The second Test match of the 2013 Ashes series begins at Lord’s on Thursday. To begin to emulate the first it must be riveting from toss to conclusion, contain two or three performances of the very highest class combining guts and skill, provide controversy and competition in equal measure and reach a climax that is both compelling and unwatchable. So no pressure there then for the greatest cricket ground in the world.
In the long period of assessment and prediction before the first ball was bowled at Trent Bridge (the second greatest ground anyone?) it was generally recognised that the upshot might depend chiefly on two factors. The first was whether England were as good as generally thought, not least by themselves, the second was whether Australia were as bad as they themselves might have feared.
Those questions went some way to being answered in Nottingham: maybe and definitely not. If England prevail at Lord’s for the second time in succession, after failing to beat Australia there for 75 years until 2009, they will take a 2-0 lead in the series. Australia would need to win the next three to regain the Ashes.
But that is to leap too far ahead for now. What five days in Nottingham did, as if it needed to be done, was to place Test cricket in a showcase that could sit proudly alongside one holding the Crown Jewels.
At lunchtime on the final day, BBC’s Test Match Special was receiving messages from people who were listening to events unfold in some of the more unlikely places around the globe, including China and the Arctic Circle, rapt as the game reached its dramatic conclusion. On all parts of Planet Cricket the match had been enthralling. The decision by the television rights holders, Sky, to establish a special Ashes channel is looking inspired.
If a marketing company had brainstormed a promotional tool for Test cricket, it could not have emerged with a match quite as constantly engrossing. One side gained an advantage only for the other to hang on in there and then the other sneaked ahead again. The tension, the to-ing and fro-ing, the ebbing and flowing endured over all 14 sessions for five days and 14 runs was the eventual margin. It was actually only the 11th closest in terms of runs in Ashes history but that hardly does it justice.
Perhaps still stunned by what he had witnessed, Andy Flower, England’s head coach, was more measured than might have been expected even from such a calm head. “Obviously they’d fought back brilliantly and it was a great game,” he said. “Well done to them for getting that close. But I always believed that we could create enough chances to win that game. It’s great for all of us to be involved in such a great Test and I’m sure it will be a great series one way or the other. It was a brilliant game to be involved in.”
England announced an unchanged squad of 13 yesterday for the Lord’s match but that does not make the selection of the final XI any more straightforward. That too will probably be unchanged.
Although Steve Finn was disappointing at Trent Bridge, it would be odd to omit a Middlesex bowler on his home ground for either of the two northerners, Tim Bresnan or Graham Onions. Finn was stoutly defended by Flower for the two breakthrough wickets he took in Australia’s first innings but his struggle for length throughout the match was reflected in the fact that Alastair Cook, England’s captain, was so loathe to bowl him by the end.
Perhaps nobody should have been surprised. Finn has been out of form for much of the summer but a man of 6ft 8in in height whose chief weapon as a fast bowler is bounce was being expected to ply his trade on a low, slow, arid strip of turf. It was a big ask and if Lord’s is similar then someone who can churn out over after over aiming for the top of off stump may be a wiser option.
Flower also defended Stuart Broad’s decision not to walk of his own accord when he edged the ball in England’s second innings and was given not out. It was against the general flow of public if not player opinion but brutally candid. “When I played cricket I didn’t walk when I’d edged it so I’d be a hypocrite to say that all other players should walk,” he said. “Most players leave it to the umpires to make the decision and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
It is pretty certain that the bowling attack will not stay the same throughout the two back-to-back series. England do not have an over-abundance of bowling reserves and Chris Tremlett, as he was three years ago, is being groomed for the trip Down Under this winter. If David Saker, the bowling coach and a huge fan of Tremlett, likes what he sees in the England nets in the next two days then he may be called to arms sooner.
Flower denied all knowledge of what the pitch at Lord’s may be like but it would be a surprise to turn up to find that it is anything other than bone dry, slow and likely to encourage both reverse swing and spin. England have made their bed and for now are wallowing in it.