With one gesture, England captain Alastair Cook sent the cricketing universe into collective meltdown.
How could he do such a thing? What was he thinking? Hadn’t he consulted a meteorologist? Why didn’t England have a meteorologist? Surely these days they had staff to cater for every need? Although, considering the 2nd Test Match against Pakistan was being played at Old Trafford, Manchester (the cricket version, not the Theatre of Dreams), it didn’t need an expert to guess that rain was going to fall at some point.
So what was this heinous, obscene, offensive motion by Cook that got everyone’s knickers in a twist? Drum roll…….
Alastair Cook indicated at the end of Pakistan’s second innings on Sunday that England would not be enforcing the follow on even though they were a whopping 391 runs in front.
Yeah, I know. What a shocker. 391 runs ahead. 2 and a bit days still to play. Bowlers only bowled 60 odd overs. Pakistan on the ropes. Time to knock ’em out. Enforcing the follow on seemed the logical cricketing decision.
Except Cooky didn’t. And thanks to the instant whirl of social media, he was universally condemned as too defensive, safe, cowardly…[insert own insulting adjective at will]…by pundits and keyboard warriors alike. Even yours truly must admit to raising an eyebrow or both at the captain’s contrariness.
Ah, ye of little faith! Alastair Cook was vindicated as England batted and bowled Pakistan into submission on Monday with a day to spare. Although the rain had briefly threatened to undermine England’s parade yesterday evening, England had eventually managed to end the day on 98-1, leaving them with a healthy 489 run overnight lead. On Monday morning, they added 75 more runs to extirpate any fleeting Pakistan resistance fantasies, eventually declaring on 173-1, and setting them a massive 565 runs to win.
If Pakistan thought they were in the ideal location for the rain to come to their rescue, they would have been right – on any other day. Amazingly, it didn’t rain in Manchester on Monday. Which left Pakistan up creek without paddle. And facing England’s now well rested and freshly fearsome bowling attack. The result was not pretty. First Cook deployed the stick in Jimmy Anderson to frighten Pakistan into dropping the first two wickets; then he dangled the carrot of Moeen Ali to tempt them into smashing the off-spinner for easy boundaries and eventually into the grateful hands of the England fielders. The only negative for England was that in between Ben Stokes pulled up with what looked like a calf tear, which could be the end of his series.
Pakistan were languishing at 165 for 5 at tea and they didn’t have to wait too long to get in for an early dinner. Chris Woakes joined in the demolition job by taking a wicket either side of tea, with Anderson and Ali adding to their haul. Cook then changed tack again by throwing in a bit of Root spin (is there anything the boy can’t do?) to confuse Pakistan’s tailenders, and with only his second ball, Root had lured Wahab into edging to the captain. The end was nigh for Pakistan. Chris Woakes was left to administer the last rites on their innings, which ended on 234. England had won by an emphatic 330 runs, and there were still 17 overs to spare. Follow on? What follow on?
Cook had called it right, and the naysayers have been left to recover in a cold, dark room. It’s all square in the series, and whilst not everything is rosy with England (opener conundrums, Stokes injury, spinner issues etc), their dominant performance at Old Trafford proved they are good enough to win the series.
Alastair Cook will always have his critics, but in this instance, he proved he knows what he is doing, and perhaps the best thing we jittery onlookers can do is to leave him alone to get on with his job of captaining England, hopefully, to a Test series win.