England adopt an approach more conservative than Nigel Farage as they allow New Zealand a chance to save the Test (depending on the weather).
After yesterday’s downright woeful batting, England needed to push things forward this morning. Admittedly they did, but as time ticked onwards and various milestones reached – including Alastair Cook’s 25th Test century, of which none previous were so inevitable – the calls for a declaration grew louder. Setting New Zealand a notional target of 468 to win would have been overly-cautious in all situations but with a dire weather forecast for Tuesday, the delay to the moment seemed either farcical or stubborn. Indeed, if the sole reason was to allow some batsmen time in the middle ahead of the Ashes – not out of the question – then it was disrespectful to New Zealand and the paying spectators; by looking ahead to the Aussies and not giving themselves the best chance of victory in this match, Cook and Co. belittled the regularly-stated claim that England are determined to regain the No.1 ranking.
It is acknowledged that for a long time England have been conservative and cautious, preferring to build pressure than to go balls-out for the heroic; particularly under the leadership of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss, and the apprentice Cook has clearly followed the example of his leader. But 468 would be the highest-ever 4th innings total to win a match – by some distance – and is more than the sum of New Zealand’s innings hitherto in this series. Cynics might suggest that such a tactic would help increase bar sales at Headingley whilst also reducing the risk of refunds, but that would be ludicrous. All that we can conclude is that Cook wanted a monumental lead and felt his declaration came at the right time. But with field settings that weren’t exactly attacking, it still didn’t look like England were looking to rampage through the opposition; a point reinforced when the clouds rolled over and Joe Root was obliged to turn his arm over to keep the players on the field and then, in the final hour of the day, with Ross Taylor dismissed by Graeme Swann, bad light meant play finished early with just four more wickets required.
What’s more, on this day when cricket probably lost a few fans, the sight of Jonathan Trott failing to reverse sweep Martin Guptill will haunt us for many many years to come.
As nicely as Taylor played for a fine 70, it was Swann who stood out today. He was helped to some extent by the footmarks outside off-stump, but when he bowls like this any team on any pitch would be troubled. Having never taken a Test wicket in Leeds before this match (hence missing out last year when Kevin Pietersen picked up some wickets), to have bagged eight already is a fine achievement. Bowling with characteristic flight, drift and spin, the best conclusion to draw was that this looked like classic Swanny and he is certainly over his elbow trouble – for now at least.
All eyes will be on the forecast and the skies. If England have enough time to take the last four wickets, it will be a very good victory in less than four days’ play. If they don’t, then there will be some serious questions asked about their tactics.