“Get on with it,” shouted the angry cricket journalist. This was before play. But during play, at breaks, as people ate lunch or went about folding clothes, many people said the same thing. Why won’t England get on with it? Or declare? Or both? And why didn’t they enforce the follow-on yesterday? Why, why?
England have, as of yet, decided not to run their cricketing decisions through a committee of media and fans. The media and fans may have suggested that not enforcing the follow-on when you’ve only taken 43.4 overs to bowl a side out is a defensive option. Team England may suggest that they could see how flat the pitch was and that their best chance of bowling New Zealand out again would be a Graeme Swann fourth and fifth day attack.
The media and fans could point to the fact that England scored at 3.77-an-over when pushing for a declaration, which was only slightly quicker than their first innings total, and slower than New Zealand’s first innings. Team England could answer that this is their last Test before the Ashes, and they had a chance to get a couple of players back into form.
The media and fans might wonder if the added gate receipts of a fourth or fifth day could have persuaded England to bat on and on. Team England might ask which ECB employee would tell Andy Flower that he has to base his and Alastair Cook’s decisions on financial concerns.
The media and fans will probably say that no matter what reasons you think 468 is a good total to chase, it’s still 19 more runs than New Zealand have scored in the entire series. Team England will probably say better to be safe than sorry.
The media and fans have been looking at the weather updates for days wondering why England haven’t rushed things along. Team England have never trusted two day forecasts.
England probably should have enforced the follow-on. Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott shouldn’t have batted like Han Solo in carbonite and batting on beyond lunch was an odd decision, if you’re being nice.
But Team England hasn’t been overtaken by an alien life form. This is a conservative team. Replacing Andrew Strauss with Cook wasn’t going to upset the careful, careful, softly, softly approach that once made England the No. 1 Test team on earth.
England weren’t going to declare 300 in front, or 400 in front, they were going to bat until any total was notional. Not notional for people sitting in the press box, or on a couch, who seem to think every single declaration is too late, but notional for cricketers who understand how the pitch is playing. 468 for a team with batsmen as out of form as New Zealand is quite notional.
But even with this mythical chase being set, England kept being conservative. Despite some variable bounce, Hamish Rutherford was given a deep point. A run-saving position when runs just couldn’t have mattered less.
Yet England would say that Rutherford is a confidence batsman. And that statistically he scores the majority of his runs where they put their man. They were trying to drain his mojo but Rutherford still scored quicker than the England batsmen even with a sweeper out. His eventual wicket was to a bat-pad.
Later on, Brendon McCullum faced the penetrating spin of Joe Root. New Zealand had lost six wickets by this stage. They needed more than 300 runs to win. The over started with Cook having three men on the boundary. England would point out that McCullum is more likely to be caught by a deep set fielder than anyone in the circle as their statistical analysis can prove.
While some seem to see events like this as momentary lapse in judgment, it is really a deep seated ideology. It may not be one that is popular with fans, but it is one that this team truly believe in.
A running joke in this series is how attacking McCullum can be with his fields. His slips cordons are filled with bodies even when his team is not doing well. McCullum’s field this morning often had as many catching fielders as some of those from Cook in the afternoon.
Drawing this Test will not be the end of the world for England. They’ve won the series. This Test means very little in the larger picture. Even if by ignoring weather forecasts they’ve not left themselves the 30 to 120 minutes they will probably need tomorrow, it’s not a massive problem.
What a full day’s rain might mean is that in future England slightly change their outlook to a more aggressive way of thinking the next time a similar match plays out.
What is more likely is that England win this series 2-0 and they continue to play the way that they believe is best for them. I would also assume that England will continue to make their own cricket decisions and not be swayed too much by the opinions of the media and fans.