Ball One 10.00pm – In most sports, in order to win one has to run the risk of losing, but that sporting balance is at its sharpest in Test cricket. Dan Vettori needs to win this match to square the series and has two, possibly rain-affected, days to set a target for Pakistan to chase – should they wish to. On the one hand, Pakistan are as likely to collapse as any team in Test cricket (maybe in Test cricket history): on the other hand, if the New Zealanders go hard early in the hope of setting 300 or so as a target, they may be all out 200 and lose the series 2-0. At times like this, there’s always talk of batsmen “playing their natural games”, “batting through to tea and then having a dart” and “assessing the pitch as it wears”. Considering how much else in international cricket is planned in detail, it seems unlikely that those kind of ad hoc decisions are the reality – Dan will have a Plan A and a Plan B, maybe even a Plan C. How bold they are remains to be seen.
Ball Two 10.30pm – Since he gave up the gloves, Brendon McCullum is building a bit of a reputation as a second innings specialist averaging a Bradmanesque 96.5 in his six matches to date, including a big double hundred and no failures. Quite why some batsmen favour one innings over the other to such an extent (think VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag) is a little oddity of the game.
Ball Three 10.52pm – Okay, colours to the mast time. How would I instruct my batsmen to play? I would, until five wickets are down and in these particular circumstances, ask them to play entirely normally until the lead is 100. At that point, I would ask my batsmen to look at scoring at least four an over until the lead is 200. Then go T20. Even if that approach produces a target of 250 rather than the hoped for 320, at least there will be time to bowl Pakistan out. Don’t die wondering.
Ball Four – Azhar Ali’s drop of McCullum in close at silly point is already looking expensive. Critical elements of fielding close to the wicket include the most important piece of advice for all cricketers – keep your eye on the ball. Azhar did that part well, but on the second element of good close work, he failed. Crouching so close in, even the merest raising of the hands makes it very difficult to reverse their momentum and get them moving down towards the ball. Once Azhar’s hands even hinted at upwards movement, McCullum was getting away with his indiscretion.
Ball Five – I am aware that there are arguments against this suggestion, but the slowness of Pakistan’s over rate is rewarding cynical tactics and something should be done beyond meaningless fines and suspensions that don’t affect the match in play. (Of course, all Test captains slow the game when it suits them, so Misbah is no different to anyone else). In these circumstances, I’d like to see the batsmen given the option of asking the fielding captain to bowl the full 30 overs quota in the session and shorten the lunch break accordingly. I suspect that if the side in the field knew that such a request was coming, every session would comprise at least 29 overs.
Ball Six – Just fifteen minutes to go until lunch and yet more time is wasted changing the ball. I’m not sure the ball should be changed at all outside the scheduled breaks, unless it is very obviously misshapen. If it must, the fourth umpire should present the ball nearest in age to the overs count to the bowler, who can then get back to his mark and bowl.
The Tooting Trumpet, whom you can often find at Testmatchsofa.com and on Twitter at @garynaylor999 and @Fakeadil.