The batsman hit the bowler straight back over his head, a sweetly timed, powerfully struck shot that surely ranked among the biggest seen in these conditions. We’ll never know how far it might have travelled – a six surely, but into the stands or out of the stadium? – because of the wall in the way. As it was, the ball bounced off brick and into the outstretched hand of the fielder standing in a position that somehow combined silly-mid-off with long-off. One hand one bounce. The batter was gone.
It was the best action the spectators got all day at Trent Bridge. For most of Sunday – excluding two tantalising patches of sunshine – the wet conditions confined the optimistic fans who stuck around to whatever shelter they could find. Umbrellas, awnings and bars came into play – even the huddled trio of chairs under the stairwell in the Radcliffe Road Stand known as the Hadlee Waiting Area, long assumed to be an existential joke understood only by the Notts faithful. And here, on the concourse, where a man called Sunit had constructed a wicket from rucksacks and got the passing kids playing with a soft ball and a plastic bat.
No batter made more than five runs in the makeshift session, but to be fair they were constrained by a leg theory field. Also, you had to retire at five. Gathered parents witnessed a couple of smart caught-and-bowleds, and the even more remarkable sight of two stewards walking across the wicket.
Sunit, who coaches kids in the All Stars programme, managed them with charm and discretion, and they walked on without calling a halt. Guerrilla cricket: the ECB outreach team’s dream.
Even after a wet draw at Trent Bridge, there’s reason to hope that this series could be just as good an advert for the game – a slow-burning complement to the Hundred’s hard sell. No one is pretending that it wouldn’t have been better, fairer, and more entertaining to both sides to have witnessed a nerve-clenching fifth-day outcome to this match. But the unsatisfactory outcome, not to mention Joe Root’s almost solo hand in securing it, sets things up intriguingly for the four Tests to come.
From the very first over, when Jasprit Bumrah boobytrapped Rory Burns for a duck, these four days have been a scintillating refresher for anyone feeling alienated by the Hundred hype, or robbed of their favourite flavour of the game. Even the rare slower phases, when the finger might have been tempted to stray to the remote, have contained all the chess moves, feints and stratagems that Test fans love about the game.
For long periods the Dukes ball swung like a minor aristocrat from the 1920s and seamed like a Singer machine. Steely openers faced down the difficult conditions with patient resolve – even if, a little unexpectedly, they were India’s.
And as if to a TV scheduler’s wishes, Sam Curran has twice strode to the crease in the primetime afternoon television slot, and given us a high-tempo performance. Neither side’s batting lineup has yet shown what it may be capable of, but there’s been plenty here to suggest an evenly weighted and frankly tasty encounter stretching across the next six weeks.
One fascinating question, after the festival feel at Trent Bridge, is what kind of a spirit the rest of the contest will be fought in. Both captains have spoken in the past week about the importance of enjoying the sport they play. Virat Kohli said before the match that he had learned to embrace his expressive side, but also to be mindful of the opportunity each moment on the field presented. “To make every ball count”, were his actual words, although it’s just possible he’d been subliminally programmed to repeat the Hundred’s brand messaging.
Root, meanwhile, was inspired enough by his own day-four team-talk – encouraging his batters to remember how much fun batting actually was – that he scored a splendid and match-saving century. His captaincy has borne an extraordinary toll over the past couple of years, but sometimes words can set you free, and his joy at the crease on Saturday was undeniable.
The sight of the two captains joking about Kohli’s burned reviews, or leaving the field together, laughing and smiling, was one for Spirit of Cricket acolytes to savour. But there has been plenty of fire in the middle, too. Ollie Robinson showed no deference to anyone in his second Test and was happy to bring the heat to India’s batsmen with words as well as short balls. On Saturday, Mohammed Siraj got stuck into England’s lower order and the fact that he gave Jonny Bairstow a finger-to-the-lips send-off can only suggest that they responded in kind.
It’s a curious situation when Kohli is the man telling his fielders to calm down. But then it’s an interesting planet on which Bairstow is the one in the England team playing the best defensive shots. Lord’s will provide plenty of opportunity for more eyebrow raising. And it’s all good fun.