The Queen popped into Lord's yesterday but, if she was on the lookout for prospective knighthood material, the only thing that would have caught her eye on a rain-hit day were the trojan efforts of the ground staff. At times, yanking covers on and off must seem as futile as, well, playing cricket against Australia. Yet their efforts allowed 40.1 overs to be played, enough for England to sink to 121 for 4 after losing their 13th toss from 14 in Ashes Tests.
If not officially a disaster for the home side, much rests with Graham Thorpe, unbeaten on 16, and his Surrey team-mate Alec Stewart. Off the mark with a single from his first ball, this was Thorpe's first knock in the middle for six weeks and, despite the pedigree of the bowlers, his ring-rustiness has not been apparent. Nor has his injured calf and while at the crease he ran seven threes without alarm.
Before his comforting profile appeared, Michael Atherton had applied his usual grit to the potentially slippery surface of an England innings. Off the mark with a hooked four off Glenn McGrath, Atherton looked comfortable in dual role as caretaker captain and opening bat until he shouldered arms to one in McGrath's second spell and was lbw for 37.
It was not his first hiccup of the day after Steve Waugh won the toss. With moisture about in both ground and air after rain delayed the start, and a thick layer of cloud cover for most of the day, it looked a useful toss to win, at least psychologically. In fact, the pitch, a dry straw-coloured affair, played pretty well, with any lateral movement the product of gravity working with the famous Lord's slope and not moist grass gripping the seam.
As they had done in the first Test, all of the leading batsmen got starts. Indeed, when England got to 75 for 1 without undue alarm, it looked as if Lord Archer's wasn't the only deception to have been perpetrated as Australia's supermen began to look human.
Yet opponents relax at their peril and, in less time than it takes the average Aussie to tell you his life story (normally between the first and third beer), they had taken three wickets and pushed England's ambitions back into the dressing-room from whence they had momentarily come.
To compete against a side as superior as Australia, England have to be miserly with their mistakes. By flashing at a wide one from Jason Gillespie, Marcus Trescothick, who opened his account with a boundary, broke that rule. Like David Gower before him, Trescothick employs minimal foot movement in playing his shots, which makes such dismissals look like a capital crime.
If perishing by his own hand was not bad enough, the error also gave Gillespie, who opened with a loose spell, a wicket he scarcely deserved. These boys can make life difficult enough without handing them a 'gimme' as baby soft as that.
Yet, bad as the shot was, it should not have been out. Television replays, the bane of dozy umpires everywhere, showed that Gillespie – as he had done before lunch when he had Trescothick dropped by Mark Waugh at second slip – had bowled a no-ball.
True to his standing as one of the leading umpires in world cricket, the umpire Steve Bucknor picked up the first one, which was marginal, but not the second, which saw the bowler overstep by two inches.
Calling the transgression would not have caused Trescothick to change his decision-making process but, as sole arbiters of the game's laws, the umpires should see that they are observed. If not, get the third umpire to inform them of their error, a process that would take all of five seconds.
Before this Test, the Australian coach John Buchanan said he felt left-handers may find it easier to cope with the visitors' pace attack. It was an interesting comment and one that appeared to be borne out by Mark Butcher, during the snatches of play available between rain squalls.
While Atherton looked like a jack in a box surviving the probings of McGrath and Gillespie, Butcher hardly made a false stroke. As he had done at Edgbaston, he looked the part playing through the 'V' and latching on to anything short with relish. Two cuts for four oozed class, but, when McGrath eventually forced an error, it proved terminal.
The beanpole pace bowler has not quite hit his straps in this series, but he still niggles and yaps like a terrier on stilts. Getting one to leave Butcher down the famous slope, he forced the batsman to open the face of his bat and guide the ball into the Venus flytraps on the end of Waugh's arms. The catch took him level with his old captain, Mark Taylor, equalling the world record that will surely fall over the next day or so.
With McGrath's removal of Atherton – the 15th time he has done so in Tests – shifting the balance of power, England dug in through Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash.
Considering his Test average at Lord's is seven, Ramprakash looked positive in his movements. But, like an iceberg, the significant bit of Ramprakash is below the surface, and, when Brett Lee began to work him over by mixing fast, short balls, with others of varying pace, you could sense his growing unease. The murky light would not have helped and, when Lee slipped him a fast inswinger, it bowled him through the gate for 14 – a score, like England's, that was neither here nor there.Reuse content