Cricket is the ultimate game of sliding doors. One key moment can change everything.
Cricket is the ultimate game of sliding doors.
A key moment arrives – and whatever the outcome of that moment can take you off on two completely different timelines.
Take for example Thursday at Edgbaston – 15:35.
A surprisingly lively Ben Stokes steams in with India teetering at 152 for six in the 47th over.
Virat Kohli, the Indian captain and the tourists last recognised batsman, is on 51, bringing up his half century the ball before with a glide down to third man.
Stokes pitches well-wide of off stump but Kohli surprisingly takes a dab at it. There is no feet movement and he’s too far away from the ball.
The ball flies off the edge and to the right of Dawid Malan at second slip.
Malan dives and sticks out his hand but the ball bursts through his fingers.
Stokes drops to his haunches – a wry smile on his face. It is as if he realises the significance of the moment.
Three hours and 32 minutes later Kohli is finally out, his score is now 149 and India are all out for 274, just 13 runs behind England’s first innings total.
Of course if the catch is taken the situation is vastly different.
Instead of being 274 when Kohli was out, India would have been 152 for seven, and rather than a deficit of 13 they would in all probability of been facing one in excess of 100.
The narrative of the match also changes drastically.
Rather than the stories the next day being about the great Kohli saving India and ridding the memories of his horror tour of 2014, they would have been about him playing a stupid shot at a crucial time and putting his team in an even bigger hole.
Comments would have also been made about his fool hardy “mic drop” mimicking of Joe Root on the opening day and the harsher critics would have begun to ponder if he was indeed the right man to lead India.
But because the catch is dropped and he goes on to make 149 all that is put down to Virat being Virat and all part of the inimitable style that is “VK”.
In truth it was a streaky innings. Once India were reduced to eight down Kohli, completely correctly, decided to chance his arm, batting more like a T20 game than a Test match.
It took him 136 balls to make his first 74 runs, just 89 to make the next 75.
The drop catch also affected the start of England’s second innings.
Rather than coming in with a lead of 100 in the middle of the afternoon, Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings came in with just four tricky overs to bat to stumps, trying to build on a negligible lead of just over 10.
India had all the momentum, England all the pressure and that pressure told when the evergreen Ravichandran Ashwin got one to dip on middle stump, drawing Cook forward, and the ball zipped past his outside edge to hit off stump for the second time in the Test.
The dismissal could not have been more identical to the first innings. A half-hearted forward prod with the bat angled playing for the one that slides on. This one, like in the first innings, didn’t.
But again this only happens because 33 overs earlier Malan drops Kohli.
As the great William Shakespeare once wrote: “There are many events in the womb of time that will be delivered.”
But each delivered event sets in course a whole sequence of further events that drastically changes the outlook of any sporting contest – especially a five day Test match.
Malan’s dropped catch was not the only on the day – involving either Kohli or Malan.
The hapless England fielder also dropped Kohli off James Anderson a short time earlier and Cook also put down Hardik Pandya at first slip off Stokes.
In the end those chances cost England 100 runs and it could be those 100 runs that decide this Test match and set up the narrative for the rest of the series.