Henry Blofeld: Hoggard and Harmison fall foul of Lord's slippery slope

The natural slope at Lord's, which falls about seven feet from the north-west corner of the ground to the Tavern boundary in the south-east corner, has always caused severe problems for unsuspecting players. Unwary and inexperienced fast bowlers can find that it plays havoc with their rhythm as they run in down the slope or up against the slope from the Pavilion End.

These idiosyncrasies were underlined when the first Test started yesterday morning. Both of New Zealand's opening batsmen, like England's, are left-handers and Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison suddenly found that the difficulty of adjusting their line to the left-handers was exaggerated by this significant slope.

Life at Lord's is easier for left-handed opening batsmen than right-handers. Harmison, bowling from the Nursery End to a ridiculous field with seven men on the off side and only two down the slope on the leg side, soon found that he was slipping the ball too frequently down the hill. Stephen Fleming, who is so strong off his legs, wasted no time in pulling him to the Tavern boundary and playing him away through midwicket off his legs.

It was patently absurd to have seven fielders on the upside of the slope and to give Harmison almost no protection at all on the downside. It meant that in order to guard against slipping the ball down the leg side, he had to aim it too far outside the off stump to be a serious danger to the batsman. With the protection of at least a third fielder on the leg side Harmison would have been given the confidence to aim closer to the left-hander's off stump and so make the batsman play more often.

From the Pavilion End, Hoggard, for similar reasons, allowed the two left-handers to leave far too many balls alone. The slope meant that his natural line was to make the ball go away down the slope to the left-handers and two such canny batsmen as Mark Richardson and Fleming, who know exactly where their off stumps are, needed no encouragement to shoulder arms. It was a waste of the new ball.

The Lord's slope must make life easier for left-handed openers than for their right-handed counterparts. Harmison's seven-two field made it easier still, but both these bowlers have bowled at Lord's before and they should have been rather more streetwise on this first morning. It will be interesting to see how the New Zealand bowlers cope.

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