It can be tricky playing in a dead situation, not to mention an empty stadium, but both sides made a reasonable fist of it when the sun finally deigned to make an appearance as England and Pakistan played out their second Test draw in Southampton.
Play began at 3.20pm, too late for any fancy declarations and the promise of leather jackets – though the state of the match was not much different to the game at Centurion 20 years ago when the blameless Nasser Hussain and the culpable Hansie Cronje were in charge of England and South Africa.
The modest beneficiaries at the Ageas Bowl were the young English batsmen who are still exploring the delights of Test cricket. The presence of the sun removed some of the demons and Azhar Ali did not wish his trio of pacemen to expend too much energy; they should have a lot of work to do when the final Test of the summer begins on Friday. Even so, Mohammad Abbas bowled beautifully again while adding two more wickets to his Test tally. Hopefully, the sun will still remember the location come Friday.
Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley gained some more experience and enjoyed a partnership of 91. Watch on this sunlit afternoon and the assumption might be that Crawley has the superior record, which is not the case. He is a natural timer of the ball and he scores more easily than Sibley; he nearly always will. But Sibley usually bats for longer, all of which was the case on Monday.
There were two crunching back-foot boundaries from Crawley off Abbas; then he popped down the pitch in Yasir Shah’s first over to loft the ball over mid-off. He does not seem too fazed by Test cricket but having posted a half-century he was lbw to the first ball of Abbas’s second spell.
Sibley then departed in an all-too-familiar manner, caught down the leg-side off Abbas, who seemed keen to keep bowling all afternoon. This is a strange weakness to have, though Sibley can console himself that he shares it with David Gower who, briefly, had a phase of getting out in that manner – hard to think of many other similarities between these two batsmen, however.
Sibley and Crawley should be around for a while, though the latter looks more likely to excel in subcontinental conditions. Moreover, on tour Crawley can always travel as a spare opener, if necessary. The hope is that he emulates Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick as a batsman who prevails at Test level even though his early record in the county game has been surprisingly modest.
Yasir became the first spinner to bowl in the match at 4.45pm on the final day and after a little tap from Crawley he started to enjoy himself as well, especially when Ollie Pope was lbw to a devious straight delivery that looked like a leg break. Dom Bess must have looked on enviously; he has played two Tests this summer without bowling a ball and in neither case could his captain be castigated. It has just been that sort of summer.
This may prompt England to consider leaving Bess out for the last Test here and entrusting the spinning role to Joe Root. With hindsight that would have been the best course for this match. However, a glimpse at the forecast for the end of this week and beyond suggests the weather is likely to behave better, which means the playing surface is likely to do the same. That would enhance the chances of Bess retaining his place and this remains the likeliest outcome. The only other change may involve replacing Sam Curran with Jofra Archer or Mark Wood.
The second Test will disappear into the annals and will seldom be recalled. But on a fine pitch – it had pace and would not have been so spicy but for the dank, dark conditions of the first two days – Pakistan battled with great character at the crease and yesterday their bowlers gave a reminder of their undoubted class and variety.
Let the sun shine on Friday morning and a fine climax to the Test summer is on the cards.