Watson and Trevor Bailey. They finished some 40 runs short with three wickets in hand.
Last week’s Lord’s Test wasn’t as great but it was pretty good. Pakistan’s splendid captain Misbah-ul-Haq scored a lovely hundred and there was great bowling from the leg-spinner Yasir Shah and England’s Chris Woakes. Shah is a delight to watch and a challenge to play, probably the best Test leggie since Warne. In his early Tests Woakes looked to me like one of these very good county all-rounders who might not be good enough with either bat or ball to cut it in Test matches. How wrong I was. He bowled beautifully at Lord’s and batted more sensibly than men higher in the order. There was also the delight in seeing Mohammed Amir back playing Test cricket. I hope his misdemeanour six years ago is now forgiven, if not forgotten.
England, thanks to Woakes, got themselves into a position from which they should have won. They didn’t because three of their top order batsmen – Alex Hales, Joe Root and James Vince got out in the second innings playing rash shots. Of the three Root was the most disappointing and most culpable.
He is England’s most complete batsman, the latest in the great succession of Yorkshire right-handers: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Boycott and Vaughan. There’s nothing he’s not capable of and his judgement is so good that he doesn’t need to play extravagant shots or take chances to score quickly. Unlike many English players, he can score quickly without hitting boundaries because he is so adept at pushing singles into gaps in the field. Yet, in the second innings, with Cook and Hales out cheaply, and himself still in single figures, he was caught at square leg hooking Rahat Ali.
It was a low percentage shot. Hooking early in the innings before you have judged the pace of the pitch always carries some risk, but this was not only risky but foolish. Rahat Ali was bowling left-arm over the wicket and moving the ball towards the slips. This one was head-high, well outside the off-stump and moving away from Root. It was impossible he should be in control of a hook. It was a ball to leave alone.
When Root first played for England, some thought he wasn’t suited to the one-day game. He has proved them wrong, starring in both ODIs and T20. But I wonder if success in the shorter forms of the game is affecting his play in Test matches. It sometimes looks as if he is too impatient to get on, forgetting that playing safe is often playing sensibly. At Lord’s in their second innings, England had all the time in the world and for their best batsman to get himself out to an innocuous ball rather than forcing a bowler to earn his wicket is hard to forgive. I wouldn’t be surprised if young Joe got a blistering text from Mr Boycott. Yorkshiremen used to be expected to sell their wickets dearly, not give them away.
I imagine it’s difficult sometimes to shift from one-day mode to Test cricket. On the other hand, a player of Root’s gifts should be able to do so. As it happens, on Thursday night, the First Test between India and the West Indies was on Sky and I watched Virat Kohli make a delightful, calm and unhurried – yet in terms of balls received, quite rapid – hundred in which I don’t recall him playing a single rash shot.
Admittedly, the West Indies attack is pretty ordinary, certainly in comparison with Pakistan’s.
Nevertheless, Kohli has just come from a wonderfully successful IPL series but there was nothing of T20 batting in this utterly assured innings.
An example for Root to follow?