There is a pleasing familiarity to the hours before the first Test of the summer begins, the anticipation building with every fellow spectator spotted on the journey to the ground, until the slow trickle of egg and bacon tie wearers and picnic basket carriers flows into cricket’s most hallowed reservoir on the St John’s Wood Road.
Each summer introduces new faces, offers the chance of a new era or at the very least promises that this is only the beginning of the long cricketing months ahead, where perhaps anything is possible.
In the end, there was a nauseating familiarity to the hour after the first Test of this summer began, just 12 overs on the ball and England’s entire top four already back in the pavilion, as if the ghost of Glenn McGrath had risen again to haunt the home dressing room.
A debut score to forget for Adam Lyth, a shot to forget from Alastair Cook, with Gary Ballance and Ian Bell sent packing for good measure, this was unmistakably New Zealand’s morning and they made it seem so simple – Brendan McCullum won the toss and the bowlers did the rest.
When debutant Matt Henry produced an near-unplayable ball to peg back Bell’s off stump with a sickening rattle, England were 30/4, spiralling ever faster towards ignominy’s plughole.
The unmistakable Lord’s murmur had acquired a more anxious tone, frequently punctuated by gasps and groans – the mass roar of “shot”, to accompany every good stroke, heard as scarcely in the stands as long conversations in French.
But this was not to be an England performance of old and this was not to be New Zealand’s day. This was a day when the home side’s envious batting depth came to the fore, a rescue mission skippered by captain-in-waiting Joe Root and his brawny bosun Ben Stokes.
It was a counterattack to settle the nerves, to rouse the crowd and to cement the feeling that this pair can go on to great things for England, it was a statement of intent not just in this game but for the future.
After a perfect first morning in Test cricket, Stokes ensured Henry enjoyed his afternoon rather less, in a post-lunch onslaught to wake even the drowsiest of members on the pavilion benches.
One over went for 15, including a flat six pulled dismissively into the Mound Stand, with an audacity rarely seen since the age of ‘untrustworthy Kevin’, the elephant that a poor performance might have let into the dressing room.
Ultimately a loss of concentration would deny both men their hundreds, but England were not done yet, they had more batting riches stuffed under their mattress and in Jos Buttler and Mooen Ali arguably the most exciting number seven and eight in world cricket.
The power of Buttler and the poise of Ali make a formidable combination, and so it proved for New Zealand, a century partnership to firmly wrestle the day in England’s favour.
It was an audacious revival after the grimmest of starts had suggested the worst and for once the summer has started with a pleasing sense of unfamiliarity.Reuse content