It was a fun day of Test cricket today. At Old Trafford in Manchester, there was rain early but there was a lovely middle session powered by a Root, Burns partnership, followed by some downright ruthless fast bowling from a downright ruthless Hazelwood which reduced England to 200 for 5 — 297 runs behind, needing 98 to avoid a follow-on — in the evening session before play was abandoned for the day due to poor light.
I am not sure what impressed me more, the partnership or Hazelwood’s bowling. The latter’s run-in might be the fastest I have ever seen. He looks like a sprinter. And it sounded like a mortar shot when he castled Roy. But the partnership was so steady, they built a solid foundation with good defense and then opened up to score some runs — Root leaving on 71 off of 168 and Burns — who batted so well during the tricky evening session the day before — leaving on 81 off of 185.
But it just wasn’t good enough. Today England desperately needed someone in their top five to bat and bat and bat, and score and score and score, and they just don’t have anyone that can really do that anymore. And so now they are back where they were at Headingley: hoping and praying that Stokes can pull another rabbit out of his hat and earn a draw to save the game and keep the series alive. It’s not impossible, but I don’t see it happening, not with the relentless Aussie quicks interspersed with Lyon’s spin and he was making the ball move all over the place in the breeze today.
England’s other prayer has to be to Mother Nature. Unfortunately, it’s not looking great for them, as the forecast for tomorrow and Sunday calls for a mix of clouds and sun with highs in the 60s. If it does rain, you will witness one of those weirdo cricket things when the fans will applaud for every drop, in the hope that there’s a deluge and England pull a draw from the clenched jaws of almost certain defeat. That’s right, English cricket fans who paid good money to be at the game would rather drink beer under a overhang during a downpour than lose to Australia.
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, fledgling Test nation Afghanistan have the hosts on the ropes, with Bangladesh trailing by 148 runs with only two wickets left in hand in the first innings. Unlike England, Bangladesh has avoided the follow-on, but Afghanistan’s bowlers have ripped through their batting order like it was made of paper.
One of cricket’s best stories, Afghanistan have only played three Tests — including this one — and have won one with what looks to be another win on the way. They are a long way from being openly competitive with the big boys — though I bet they could hold their own with this England side (ouch) — but they are getting better and better and better.
The match in Bangladesh is on in the middle of the night on my watch, which is a shame, as I would totally tune in. I am going to try and stay up late tonight and at least watch as Afghanistan knocks off Bangladesh’s tail.
Now the question must be asked: who is in a better position to eke out a draw, Bangladesh or England? It’s a toss up, really, but if I was a betting man (I’m not) then my money would be on Bangladesh. England look lost, bored, and have won just one session during the three days of this fourth Test.