England 289 for 7 (Bell 109, Bairstow 67, Smith 3-18)
Hail and well met from Lord’s. Or near Lord’s, anyway. The Queen may have made her excuses before lunch, but for those who did not follow the royal example there was no shortage of intrigue on a sweltering day that surely tested the enforcement of the stringent MCC members’ dress code to its fullest.
Alastair Cook (c), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson
Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Usman Khawaja, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Phil Hughes, Brad Haddin (wk), Ashton Agar, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, James Pattinson
The Sky box was made a brighter place by the arrival of Shane Warne, fresh from the poker table. His voice is always music to my ears, as his cricket brain is among the sharpest of any player in the last twenty years and, along with Michael Holding, he thinks about the game in a markedly different way to the barrage of former England captains (and Ian Ward) who make up the rest of the Sky team. Unfortunately he was subjected to what seems to have become something of an initiation for new boys in the box: enduring five minutes of being patronised by iWardy and his giant screen. He dealt with it considerably better than Andrew Strauss had at Trent Bridge.
David Gower seized adroitly his chance to run us through the protocols of the Royal Visit (and at certain points today when the cameras panned to the topless short-wearing sunbathers on the Nursery, the MCC members looked like they would have relished the chance to declare themselves an independent Commonwealth nation, and enforce their dress code with the full power of the law and preferably a well-equipped military). Once the cricket started, the main diversion was Messrs Strauss and Hussain reminiscing about one of the most tragi-comically inept run-outs of all time, involving two fools by the names of…Strauss and Hussain.
Incidentally, whoever came up with the wheeze of putting cameras in the Long Room deserves some form of lordship. We’ve heard the walk down the steps, through the Long Room and out through the gate eulogised by generations of players, not least those now working for Sky and the BBC, and to see it for ourselves was truly a treat.
It’s still all about Ian Bell
The day started with Ryan Harris showing us just what Australia have been missing with his constant enforced absences, and ended with Steve Smith giving hope to all village leg-spinners, but it mostly belonged to the man whose Wikipedia page continues to be a magnet for gently ironic grandiose nicknames. He continued to occupy his own impregnably serene bubble, rotating the strike and gently admonishing – punishing is altogether too violent a verb for Bell – the loose balls that started as a trickle and threatened to turn into a flood after lunch. Trott came, looked imperious and went, as he did at Trent Bridge. Bairstow played all around a no-ball that in future years may well be looked back upon as the moment that made his career. But until Smith stole a delivery from a proper bowler and flung it Bell’s way before anyone could raise the alarm, Bell simply went on his merry way.
Bell actually had a rather indifferent recent record at Lord’s before today (another statistical albatross gently removed from around his neck; if Bell is going to make a habit of this he could not have chosen a better time to do so than a year with two Ashes series). He started well enough, with three hundreds and an average of 62.56 in his first seven Tests, but after the last of those against South Africa just over five years ago his record took somewhat of a nosedive: a high score of 63 and an average of 32.83 from six games is no record for any kind of top order batsman. You can find Bell’s full Lord’s stats here.
I refuse to bring myself to do more than mention England’s farcical use of Anderson as a night-watchman. And I’m only doing that under duress.
Good ball, bad shot
And now for something completely different: actual analysis.
Alastair Cook, lbw b Watson 12, 18-1: Good ball. Watson found the right line from which to swing the ball back down the slope, Cook’s head was still on the original line, and Clarke’s snap decision was vindicated. It took a while, mind; Marais Erasmus clearly misses Steve ‘Slow Death’ Bucknor as much as the rest of us too.
Joe Root, lbw b Harris 6, 26-2: Good ball. The use of the review by Root was fair enough, especially given the one Cook denied him in the second innings in Nottingham, but it was just about pad first. More credit to the umpire too, Kumar Dharmasena this time; it’s nice to see an ‘outer’ at the top level.
Kevin Pietersen, c Haddin b Harris 2, 28-3: Again, a very good ball, especially to Pietersen early on – what a change from Trent Bridge. Harris obviously listened intently to Glenn McGrath when he chatted to the bowlers yesterday, as this number bang on length straightening against the slope was one of Pigeon’s most dangerous weapons at Lord’s.
Jonathan Trott, c Khawaja b Harris 58, 127-4: Bad shot. Michael Atherton had commented with some surprise on how rarely Trott has been tested in his Test career against the short ball, and Trott blundered straight into the not-very-cunningly disguised heffalump tramp Clarke had set. The stroke he played has no name in any known language, and was an underwhelming end to an innings that had hitherto seemed destined to put him on the honours board. The disdainful flick for four he played first ball brought back memories of Hashim Amla’s treatment of Graeme Swann last year.
Ian Bell, c Clarke b Smith 109, 271-5: Good ball, but when spinners talk of setting up a batsman this is generally not what they mean. The ball before was the rankest of rank full tosses and got what it deserved, but this was a copybook leg-break: he tossed it up, it drifted, dipped and ripped across Bell, catching the edge almost incidentally on its way through to slip.
Jonny Bairstow, c&b Smith 67, 274-6: Awful ball, and given where it ended up I think we have to say awful shot. You could bowl this to Bairstow a hundred times and every single time you’d be fetching it from some way beyond the boundary. It was a smart catch, but that was this dismissal’s only redeeming feature. He will be disappointed not to have made more use of the life Siddle gave him, but it was a good, enterprising knock.
Matt Prior, c Haddin b Smith 6, 283-7: Cricinfo described this as an ‘attempted flipper’. It wasn’t. It was slightly fuller than a long-hop, and Prior misjudged the line. Three wickets for Smith off a jaffa, a full bunger and a short one: standard fare for a part-time leggie.
Let’s hope tomorrow is a worthy addition to what is already shaping up to be a fine series. Good night, and praise be unto V.V.S. Laxman.