Something strange happened on Wednesday at Edgbaston. There was a Test match. There hasn’t been one in England for two whole months at the height of this glorious heatwave. Bonkers. Then they start one midweek. That wrong-footed the potential audience with thousands of empty seats. In an age where the longer format is struggling to compete with the interminable Twenty20 (Sky went straight off to Hove after the close of play), this was a massive own goal.
This rather muted start to August internationals seemed to work in England’s favour. They won the toss, batted with pragmatism, barring a Ravichandran Ashwin beauty that fooled Alastair Cook, and got to lunch at a very steady Eddie 80-odd for one. It was exactly what erratic Test-England wanted. Or needed. No fireworks. This is five days, lads. You can take your time. It’s even possible to bat two days if you like.
This mentality continued in the afternoon. Joe Root and Keaton Jennings compiled runs. Ones and twos. They were not on heat although the temperature was getting to India. Unfortunately, Jennings played on and Dawid Malan came and went as is his wont, but with Jonny Bairstow and the skipper at the crease, order was restored. There was a period where they even hinted at permanency. It was a golden, fleeting moment that turned out to be a visage for this most impatient of teams.
Then it happened. As five o’clock came into view, England got into their rush hour crush head. Root went for a crazy second run and failed to convert a big one yet again. It was the mentality that was important. During the Ashes disaster just gone, Ricky Ponting called the England captain a “little boy”. Does that make Jonny Bairstow a “terrible two” for his part in the run out? It sure felt like that. Virat Kohli stuck his oar in with a kindly send-off. Within minutes, Bairstow had departed and all that sea of calm in the first two-and-a-half sessions was cut asunder. Men were overboard and this was panic stations with no ships to pick up survivors.
Until England understand or adopt a Test match mentality then there will always be the sense that they are like that tantrum-throwing child – a toddler fighting to contain itself in the library for an hour when there’s so many toys to play with at home. Let me out, Mummy. Let me out and I will run amok.
Talking of catchphrases, poor old Jennings was rolled out for an interview to talk about missed opportunities or some such code for “we blew it but nobody knows a good score until India bat”. Quite.
Sam Curran and Ben Stokes may now be making 287 look like 450 but the argument is wider than the context of this game. Ruthlessness is the key but it all goes rudderless too often under Root.
What’s the rush? With Steve Smith marooned in Canada, modern Test match cricket really waits for no man. Or little boy.