England in India 2012-13 December 8, 2012

Get a move on, will you?

How can you not be irked by the outbreak of dawdling on day three in Kolkata?

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2012, 5:41 GMT

    india need batsmen to play test cricket IPL has spoiled INDIA test cricket.hence all fans please stop supporting IPL.please drop this gambhir,sachin,zaheer,and yuvraj.replace these players with vijay,rahane,manoj tiwary and I.pathan.......dhoni....no doubt he is a good captain but wat a captain can do if he has handfull of substandard players and a useless coach.England was a poor team in all formats wen this dunken fletcher was the coach....pls BCCI should change this fletcher immideately

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2012, 2:38 GMT

    Zaltzman uses his peerless humour to highlight an important issue with Test cricket. Perhaps we can cut a little box in the the ground like is used for helmets, place in it 'supplementary' drinks for infielders and umpires, allow drinks to be placed around the boundary for outfielders, and then introduce a clear rule - no drinks may enter the field except during official drinks breaks. If a player is sufficiently thirsty, he must leave the field. The next issue to tackle would be addressing the fact that bowlers should be ready to bowl at the beginning of a session/ end of a drinks break/when the new batsman takes guard, not marking out their run or setting their field.

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2012, 1:07 GMT

    >>>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<<<< Very funny line. But true article. Is it that the lean-crowd causes these players and officials slow down like this? Or Their slowing down results in lean crowds? I wonder what causes what.

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 21:36 GMT

    Kohli has an habit to change the bat frequently, even he just came to bat. God only knows what he and his kind doing in dressing room. After playing few balls, he realizes his bat is not good enough, and calls his 12th men to bring some bats for him. Last foreign tours, he has done that several times, and during the ODI, this year, when India needed only 1 run to win with many wickets and balls in spare, he changed the bat. Current 2012 Ranji trophy season, Ravindra Jadeja blasted 2 triple centuries; however, Yuvi blasted only 1 double, and found a place in test side. What a waste! Indian cricketers love to waste - time, money, players and their careers, pride, game spirit, honor, opportunity, and so on. I can write an essay. But that will be waste of my time because they wouldn't read this and not going to try to change themselves.

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 21:21 GMT

    Very disappointing article. Not up to the standards to be on Cricinfo website.

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 20:52 GMT

    Fantastic article

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    Zalt, a good point well made. I love the game but have often wondered how could it be better? Clearly addressing the issue of inertia is one way. How was it years ago they used to be able to bowl 20 overs an hour. Not so long ago county cricket had 110 overs a day. In T20 I think they complete 20 over in 75 minutes. Although saying all this there has been some absolutely brilliant test cricket this century including quite possibly two of the greatest test series ever. Still work needs to be done. regards DMM

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 18:32 GMT

    The real quality lies in making use of the reprieve one gets. Ishant too got one; but, was dismissed in the very next ball. Well educated Ashwin at least has a thinking brain under his hat. Give him the cushion of sufficient runs, an attacking field and a captain who trusts him. He'll sure do well as a bowler too. After all, he's the one who has proved there are no demons in the pitch and it's a beautiful batting strip full of runs and had the established batsmen applied themselves, we too could have scored in excess of 500 runs. When Kohlis, Rainas, Rohits, Zaheers, Sachins are spared from wrath failures after failures, series after series, why find a scapegoat in poor Ashwin and write filthy, junk like, "He's in the team as a bowler and not as a batsman" etc., How about Zaheer and Ishant then? Why the hell are they in the team? When Finn and Anderson can take wickets here, why not they? Uncomfortable questions??? Stop finding easy scapegoats and blame everyone impartially...

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 18:29 GMT

    India have to stop picking fame over these good cricketers in firstclass cricket

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2012, 17:13 GMT

    To be fair England were at it today too. Huge pauses between balls, constant faffing with the field, bowlers spending half an age warming up at the top of their run at the start of a new spell, chats, drinks breaks. It is extremely frustrating!

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