England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 23, 2013

Count the drinks, not the runs

It was a day where patience was tested all round; the batsmen showed, the bowlers used and the crowd had to find it

"Smaaaassshh itttttt!" came the cry from the behind the long-off fence. The man's voice was breaking almost into a falsetto, the kind of panicked, manic noise you'd expect to hear from a prisoner on the rack over the river at the Tower of London. Chris Woakes didn't oblige. He tapped the next ball away defensively off the gentle legspin of Steven Smith. And the next. And the next. And the next.

The spectator by now had turned his attention to more important matters: calculating the contents of his plastic cup of beer, and presumably how many more he could consume in the final few overs of the day. This was a day of beer snakes, of the crowds entertaining themselves. A day of Bronx cheers for each scoring shot; there were only four of them in the last 10 overs before stumps.

It was a day on which patience was required, from the batsmen, and therefore from the bowlers, and therefore from the viewers. Not so much patience as was needed at the Gabba in 1958, when Trevor Bailey lived up to his 'barnacle' tag in an England innings that brought 1.24 runs per six balls; here England comparatively raced along at 2.12 an over the course of their innings so far.

Australia's bowlers tried to build pressure. Maidens accumulated, the fieldsmen kept things tight, but there was little in the pitch and chances were rare. That they winkled out four wickets was not a terrible result - except that the fourth day is expected to be largely washed out. It was not an unfamiliar situation for the Australian attack.

In Adelaide last November, South Africa scored at a rate that made Kevin Pietersen look like he was playing Twenty20 cricket by comparison. Chasing an unrealistic 430 for victory, the South Africans hunkered down like professionals, trickling along at 1.67 an over to salvage a draw. But there, the Australians were down a bowler, after James Pattinson broke down in the first innings.

Here, they not only had a full attack, they had one extra option due to the inclusion of James Faulkner, although as it turned out he bowled instead of Shane Watson, not as well as. But on a pitch as dead as the series, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc, Faulkner, Nathan Lyon and Smith could do only so much against an England batting order unwilling to play shots.

Of course it can be argued that England should have been more proactive, tried harder to force a 4-0 outcome. But they were playing the long game - in every sense. Their objective was clear: stop Australia gaining any sort of confidence from winning a dead rubber. Stop them from remembering how to win ahead of the return series.

In doing so, they have all but ensured a 3-0 series result, which would push England to second on the ICC Test rankings and drop Australia to fifth. That South Africa and England, the best two sides in the world, are prepared to grind like this is a lesson to Australia. Besides Chris Rogers, it is difficult to imagine anyone in Australia's batting line-up having the patience to bat a day out like this.

"We did bowl well, we did build a lot of pressure and we were consistent in our areas and I guess we made them play that way," Siddle said. "It's one of the better innings that we've bowled in this series. We knew we had to try and get the breakthroughs, push the game forward. It's been hard work out there. The pitch has been hard work and they have been very patient.

"We're the ones who have put ourselves in this position [at 3-0 down] in the first place so it is disappointing. We did start this game off well and put the pressure right on them. If they want to play that way they do. We've put ourselves in that position so we can't control it."

Nor can they control the weather. All the bowlers and fieldsmen can do on a day like this is be patient, build the pressure and grab whatever chances England deign to provide. All the spectators can do is entertain themselves and line up for their next drink. And the next. And the next…

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Umar on August 24, 2013, 16:29 GMT

    I don't criticize English team for this defensive approach. They have every right to protect their 3-0 lead. However ECB should not have made dead pitch like this. They need to care for spectators who pay and come to see the match.

  • Luke on August 24, 2013, 16:21 GMT

    Pity England have lost the chance to win this, 300 on day 4, declare at the start of day 5 and leave Aus a nasty couple of sessions to survive on a day 5 pitch against 4 spinners.

    3-0 is a fair reflection.

  • John on August 24, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    So this s Test cricket is it, where unlimited overs allow teams to waste time to the nth degree and discourage spectators. T20 may have a lot of shortcomings but the teams get on with the game on pain of penalties. In Test cicket where are the umpires and the match referee? Ian Chappell said onnGem (Aust) the other night that if the authoritiesb fined the slowcoach captains heavily for failing to keep up the over rate to the extremely modest (& easily achieveable) 90 overs per day benchmark the problem would soon be solved. Hard not to agree with him.

  • Jake on August 24, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    Mr Coverdale has hit the nail on the head. In case people hadn't noticed, winning test matches is all about being able to ram home the advantage. Australia have conspicuously failed to do this here at the Oval, and also at Old Trafford where they needed more than 130 overs to bowl out England in the first innings. England don't have a case to answer for their batting yesterday, the scrutiny needs to be on Australia and why they could only prise out 4 batsmen in 110 overs, just as they had no answers when SA blocked them out in Adelaide last year. England and South Africa have the ability to run through sides with pace, swing or spin, but Australia have no cutting edge. Had England been bowling yesterday on the back of a big first innings you can sure that they would have picked up 7 or 8 wickets.

  • irish on August 24, 2013, 12:05 GMT

    Hello everybody..England is enjoying success..but whats saddening is barring KP no English batsmen has guts and glory style....like Brian Lara..like Virender Sehwag..Like Chris Gayle...every English batsmen seems copy of another with limited array of shots...and defensive mindset.In the words of Lara" i never wanted to be accumulator of runs,,i wanted to be an entertainer"..Only KP carries such attitude...sorry but we need characters in game to liven test cricket up....everybody will come and watch Lara score flamboyant 50 but few will turn up to watch Trorr scoring 100...Cm on England...Get some flair..get some heroes..not bare performers...

  • Cameron on August 24, 2013, 10:15 GMT

    Poor spectators. Ask a neutral which team they'd rather see playing in full flight and I doubt the answer is England. England seem to care about rankings and personal milestones and very little about trying to win every test match or for the paying spectator. That's why they will never whitewash Australia in a Test series, they don't have the courage for it.

  • Android on August 24, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    England batting like this will kill the game of test match cricket.

  • Sarthak on August 24, 2013, 6:46 GMT

    This series has been a lot more closer than, what it now appears to be heading to 3-0 result in favour of England. Despite that it wasn't a great cricket series imo. Few years from now most of us will probably process it as an average series, having nothing much to be treasured. In part this is due to the quality of the Australian side & England's conservative tactics but it is also due to pitches we have seen in this series. The surfaces lacked the zing which we normally associate with English conditions. Last year when England came to India there were a lot of discussion on how India prepared pitches. I think we also need to talk about what England have done for the Ashes. The Ashes are supposed to Test cricket's flagship event. I am not sure making this sort of placid pitches were the best thing to do either for this iconic sporting rivalry or for Test cricket.

  • hari on August 24, 2013, 5:26 GMT

    One cannot stop criticising England's approach. Aus have scored double the runs in just 12 overs more than what Enlgand have used up. Are you so afraid of defeat? Are you incapable of batting on day 5? This approach shows England are! This is not a performance expected from a team leading 3-0 in the series. Remember Aus when on top Scored over 400 in the first innings, declared and won the match on the last day? Can England not do that? They have picked 5 bowlers for the match. If they had scored at 3 runs an over they would have ended the day at 326 and may have lost a wkt or two more. But they could have fought to score more that 400 by lunch on day 4 and aim to skittle out the vulnerable Aus to chase about 150-200 on day 5. With Swann on your side, on a deteorating pitch this was possible. I sure a defensive Dhoni also would have tried this. This approach has taken out the credit from Engalnd. It is apt to say that Aussies lost the ashes than saying England has won. Bad luck Aussies