England's batsmen are still haunted by ghosts of past failures

England 180-4 v New Zealand

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The Independent Online

If the bonanza summer of cricket continues as it began, everybody forced to witness it will be pleading for an early release. England's first innings in the opening match of the Investec series against New Zealand would have doubled perfectly as one of the more humane forms of slow torture.

The rate of their progress was influenced by a slow pitch and a slower outfield, by some rigidly disciplined bowling designed to contain, but perhaps above all by the strictures of their own minds. In seeking to atone for recent peccadilloes on the New Zealand tour, they left risk in the dressing room and ended up playing like men scared of their own shadows.

Some observers hailed it as old-fashioned Test cricket, which was to forget why it had to change. It was like longing for the days of wine and roses, but forgetting the wine led to membership of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Nor was the policy exactly a howling success. England finished on 160 for four from 80 overs which did not somehow reflect the laying of a platform for victory. It may turn out to be precisely that, in which case the infernal proceedings which represented the introduction to a summer which is intended to be unforgettable may be forgiven if never entirely forgotten. The trouble, as much as the woeful progress of run scoring, is the loss of the wicket.

Everything that England did was based on the need to compensate for what they did wrong in the recent three-match series in New Zealand when they were twice careless in first innings and dismissed cheaply. Well, that was not going to happen again, so there, and in adhering resolutely to this policy, they became moribund.

It was not surprising that ultimately it created uncertainty. They got out because they were determined not to get out. Had it been batting to save a match it might have been understandable. Maybe they were trying to save it without trying to win it. Maybe they did not know what they were doing.

There is time for the scoring rate to increase but as it stands the last time there was a scoring rate of under two runs an over at Lord's it was by Pakistan in 1967. But those were the days when sides thought of a draw first and a win only if it happened to emerge as a possibility and batsmen did not see it as their mission to play strokes. In other words, they were the days before Twenty20.

New Zealand were admirable. Alert in the field, they bowled to each batsmen with precision and perseverance. Tim Southee was outstanding but, once he settled into a rhythm, Trent Boult was perpetually troublesome. Bruce Martin, the replacement for the side's long-time left-arm spinner, Daniel Vettori, nagged away with lovely variation, inviting error.

Of the day's 80 overs, 30 were maidens. All the batsmen saw circumspection as a key ally and only Jonathan Trott went along at more than two runs an over. When Trott, for all his attributes, is the fastest scorer in an England innings, the world has been turned on its head.

It was neither easy nor difficult but the home batsmen made it seem as though winning the toss and batting was merely the least unacceptable option. By the time it rained half an hour before the scheduled finish the feeling was one of relief.

To watch Ian Bell grind it out for an entire afternoon seemed to be a crime against nature. Twice he emerged from a stupor to cover drive for four, holding the shot for the photographers and it was glorious. But it only heightened the perversity of him going along at a rate of 22, less than half his career rate. For most of the time he was content to defend, rather he was intent on it. Had the match been to save in a desperate rearguard action he could not have been more prosaic.

It is unfair to single out Bell for he must have been following a defined strategy. From pretty early on in the morning it was obvious that England were going nowhere quickly but not that ambition would desert them completely.

The position might have been designed for Nick Compton's style of batting. He has demonstrated an enviable talent for concentration in his brief Test career, judiciously leaving as if it were part of the old routine.

New Zealand had bowled four consecutive maiden overs when Compton took it upon himself to charge down the pitch to Martin's seventh ball in a Lord's Test. It turned a little and his desperately optimistic drive went in arc to point where Southee smartly judged the catch. It was a grotesque dismissal and Compton knew it.

In Martin's next over he dropped a straightforward return catch off Trott, who had yet to score. It was a lazy stroke and a highly culpable error by the bowler, meaning England were only one down at lunch.

But they shed another two wickets in the afternoon. Boult had said he fancied his chances against Cook and he found the edge with one that moved late, with BJ Watling holding a low catch to his left. Trott, having had his reprieve, received a lovely ball from Boult which squared him up. Dean Brownlie took a reaction catch inches off the ground at third slip swooping to his left.

Desultory though it was, it seemed that Bell and Joe Root would see out the day. But Bell was tempted to follow one which hung outside off stump and edged behind.


Timeline: How The first day unfolded at Lord's

11.03am: Play begins - England win the toss and bat first

McCullum calls, the coin comes down tails and England's captain Cook opts to bat. Fast bowler Steven Finn retains his place in the team ahead of Tim Bresnan.

12:35pm: Wicket - Compton c Southee b Martin, 16. England 43-1

Compton throws away his wicket, coming down the track spooning the ball to Southee at cover.

1pm: Lunch - England 56-1

Martin's loose delivery is smashed for four by Cook – only the third boundary of the session. At the interval Cook is on 34, with Trott on four.

1:52pm: Umpire review

Boult traps Cook in front and, after Aleem Dar says not out, McCullum ask for a review. Hawk-Eye reveals only half the ball was hitting top of middle. Dar calls it not out.

2:12pm: Wicket - Cook c Watling b Boult, 32. England 67-2

England's key man, who has scored just two runs since lunch, goes, caught by keeper Watling to his left.

3:32pm: Wicket - Trott c Brownlie b Boult, 39. England 112-3

Stunning piece of fielding. Brownlie dives to his left from third slip to catch Trott's thick edge off Boult.

3:43pm: Tea - England 113-3

New batsman Root gets off the mark with a leg bye before Bell bats out another superb over from Boult. That ends a session in which England scored 57-2.

5.23pm: Wicket - Bell c Watling b Wagner, 31. England 157-4

Another batsman fails to kick on as Wagner tempts Bell into edging to Watling. Visitors are on top.

5:43pm: Rain ends play. England 160-4

It's been a slow-scoring day and rain brings proceedings to a close 10 overs early. Root will resume today on 25 and Bairstow 3.

Giles Lucas

Numbers game: First-day figures

642 Total minutes spent at the crease by England's batsmen.

15 Number of fours England hit – Trott struck the most with four.

11 Wickets Boult has taken against England in last three Tests so far.