Alastair Cook had his decision not to enforce the follow-on during a stop-start third day at Old Trafford questioned by three of his predecessors as England captain but the assistant coach, Paul Farbrace, believes the home team will back it up with victory.
After bowling out Pakistan for 198 late in the afternoon session England led the tourists by 391 runs with 228 overs remaining in the Test. But Cook, having nipped off the field before the final wicket to speak to the head coach, Trevor Bayliss, chose to bat again – a call criticised by Michael Vaughan, Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain.
Farbrace claimed the intention was to make the most of a pitch still playing well rather than invite any late pressure in the match following further deterioration, and not due to two members of the bowling attack – Jimmy Anderson and Ben Stokes – returning from respective shoulder and knee injuries.
“There wasn’t a lot of discussion,” Farbrace said. “It was a simple conversation and, when you make them, it’s up to us to now back it up. There’s plenty of time to make sure the decision is right. Ultimately the decision comes down to the captain – that’s how this team works – but I don’t think any of us were against it.”
With Pakistan nine wickets down after a rallying stand of 60 between Misbah-ul-Haq and the No9, Wahab Riaz, England’s thinking began to become clearer when the opener Alex Hales started shadow batting in the outfield. He then sprinted off the field to put on his pads after claiming the final catch of the innings at deep midwicket.
Cook’s attack had bowled 63.4 overs in the match by the close of innings, of which the new-ball pairing of Anderson and Stuart Broad had sent down 25 – neither had bowled after lunch on the third day. While the forecast is for only the odd shower over the next two days Manchester’s reputation for wet weather led Atherton, Hussain and Vaughan to be critical.
Vaughan told BBC’s Test Match Special: “I’m absolutely staggered. They are 391 runs ahead and there have been intervals – 391 runs! Win the game today. Why delay it? What happens if it rains again?”
Atherton, on Sky Sports, said: “If I was captain I think I would have enforced the follow-on. The bowlers were reasonably fresh and there is cloud cover, Pakistan’s top order is also vulnerable and here in Manchester – being a local boy – you can’t always be sure of two days’ good weather.”
After 2.4 overs of England’s second innings rain duly fell and only four further deliveries were bowled in the space of one hour and 40 minutes before a proper resumption at 5.40pm. With the skies still overcast and the floodlights on the former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne said: “It is perfect bowling conditions with the ball nipping around and, if you walked out to toss the coin now, you would bowl first, which is why everyone is surprised.”
Hussain said: “I can’t see a downside to enforcing it. The pitch isn’t going to become a minefield, like it can in places like Kolkata. With the rain England’s bowlers are getting a rest anyway, so with hindsight perhaps Cook might have put Pakistan in again.”
Farbrace, who was sanguine about the largely negative reaction, responded: “It is all about opinion. We could have enforced and it would be a different chat. That’s the nature of it, we all love the game of cricket and opinions vary.”
After stumps, by which time England’s lead had swelled to 489 runs, the Pakistan coach, Mickey Arthur, admitted his players were pleased by the call and, when pressed, conceded their chances of securing a draw, while still slim, had increased slightly. He said: “It was an interesting one, Cook has his reasons but we were a long way behind in the game. We were happy he didn’t but England were so far ahead, he could rest his fast bowlers and that was his decision. It’s irrelevant for us but I can say in our dressing room we fully expected to be batting again.”
In the past five years only India have enforced the follow-on more times than England, doing so in five of their six possible opportunities including their current first Test with West Indies in Antigua where they asked the hosts to bat again with a 323-run first-innings lead. England, after declining the option at Old Trafford, have now done so in four of the eight times it has been possible during this time.
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