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The particular pleasures of a 2-2 series

Haynes, Hoare, Lewis, at a stretch, Jack Nel. Er… that's it. The list of Desmonds in Test cricket is short but, with over 7500 runs between them, still rather splendid.

That can be said of another select, though rather different, list of Test Desmonds. For out of the 55 four-Test series to date, the England-Pakistan series was only the second occasion that the scoreline ended on two-all. The only other four-match 2-2, the 1999 Frank Worrell Trophy, was a famous battle for the ages, as the accelerating Australian juggernaut was held at bay by the eminence of Brian Lara.

England-Pakistan bore a number of points of similarity with that series. Off-field selection debates over a strike bowler raged, with Australia omitting Shane Warne and England leaving out James Anderson, although both bowlers protested that they were fit to play. The way the results played out also ran along similar lines: the visitors batted first and won the first Test, only to comprehensively lose the second by a huge margin, thanks to a double-century by the opposition's star. The third Test of each series saw the visitors squander a first-innings lead of over a hundred runs on their way to losing the match in the final session; however, they emphatically levelled the series in the final encounter, with their legspinner collecting five wickets.


Nevertheless, despite the echoes, England-Pakistan didn't quite scale the heights of its precursor, and doesn't merit the same level of wonder. Its many thrilling passages of play ensure, however, that it goes down as one of the best to grace these shores in recent years. Few would have demurred had a fifth Test been added. There were calls for a decider.

Yet a decider - something of a misnomer, since the possibility of a draw means that there would have been no guarantee that it would decide anything - would have been quite unnecessary. The Desmond has a beauty and rarity all of its own. "Leave them wanting more," as the famed entertainer PT Barnum is supposed to have said, perhaps apocryphally. Regardless of the author, it can still be viewed as one of the key rules of show business.

The symmetry of a 2-2 is as beguiling as it is uncommon. If one includes five- and six-match series, there have still only been 11 Desmonds in 220 series: a one-in-twenty return. The only other example this millennium, thus far, is South Africa's 2003 tour of England, notable for Makhaya Ntini's Lord's ten-wicket haul. It has not been possible to verify whether the MCC member who lends his name to the colloquialism was present on this occasion; it would have been particularly appropriate, assuming he was correctly attired, of course.

There has only ever been one Ashes Desmond, England's successful 1972 defence. Classic examples of the genre include the New Zealand tour to South Africa in 1961-62, which featured their first overseas Test wins. Back on England's fields, there was the 1995 West Indies tour, an outstanding one for another Bishop (Ian, rather than arch), but a series perhaps most famous for Dominic Cork's hat-trick. A mitre might have been a suitable award in the circumstances.

It is certainly the case that Pakistan's four-Test tour outshone all of England's recent five-match series, including the three Ashes contests between 2013 and 2015. That also goes for India's tour of 2014, wherein the visitors started brightly, being 1-0 up after two, but subsequently suffered three massive defeats, two being by an innings and one by 266 runs. Wisdom comes easily in hindsight, but in retrospect a four-match series would have been a better spectacle - especially when one considers that earlier in the year, Sri Lanka had only played two Tests, both of which went down to the last over.

Five-match series might appeal more to a traditionalist, but outside Ashes tours, there's much to be said for making a pair of three- and four- Test series the default option during the English summer, as indeed will be the case in 2017 for the visits of South Africa and West Indies. Time, also, to dispense with the rarely satisfying two-match brace that so often is employed as an early-season warm-up. Sri Lanka's aforementioned tour deserved an extra Test.

While this flaw was rectified in their most recent visit, it was unfortunately after their two greatest batsmen had retired, meaning the spectacle was that much poorer and the competition that much weaker. New Zealand's 2015 tour of England was a similar disappointment in duration, despite providing wonderful entertainment, and proving to be a much tighter battle than the Ashes that followed. It's possible to take PT Barnum's maxim too far.

On the other hand, although cricket would be blessed with more Desmonds, perhaps their rarity makes them something to cherish rather than covet. Surely the Archbishop would agree.