Among the more telling truisms about Test cricket is the value of the first-innings score. It is never fully realised until the other team have also had a bat.
Thus, 150 all out can be riches indeed if the opposition are dismissed for 80. England’s 575 for 9 in the first Test yesterday was many things. It was their highest total for three years, the first time in 13 matches that they had made above 400 in the first innings and it made them immune from defeat. Joe Root scored his maiden Test double hundred, a chanceless construction which would not have been possible with some audacious underpinning by numbers seven to 11.
Apart from that, the runs came at a lick. Only nine times before had England scored more than 400 at a rate above 4.41 runs an over. Sri Lanka’s attack was of the pop-gun variety and by the end of the innings it was less dangerous than that, say an elastic band catapult.
But whether it was all sufficient to create a winning position was another matter. By the close of the second day, it was a little nearer to being answered: perhaps not.
This pitch has been built to last, it is flat and slow and while it could and should deteriorate in the next three days, a victory for England will demand incisive bowling and brittle batting, of which there may not be enough of either. It is possible too that England will come to rue their lack of a specialist spinner, but they knew that.
Sri Lanka, who wilted so seriously in the morning that doubts arose about their capacity to last the distance, allayed them in the afternoon. The tourists’ batting was robust and disciplined and they had reduced the deficit to 435. In other words, there is still a long way to go.
The only wicket to fall went to Chris Jordan, the new England fast bowler via Barbados, who produced a peach of a third ball in Test cricket. Its testing length invited the drive from Dimuth Karunaratne and took the edge. There should have been a second wicket for England when Matt Prior caught Kaushal Silva behind after a rare flirtation outside off.
Silva looked prepared to walk, the umpires could not decide whether the ball had carried – presumably because they had their eyes closed – and referred it to the man upstairs. After the usual plethora of replays reasonable doubt invaded the third umpire’s mind. Silva, fortunate to be reprieved, played diligently; his partner, Kumar Sangakkara, gave the impression of a great batsman who had never scored a hundred at Lord’s and needed to rectify that.
Root took root for the second time in two years at Lord’s. At this rate they will have to plant a commemorative tree in his honour some day. He batted for eight hours 21 minutes, more than an hour longer than his 180 against Australia last year. The innings took 298 balls, compared to 338 in 2013, which merely emphasises Sri Lanka’s pitiful over rate, which was matched by England.
Umpires who sometimes appear to have been weakened rather than strengthened by technology, afraid to make a decision in case the machine objects, should intervene. If a gizmo has not been invented which can judge whether a ball has carried into a wicketkeeper’s gloves, it should be easy enough to tell the time and the overs bowled in it. While the games creates its own sense of theatre, this sort of Test pitch needs all the overs it can get for a result to be possible.
Like last year, Root was constantly purposeful; unlike last year, when he offered a catch behind on eight, he was also chanceless. He was much more fluent yesterday than on the first day and seems early in his career to have found a method which suits him.
The double hundred looked unlikely when Matt Prior was out for 86, never quite the dasher of the day before, constrained and eventually undone by Sri Lanka’s peculiar ploy of a bodyline attack. The true threat of bodyline was short-pitched bowling delivered at high pace; here was short-pitched bowling delivered at military medium, evidence of why comedians are not cut out to play Hamlet.
But England added almost another 200 for their last four wickets, Jordan, Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett all whirling the blade with great gusto. Sri Lanka meanwhile continued their bouncer battery; it did not evoke memories of last winter’s Ashes.
Jordan unfurled a couple of cracking shots in his brief stay, including an on drive and a cover drive for four which raised 400. Broad reminded us again of the batsman he should be by now. Plunkett had clearly been told to enjoy himself. Between them they scored 105 runs from 99 balls, which allowed Root to go about his work in his own efficient way. How he must have appreciated this after the business in Australia. It was a stroll in the park compared to a campaign in the jungle.
There was mild tension when Jimmy Anderson came to the crease with the double hundred in sight but Anderson played a reverse sweep to ease it. Then with a fine sweep, Root duly became the first England batsman to make 200 since Ian Bell three years ago at The Oval. He was the 33rd to make a double hundred for England. There have been 52 now, only nine of them at Lord’s. They still have rarity value. No platinum perhaps, but definitely gold dust.