There are much greater challenges ahead for England than the first Test series of the summer, against New Zealand. Without detailed research or the presence of Bangladesh, it is difficult to think of a lesser one.
In both the batting and bowling departments (if not fielding) the tourists are lacking experience and talent. Three days of gentle sparring against the England Lions – the Pussycats on the strength of their cautious batting – is no yardstick, but it was difficult to discern anything that, over the course of a three-match series, will be sufficiently influential for them.
As they invariably have done since they first set foot on these shores 77 years ago, New Zea-land will play above themselves, adding up to a sum greater than their parts. But they would have to defy arithmetical logic to an unimaginable degree to winthe Test rubber.
If their captain, Daniel Vettori, is forced to miss the match at Lord's because of the cut in his left index finger, they will be at a greater disadvantage. Vettori's left-arm spin offers them potential control at one end, and the nous he has learned from 80 Test matches will be impossible to replace. The odds are that he will play. He must.
England will make the appropriate noises about respecting the opposition, as they should, but if they do not win comfortably, all the talk of progress can be judged hot air.
The Lions brand, marketed with zest, has yet completely to prove its worth. Theoretically, the England second string is important, because it gives players on the verge of selection the opportunity of playing alongside their peers. For touring sides, it means proper opposition.
Yet the present true status of such matches can perhaps be gauged simply by the strip on which it is being played – on the outer edge of a large square rather than in the showpiece middle areas. If it has been a pleasant match, played competitively, there has been little urgency, no sense that players were playing for their futures, even though it was clear they have been trying to impress.
The Lions took an age to remove the New Zealanders' final wicket, especially embarrassing since one of the batsmen was Chris Martin, a cricketer born to bat at No 12. In the event, he faced 28 balls, all of which failed to dislodge him, and the man to go was Aaron Redmond after a career-best 146.
Redmond, 28, was a surprising choice for this tour, but he will definitely open at Lord's. His father, Rodney, played one Test for New Zealand in 1973, making 107 and 58, and was never picked again. What riches they must have had then.
The Lions began their second innings with some intent. Their captain, Robert Key, played a couple of handsome drives before he was adjudged leg before, to his evident astonishment. Too high, perhaps. The side pootled along after that like a Sunday-afternoon driver.
Owais Shah put his foot down occasionally, Ravi Bopara was thinking of doing so. But they got out while Michael Carberry,especially studious in the early part of his innings, stayed in. Carberry had a good Lions tour in the winter and scored two hundreds. Presumably he wished to restate his credentials as a man to occupy the crease. His first 50 took 131 balls, at which point he was emboldened. His next 50 took a mere 57 balls. He damaged a hamstring – later saidto be only cramp – and was removed by stretcher. What larks.
Shah is a known quantity, but should Paul Collingwood's shoulder rule him out of the Test, England will need a batsman who can bowl seam. Although Luke Wright made a century in the first innings of this match, the fact is he bats only at seven for Sussex. Bopara, who has had a romping start to the summer, would be advised to keep the mobile switched on.