England at last recognised where they were and what it was they were supposed to be doing. And then they forgot it all over again. After two days of haplessly prodding around in a blindfold unsure of their purpose in life, they emerged blinking into the sunlight ready to begin the 2013 international cricket season.
The upshot of this essential transformation was that they fashioned a first-innings lead on the third day of the first Test in the Investec Series and then extended it to a point where they could entertain the prospect, no more, of defeating New Zealand. Just as this was turning into something more substantial, however, they reverted to a state of unseemly hesitancy and lost four wickets for 12 runs.
For the happier, too long awaited, much too brief state of affairs, most of the credit was due to Joe Root, their least experienced batsman. He left with unfinished business towards the end of the day when he was bowled by Tim Southee, which made a low-scoring match the more enticing.
It was the catalyst for a flurry of wickets. Southee, bowling with gusto and skill, followed up Root’s dismissal by bowling Jonny Bairstow off his pads and then had Matt Prior caught at cover for his second duck of the match. When Kane Williamson turned one out of the rough to bowl Jonathan Trott, an abject finish was complete.
The pitch is still in good order, but there is rough for England to exploit. The tourists, who are assessing injuries to Bruce Martin and BJ Watling, still have to bat last and their deficit is already 205. Yet they showed the cut of their jib by coming back into the match when it could easily have slipped away.
In his first home Test and his first match at Lord’s of any kind, Root took the game by its scruff. His score of 71 stamped his authority not only on the present but for the future. All indications are that, having broken into the team last winter, he will not be leaving it in a hurry.
Neither the innings nor his third-wicket partnership of 123 with Trott were flawless. It has been said of Root that he has the gait of John Wayne and unfortunately he sometimes runs as if wearing cowboy’s chaps. Had New Zealand’s throwing at the stumps been accurate he might have been run out four times either backing up, being sent back or dashing for quick singles.
Perhaps it did not help that he was batting with Trott for whom any call of “yes” by whichever party is merely the basis for negotiations. But there were flourishes of maturity and a clarity of shot selection which suggested a durable career. Promoted in the batting order to four because Ian Bell had flu, he was busy from the outset.
The first six balls he faced were incident-packed. He edged the first and the sixth just short of the slip cordon, got an inside edge just past his stumps to the second and hit the third and the fifth for fours. He was not worried both by his unexpected elevation and the fact that England were 36 for two when he entered.
Root, like Trott, was helped by an easing in the pitch, a quickening of the outfield and some ordinary bowling. But he seized on the short ball, played consummately off the back foot and reached his second fifty in Test matches with an assured boundary through the covers.
For most of the time he looked to be the senior partner, though Trott never lets these matters concern him. He simply chugged along, mildly annoying the bowlers as usual with his pernickety preparation at the crease, nudging here and accumulating there.
It was a surprise when Root was late on a defensive shot to Southee, the ball taking the inside edge as it moved down the slope. He is not a batsman given to exhibit his feelings – he could be Wayne playing poker – but he clearly remonstrated with himself as the middle stump was removed. All this compounded the shift in the match which began in the day’s second over. New Zealand arrived having been the superior team throughout most of the first two days, as they had been during the series between the teams in their own country two months ago.
There was not much in it but the tourists will have had in mind a first-innings lead at the least.
For the second successive day, Jimmy Anderson was irresistible and Steve Finn outrageously fortunate, but Stuart Broad was the catalyst by inducing an edge from Brendon McCullum with his second ball.
McCullum reviewed the decision but it can only have been in the hope that the technology was faulty. Kane Williamson, after reaching a well-appointed, studious 50 was unfortunate to be caught behind glancing a rare leg-side ball from Anderson. The innings folded quickly and Anderson’s dismissal of Martin with a humdinger brought him five wickets in an innings for the fourth time at Lord’s. Finn was a little deserving of his four.
England lost both their openers on 36 after a confident opening. Alastair Cook was out for the sixth time in seven innings to left arm swing, Nick Compton was the victim of his own diffidence. Root and Trott seemed to have repaired the damage but with this England nothing is guaranteed any more.
Bluffer’s guide to Joe Root
• Born 30 December 1990 in Dore, Sheffield.
• Studied at the King Ecgbert School in Sheffield, which was also attended by Jessica Ennis. He was in his first year when she was in her last.
• Went to the Sheffield Collegiate Cricket Club, the same as former England captain Michael Vaughan, and also his father, Matt, who played as wicketkeeper for the club.
• His younger brother, Billy, 20, currently plays with the MCC Young Cricketers. While this is Joe’s first appearance at Lord’s, his father and brother played against each other at HQ earlier this month in an MCC v MCC Young Cricketers match.
• Named Cricket Writer’s Club Young Player of the Year in 2012.
• Hit 73 runs from 229 balls faced in the first innings of his Test debut in India in December, and then made an unbeaten 20 in his second innings as England forced the draw they needed to win their first Test series in India in 27 years.
Batting ave: 36.50