Ian Bell: We can take first steps here on the road to greatness
Lord's mystique should inspire us for greater challenges to come and Sidebottom will help swing things our way
Sunday 18 May 2008
Everyone is aware of what is expected, everyone expects England to beat New Zealand. So far, so good. But it is vital that England remember that expectation does not mean foregone conclusion. These tourists are tough.
I guess we might have bowled them out slightly cheaper than we did, I guess we might have expected (that word again) to do so. But what the pundits' assessment of our task must not do is lead to us underestimating them. They are tough, and Brendon McCullum showed how tough.
He took a risk; you have to take a risk. But he is in the form of his life and the risks are more calculated. His 97 had its share of fortune but you need that. If he is not one of the best players in the world at present then I don't know who is. He mixed unorthodox shot-making with class. It made it difficult to set fields to him.
There is a lot surrounding any Test at Lord's, and who could not wish to start a new season here? On Monday night the squad went to the Vodafone Player of the Year dinner in the Long Room. What a pleasant occasion it was. They have been good sponsors of English cricket and this is a particularly pleasant occasion, a chance to reflect on the successes of the past year while bearing in mind the challenges ahead.
The England player of the year was Ryan Sidebottom, a thoroughly popular and deserved winner. He has been a good bowler for a long time, and word had spread about his performances for Nottinghamshire before his call-up for the England team last year.
He has taken plenty of wickets with skilful, on-the-button swing bowling, but he might have had more. I remember against India last summer he beat Sachin Tendulkar several times, and you don't do that without knowing your onions. In Sri Lanka he might have had more wickets in less conducive conditions but he went to New Zealand and got his just reward, and back home in England I should imagine it's just his cup of tea. It was tremendous to see him pick up the trophy.
As it turned out, he didn'tbowl as well as he might have done on the first day. But like all very fine bowlers he responded, and by the second day he was swinging the ball down the right lines. It was another really polished performance, and allied to Jimmy Anderson's three wickets was really encouraging. Jimmy took a wicket in his first over, but his general attack set the tone we wanted to set.
This is a wonderful time of year, the start of something. Everything about Lord's – the atmosphere, the tradition, the sense of history – guards against us taking a comme ci comme ça approach to our game.
And if the Kiwis got a few runs more than we might have wished, the start to our innings was just right. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, together again as an opening pair, judged it just right. They knew they could not wait to let the bowlers get them out and they played some convincing shots in tricky conditions, where margins for error were small.
It was exactly what the batting needed. The light was moderate and the loss of one wicket in that sort of climate can easily lead to two or three going down, which can change the game.
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