A Test of Patience

We think cricketers should be more patient, and show none ourselves.

You've got to be prepared to bore to win. I think that is the phrase.

When Test averages started dropping a few years back, people blamed T20 cricket. In the 90s they did the same thing with ODIs, and then we had our greatest ever batting full decade in terms of averages straight after. We rush to blame the white ball for every problem in cricket.

As someone who spends more time looking at old footage of players swinging wildly and tailenders backing away through fear, I find all this totes hilarious. There's a bunch of reasons why batsmen or bowlers dominate for a period. batsmen slowed down their scoring rates a few years before the dip, so this thought they're failing because they attack is nonsense. And it's weird that the T20 effect just started in 2017, and not five years before when the real T20 revolution started.

But we rush to these conclusions often without ever thinking about them, let alone fact-checking. Our opinions have high strike rates but terrible averages.

Some on Sky, and other more social forms of media, suggested that England were batting too slow. I get it. The sight of Ben Stokes blocking's for a day and a half is off-putting. It's like watching someone using a lunar module to whip to the shops for some milk.

But England has shown just how flawed and limited their batsmen are for quite some time. The patchwork techniques of their openers, work experience from Crawley, Roots 50 and bust, and the Buttler experiment. It's not a pretty line up. This time they just decided to cling on.

And look who they were up against, a skilled and varied bowling attack. Led by a man who has told them to be disciplined and not go chasing. So you had two teams trying not to make mistakes, all jabs, no crosses. Neither approach was perfect, but these are two teams trying to get the most out of themselves. What you had was an old fashioned patience off.

And according to various fans and media, both teams got it wrong. And yet, even if the West Indies should have bowled slightly closer to off stump, and even if England could have challenged the bowlers' tactics, I'm not sure either team got it wrong at the start of this Test. West Indies knew England were fragile, and England knew they needed to dig in. Both took it to extremes, but that is part of Test Cricket.

But perhaps the most extreme part of Tests is how we watch them now.

It's become clear now that the people who call for enforced follow ons and aggressive declarations are quite often in the press and would like a day off. It's fans who seem to want every batsman to score well over three runs an over - while abusing them for any unnecessary risks.  And former cricketers who spent careers bowling or encouraging others to deliver back of a length outside off, now think every ball should be full and straight.

Cricket fetishes the long-haul batsman, until we have to watch them. Dom Sibley's ugly, and stoic, and committed to not playing any shots. We should replace him with an inferior player who's got more X Factor who can hit the white ball hard.  We tell bowlers to be patient, to not chase wickets, to wear batsmen out. But only while that is working. Once it doesn't, where are the bouncers, the yorkers, pitch it up damn you. A captain moves back a fielder to the rope, hoping to play on the patience of a ball-striker, and he's being too defensive. Where are his duelling silly-points?

England's biggest failing in this Test was their inability to attack, in a Test match where they won inside four days. You've got to be willing to nick off to win even quicker.

After decades of hearing that modern Test players don't have the patience for proper Test cricket, somehow now we as cricket watchers don't. While some would rush to blame white ball cricket again, it's probably that we actually see more Tests now than ever before.  Ours, theirs, everyone’s. We see them in crowded stadia, or raucous social media gatherings. Every ball is a tweet, every wicket a meme, and at the break between overs a former player will break down the correct way to wear your sweater to show positive intent.

One turgid session and Test cricket is dead. One exciting finish and it's alive again. But as I've always said, you've got to be willing to kill cricket to enjoy it.