Get a move on, will you?
Yesterday's play was not the most riveting. India were improved but still, for the first half of the day in particular, mostly passive, unthreatening and devoid of expectation. England had no need or inclination to take the initiative until Pietersen came in, as Cook, batting with none of the fluency he showed on day two, and Trott, forcing himself back into form in a turgid but valuable innings, consolidated English dominance. Neither side took a single risk, and with no sense of contest, intensity, drama or jeopardy, the cricket was tedious. The game livened up later in the day with a few wickets, some belated Indian enterprise, and some enterprising batting by England's fast-scoring middle order, but the sense remained that India were content to minimise damage and wait for either declaration or for ten wickets to materialise out of the ether.
All in all it was largely an unremarkable and predictable day, enlivened by a comically fluffed caught-and-bowled chance batted to the turf by the weird run-out of Cook, and good, brisk innings by Pietersen, Patel and Prior that snuffed out any hope India had of restricting the English lead to vaguely manageable proportions on a pitch showing increasingly inconsistent bounce and progressively sharper turn.
Ishant's drop was truly spectacular. Was it a moment of heroic incompetence, or the first sign of the Indian fightback, a renewed determination to avoid defeat and battle for the draw? Cook mistimed a defensive push, and the ball looped slowly back towards the bowler. Ishant had enough time whilst the ball was somnolently parabolising towards him to have a nightmarish vision of being carted to all corners of Eden Gardens by a rampant Pietersen, and England's total cavorting to 600 by close of play. He swiftly, and understandably, decided that he would rather be more controllably dinked to all corners by a remorseless Cook, and duly spannered the catch. Strategic brilliance, or rank fielding ineptitude? You decide.
Play overran by only five minutes yesterday, but given that there were 18 overs bowled in the first hour, not many wickets fell, and 63 of the 90 overs were bowled by spinners ‒ including 31 by Ojha, who has almost no run-up ‒ it took a frankly superhuman effort by all concerned to slow the pace of play down sufficiently to avoid giving the spectators any bonus overs that they had not paid for.
Manfully leading the time-wasting charge, as so often, were the umpires, moving at such a sub-funereal pace that it seemed they were trying not to disturb any pregnant worms that might be resting in the Eden Gardens soil, walking in from square leg in between overs with the demeanour and pace of a 95-year-old shuffling to his medicine cabinet in the middle of the night. They stood idly by, wondering about the origins of the universe whilst action-unpacked minutes were taken slightly resetting the field, or 40 seconds of everyone just standing around doing nothing for no reason at the start of an over, apparently waiting for the blue sky above the stand behind the bowler's arm to move away, or some kind of divine intervention to help the persevering but thoroughly conquered Ashwin take a wicket.
Midway through the afternoon session, the cricket almost reached a point of suspended animation. The Indian 12th, 13th and 14th men sauntered onto the field with drinks for the team. Twelve minutes before the scheduled drinks break. Everyone stood around having a nice chat. The umpires watched this happen, thinking, "Oh, look at that. They're having a drinks break they shouldn't be having. That looks nice. They seem to be having a lovely time." Then, just as the Indians were finishing their subsidiary drinks break, England's 12th and 13th men, concerned about missing out on the fun, also trotted into the arena with drinks for Trott and Cook. The umpires eventually seemed to suggest to the players that they should perhaps maybe, at some point in the not-too-distant future, consider getting on with the cricket. No one took any notice. Played eventually restarted.
Two balls later, Trott was out - a tactical masterstroke by Dhoni, clearly, applying the age-old if scientifically unproven adage "Drinks break always takes a wicket", by calling an unscheduled extra drinks break.
A few minutes later, the scheduled drinks break was taken. It took precisely six minutes and five seconds, the last 40 seconds of which appeared to involved the umpires waiting for TV clearance to restart. Shortly after this, Zaheer came on to bowl. He and Dhoni spent two minutes setting the field at the start of the over. Then, between balls three and four, they reconvened for 90-second conference to reset the field. Ball five brought the Cook run-out. Perhaps he was discombobulated by the action having slowed to a crawl and assumed that Kohli's throw would also be in slow motion. Perhaps he was the victim of an intricately planned and perfectly executed Indian masterplan over eight hours of low-octane out-cricket, an ambush strategy that lulled Cook into ruling out a brilliant piece of fielding from his mental calculations, leaving him fatally vulnerable to this isolated moment of vigour and accuracy by an Indian fielder.
That single Zaheer over, with all the fiddling around, then the assorted earnest discussions about the run-out, took 11 minutes. Including a bit of time for Umpire Tucker to forget that it should only have six balls in it, rather than allowing it to go on for ever, as it seemed destined to, and almost allow a seventh ball, then spend another half a minute or so having a natter with the third umpire to clarify the situation.
All in all, cricket has greater issues to address than slow play. What makes it so frustrating as a spectator, however, is that it is so unnecessary, so easily resolved, and is becoming progressively worse with the infinite range for needless microbreaks in 21st-century play. The endemic dawdling in top-level cricket could easily be resolved, and, if it were, the spectacle of the game would be improved for spectators both in the grounds and on television. The authorities evidently care little for this. The umpires even less. Players, in all sports, generally do what they are allowed to do.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer