England have won the second Test against Pakistan. They secured victory by 330 runs and with four sessions worth of cricket to spare. Having being soundly beaten at Lord’s in the first Test this result represents a stunning comeback. It was four days of perfect cricket from the hosts to beat an excellent Pakistan side handsomely.
This was a Pakistan team that they hadn’t beaten in five years and seven Tests. A team that had the number one bowler in the world in Yasir Shah who ripped through the England batting lineup like a kid unwrapping his birthday gifts at Lord's. Still, England won losing just nine wickets while scoring 762 runs. They then picked up 20 Pakistani wickets for the cost of just 432.
And despite all this, much of the talk during this match was about how England got their tactics completely wrong when they didn’t enforce the follow on, instead electing to bat again. On the fourth morning, with England already a gigantic 489 runs ahead at the start of the day, Cook and Root took them to 564 runs in front by the time they had declared.
The criticism of Cook as overly conservative is to misunderstand his motivations for doing what he did. He could have easily enforced the follow on, it wouldn’t have been the wrong thing to do, but it wasn’t the only right thing to do.
Every moment that Cook and Root were batting was another that the England bowlers weren’t in the field. Yes, they had only bowled 63.4 overs in the Pakistan first innings, and yes they had a five man attack, but that doesn’t mean in the midst of the harum-scarum schedule that is international cricket that every moment of rest isn’t much needed.
Of England’s five bowlers there was James Anderson and Ben Stokes who were just returning from injury, there was Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes who were playing back to back Tests and Moeen Ali who the coach admitted is lacking in confidence. Given that bowling group some time with their feet up and even more runs to work with was a win/win for England.
The fragility of the England bowling line up was exemplified by Ben Stokes pulling up after just 5.2 overs of work in the Pakistan second innings. Cook had some justification for feeling fearful of flogging his bowlers.
When Cook made the decision to bat again there was 230 overs left in the match, just under half a Test. There was so much time that it made a great deal of sense to use some of it to demoralise and wear out the Pakistan attack while resting their own. As it was, even with Cook batting for 30 overs in the second innings his team won the game with 120 overs to spare. That is a full day and a session left over.
The logic behind Cook’s call was entirely sound, there is more than one way to win a Test, but the most erroneous critique of his call was that it was in some way defensive or cowardly. This was the far riskier move, taking time out the game to rest the team for matches going forward rather than pushing on for victory.
To suggest it was defensive is nothing short of a logical fallacy. Also to say he is adverse to enforcement of the follow on is ignoring that this England team have done exactly that twice in recent months. It wasn’t that he wouldn’t enforce, just that he thought it wasn’t the best move for this team at the time.
As a result of Cook behaving as he did, a refreshed England bowling line up tore through the Pakistan top order in just 70 overs on a very good surface having had a nice break in the middle of the game. They go on to the third Test at Edgbaston full of vim and vigour and confident that they can do more of the same. There are still those that think Cook did this all wrong.
England winning the wrong way is a bit of a theme amongst cricket fans, especially if you view the sport through the pernicious prism of social media.
Twitter doesn’t do nuance, it is entirely binary. Something is either the best ever or the worst ever, and England come in for a fair share of the latter. For supporters of England all too often the team do winning the wrong way. For those who support other teams England winning is because of outside factors that have nothing to do with them outplaying a good team.
That England are not well liked by fans of other cricketing nations is well known, and for the most part entirely justified. The sneering of some at the fantastic celebrations of Misbah-ul-Haq and his team after victory at Lord’s while they were more than happy to laugh away at England’s “sprinkler dance” antics during the 2010/11 Ashes is another example of how the haughtiness of English cricket turns people off. But there are times when England are not given the credit that they deserve.
This was a thoroughly brilliant performance by Cook as a batsman and as a captain. His team beat the number three Test team in the world inside four days and by more than 300 runs. Cook is close to overtaking Steve Waugh as the 10th highest scoring batsman of all time, and he will do it in fewer matches and innings, but people are always looking for reasons to explain why this doesn’t count.
Joe Root scored the best hundred an England player has put together in the last decade and his efforts were explained away by saying it was a flat pitch despite him managing more runs in one innings than the whole Pakistan side managed in either of theirs.
Credit should be given when it is due, even if the person who is getting it isn’t one of yours. While this may be an unreasonable expectation, it is still something we should wish for. It won’t happen though, England may end up winning this series but you can bet that it will be done the wrong way.