Former Australian captain Steve Waugh coined the phrase “mental disintegration” in cricket, and that was exactly what Day Three at Lord’s was all about. There will be those, as there always are, that will say England should have enforced the follow-on yesterday, or perhaps that they should have declared at some point during the third day’s play. But what England did by batting all day was exactly what Waugh's great Australian side would have done: brutally and mercilessly worn down the opposition.
The contrast could not have been more stark. On Day Three England batted with cold-hearted efficiency to grind Australia into the dirt, with 22 year-old prodigy Joe Root leading the way. Just 24 hours earlier on Day Two Australia threw themselves into the dirt and sat on the remains before burning them and casting them into the wind. No young batsmen led the way for Australia; instead it was a collective and totally self-destructive brain-fade.
If Day Two reminded the world of Australia’s deep weaknesses, Day Three reminded the world of one of England’s strengths. Nightwatchman Tim Bresnan, Root, Ian Bell, and then later Jonny Bairstow batted methodically and with restraint, in a situation that required nothing more and nothing less.
England are a team of calculated, cold-hearted cricketing robots. They’re the kind of robots that would smile whilst killing you. When it comes to decision-making and method, England almost always follow the sensible route—the simple, straightforward and logical route—the robotic route—and scoring 302-2 on Day Three was just that.
England know that their method is largely foolproof, and belligerently batted on and on. You even got the sense that as more and more people clamoured for a declaration as the day headed towards its close that they were enjoying their intransigence. Happy in the knowledge that they will, according to logic, almost certainly win the match whether they had declared on Day Three or if they do wait until some point on Day Four.
It wasn’t all smooth progress for England though. They began the day slowly against an Australian team that would've still harboured hopes of a dramatic turnaround during the morning session, and which in fact bowled well for most of the early exchanges. However, as the day wore on England’s robots began to functionally become more positive and the scoring rate increased. Root’s innings, like his entire career, was robotic beyond his years, and only when Australia’s hopes turned from optimism to desperation did he begin to display some of the elegance that has drawn comparisons with Michael Vaughan.
After Australia's largely self-inflicted batting collapse yesterday, and even despite the loss of three early England wickets, Root, Bell and Co. will certainly face more testing scenarios than the one presented to them today. Australia were well in arrears and the pitch remained relatively flat, but the job still had to be done, and my, get the job done they did.
England subscribe to long-termism over short-termism. They could have declared early and enforced the follow-on, winning the Test sooner. But alternatively, they could bat on and on and on, wearing Australia’s bowlers out, brutalising their spirit and eviscerating their morale. Ironically when a team is as dominant as England are now in this Test, winning in four or five days is often a lot more painful for the opposition than winning in three.
England can at times be guilty of being too predictable and steady. The tendency to exist within their means with the bat perhaps originates in over-caution. Their ODI cricket, although vastly improved is arguably hampered by the mathematical premise behind it; flair and passion are perhaps restrained. But in Test cricket, fewer problems are encountered.
Straightforward sporting logic, unless faced with genuine excellence, over a period of five days will almost always triumph and England know that. England also know that Australia don’t possess genuine excellence, so today their robots smiled, cruelly and coldly as they dismantled their hapless opponents.