The reply to a New Zealand lead of 172 on a turning pitch was badly conceived and poorly executed. By the close, England were still 65 runs adrift with four wickets down and by no means sure of closing the gap. It was a disastrous position, aggravated alarmingly by the loss of their captain, Nasser Hussain, who broke a finger on his right hand while fielding earlier in the day, will take no further part in the match and will almost certainly miss the next Test at Old Trafford.
Unfortunately, the awful truth, witnessed by a full house in this magnificent stadium on a beautiful day, was that it could have been worse. Wickets might have fallen at any time, so ill-judged and nerve-wracked was the shot-making. Late in the day, the tourists, grimly assured and about as bland as rock 'n' roll, had an appeal for a catch behind turned down against Aftab Habib that would have left England with no specialist batsman remaining.
Not that this is a category into which poor Habib could be comfortably placed on his present international form. He had already been put down and if the fielding side were upset at his second reprieve it was probably because the edge would have gone off the scale of the Channel 4's new snickometer gadget. If Habib were to go on and do wonderful things in this match and the rest of his career he would have cause to reflect on the fortuitous decision by the umpire, Rudi Koertzen.
England have escaped from hopeless causes before. Indeed, it sometimes seems that they have made a mission out of it, as though they have been taken over by some sect which insists that facing and overcoming adversity of your own making helps make you a better person. They had their usual share of trouble at Edgbaston in the First Test until Alex Tudor, who presumably has not been around long enough to be brainwashed by the order, hit them out of it.
But it would take endeavour and application of a hitherto well-concealed nature - since the match at Old Trafford against South Africa anyway - if England are to prevent the Kiwis winning for the first time at Lord's at the 13th time of asking. Their upper order merely confirmed their long- standing weakness against the spinning ball, as purveyed by the bespectacled, studious Daniel Vettori, who bowled 21 overs for 45 runs, took two wickets, might have had more and was merely enhancing the importance of his half- century earlier in the day.
Hussain can be an influence only in the background. He has an unusual agreement for an England captain which allows him to depart when either he or the selectors have had enough, instead of being installed for a specific term. The third full over of his sixth active day in charge seemed a touch premature, however. So it transpired. The break was quickly revealed.
With a differently structured team being fashioned under fresh leadership, the injury is hardly opportune, particularly with a game directly at stake. Graham Thorpe, a captain of vast inexperience, has taken over here but the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and his panel must decide if that is appropriate for the next match and, if the break does not heal quickly, for the rest of the summer. If not Thorpe then who? And whoever it is, where would it leave Hussain if his replacement took England to rampant victories? On the evidence of this match the latter is not a question with which the selectors will have to wrestle.
England's reply started with reasonable composure. Mark Butcher has been in good form all summer and looked it when he cut two wide balls. Alec Stewart had decided to continue his policy of hitting himself back into the runs and form.
Still, it was Butcher who was the first to go, essaying something brutal against Vettori, finding the ball coming on to him and managing only a leading edge. Stewart became fidgetty and his shot across the line to Vettori soon after betrayed his frustration. Thorpe was undone by Chris Cairns's slower ball, neither the first, nor, probably the last, because it is a devilish thing.
Ramprakash was scratchy but he looked phlegmatic about it. He would stick at it. The New Zealanders removed Vettori, which seemed mysterious, and was replaced by Nathan Astle. His fifth ball was wide and deserved the full treatment. Ramprakash, grateful for something to hit, prepared to dish it out. He managed only a bottom edge. An inspired change. Habib and Dean Headley, a nightwatchman protecting Chris Read of all people, survived with no certainty whatever.
New Zealand had extended their lead from the realms of handsome to imposing in the morning. Vettori and Adam Parore put on a cheeky 33 in 51 balls, Vettori playing square of the wicket, Parore having a bash in most places. When Parore went continuing his have-a-go policy Vettori was joined by Chris Cairns and they continued in much the same jaunty fashion. If it was there to hit, they hit it. For a while it was all too reminiscent of Tudor on the Saturday of the Edgbaston Test, including the square of the wicket shots. The dismissal of Cairns hastened the tourists' demise. But a stand of 70 in 104 balls had already given England far too much to cope with.
At last Phil Tufnell snared the final two wickets, the first of which crystallised a bad day for England's fledgling wicketkeeper, Chris Read. Deceived by his fellow left-armer's flight, Vettori edged; the ball hit Read's gloves, looped up in the air and Thorpe ran backwards from slip and to take the catch.
Read had an untidy morning behind the stumps. He is still growing accustomed to Tufnell's wiles and was not helped by the bounce but he will know that he fluffed too when many standing back.
He is also 20, in his second Test and the selectors must keep faith with him. He has safe hands, he is learning and there is no surely no point having come this far in turning elsewhere. It is perhaps too early to begin a Read Must Stay campaign but he must.
England are a side who sometimes seem as if they would have trouble responding to a cloned combination of Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Don Bradman. In the absence of that trio as well as Nasser, this match is probably beyond salvaging.
Stephen Fay, page 3Reuse content