England v India: Hosts pray for ‘traditional’ surface to help end dismal run


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The Independent Online

Before the acrimony of the last few days, the playing surfaces had dominated this summer’s two Test series and today at Lord’s the pitch was still high on the agenda.

After benign strips for all three Test matches so far, all of which might have been unimaginable in England 20 years ago, it is feared that the series against India might meander on tediously with wickets at a premium, runs scarcely more easily available and Test cricket as a viable entertainment suffering.

Nobody so far, from expert to layman, has quite been able to explain why there has been a succession of low, slow surfaces. It might yet turn out that it is all down to climate change after all, in which case the game might be doomed.

The probability is that Lord’s will play as it usually does for the second Investec Test starting on Thursday, though it needs to be much quicker than when it staged the first Test of the summer against Sri Lanka a month ago. Mick Hunt, the venerable groundsman at the greatest arena in the world in this, its 200th year, will have brooked no interference with his preparations, though he will be aware of the need for a little more life.

Conspiracy theories abound. Chris Wood, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s inspector of pitches, spent nearly an hour in the middle on Tuesday with Hunt and Derek Brewer, the chief executive of MCC.

Wood insisted that it was normal practice and that he was merely testing for moisture content as he does at all grounds to help him gather data for preparing practice pitches at the National Performance Centre in Loughborough.

It would be a surprise, however, if the trio did not mull over the prospects for the match and how many bounces the new ball will take to reach the wicketkeeper this time.

The players, who are getting it in the neck for producing boring cricket (in spite of two thrilling finishes and several glittering individual performances), must be getting fed up too. They insist they do not want minefields but something that offers pace and carry in line with traditional English pitches.

For the last two days at least, the pitch has been protected not by the Lord’s hover cover but by an old-fashioned tarpaulin. If nothing else, it shows that there are concerns about moisture. There is some grass on it but that can be cut before this morning.

England, now nine matches without a victory, would clearly benefit from playing in familiar conditions. It is not unreasonable to expect that.

Until the draw against Sri Lanka last month, there had been 10 positive results in the previous 10 matches at Lord’s, of which England had won eight. The slowness of the pitches this summer might have helped some of England’s new batsmen to become accustomed to the rhythm of Test matches.

Players such as Sam Robson and Gary Ballance, for instance, are willing, and possibly prefer, to grind it out. Neither is prone to getting forward in a hurry. The same applies to Joe Root. All have made hundreds this summer but the framework in which they have compiled their runs has been tortuous.

The drier the pitch, the more likely that the left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan will play. He has continued to impress in the nets but the middle at Lord’s will be very much different, no matter how dry it is.

Lord’s preview: Second Test details

Probable teams:

England A N Cook (capt), S D Robson, G S Ballance, I R Bell, J E Root, M M Ali, M J Prior (wkt), B A Stokes, S C J Broad, L J Plunkett, J M Anderson.

India S Dhawan, M Vijay, C A Pujara, V Kohli, A M Rahane, M S Dhoni (capt, wkt), R A Jadeja, S T R Binny, B Kumar, I Sharma, Mohammed Shami.

Umpires K Dharmasena (SL) & B Oxenford (Aus).

TV Sky Sports 2, 10am-7pm, Highlights: Channel 5, 7-8pm.

Weather Warm and dry with sunny intervals. Max temp: 28C.

Pitch report Looked green on Wednesday but that may change. Certainly more pace than any previous surface this summer.