There are occasions when Test cricket appears to do little to promote itself and yesterday was one of them. Hardly a drop of rain fell on the famous old ground but only 55.4 of the scheduled 98.5 overs were completed as bad light ruined the second day of the first Test. Impenetrable cloud cover forced the players from the field on five occasions, much to the frustration of a sizeable and patient crowd.
In the play available Ryan Sidebottom once again starred, taking the four remaining New Zealand wickets for the cost of five runs in 10.1 immaculate overs. In reply to New Zealand's total of 277 England had reached 68 without loss when, you guessed it, bad light stopped play for a fifth and final time.
But what can cricket do to avoid such disheartening and damaging periods of inactivity? A day like this does little to encourage supporters to spend £65 on a ticket next year. The umpires could be more relaxed but such action would potentially reduce the quality of the product on display. Reacting to a hard red projectile that has to cover just 20 yards between the bowler and you at 85-90mph is hard enough on a bright clear day, but when it has to be searched for out of a murky background it can be hazardous, even dangerous. The contest between bat and ball is intended to be an even one.
Floodlights have been used at grounds where they are present but the experiment has been unsuccessful and the ruling scrapped. Artificial light, no matter how bright it seems, is nowhere near as strong as natural light. When shadows caused by that artificial light appear on the outfield during a floodlit match it means the light has dropped below an acceptable level. This problem can be overcome with a white ball or possibly fluorescent pink ball because they stand out more against a dark background. But batsmen have complained that the reflection of floodlights on a red ball makes it difficult to see.
One option may be to encourage the crowd to wear the new brilliant white replica England Test shirts – that would certainly brighten the place up; the players would even need sunglasses even on the gloomiest of days.
The MCC World Cricket Committee, an independent watchdog, recently suggested that the ICC, the game's governing body, should consider playing day/night Test matches in order to maintain Test cricket's position as the pinnacle of the game. It is an option worth considering but it is hard to see how it will overcome situations like those experienced yesterday.
The quality of light may have been poor but there was little wrong with the batting of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook, who looked extremely comfortable in testing conditions. The pair were watchful to begin with but started to take control once they had become used to the pace and bounce of the pitch. Quick singles were taken in an attempt to keep the scoreboard ticking over and the occasional edge ran away to third man, but there were enough confident shots down the ground and through the covers to suggest that each could post a significant score today.
Sidebottom was superb but England made hard work of bowling New Zealand out in conditions that were as helpful to bowlers as those presented on the opening day. Sidebottom failed to make the New Zealand batsmen play the ball as much as he should on Thursday but he was right back on the mark yesterday, constantly testing the patience and technique of the opposition batsmen.
England conceded just 14 runs in the 10 overs before Jacob Oram was dismissed, edging a perfectly pitched away swinger to Strauss at first slip. Of New Zealand's travelling batsmen Oram had the highest average – 36.61 – going into the Tests. The left-hander has the reputation of being a powerful and dangerous stroke player in limited-over cricket, a batsman capable of playing Brendon McCullum type innings, but in Tests he prefers to consolidate, and he was beginning to look comfortable when Sidebottom struck.
England's man of the moment continued to grunt, groan and curse as he attempted to add to his tally but Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, and Kyle Mills stood firm for more than an hour adding 36 useful runs for the eighth wicket. Vettori has to be the best number eight in world cricket. His style is ugly and there are times when every ball he faces looks as though it could be his last, but the left-hander's unaesthetic technique is proving to be highly effective. In New Zealand's last 16 Tests Vettori has scored 869 runs at an average of 43.45, figures that make him the highest rated batsman in his side in the Test rankings.
Sidebottom failed to get the support he required from James Anderson and Stuart Broad, each of whom bowled far too short. The sight of the ball hitting batsmen on the upper body and flying through to the wicketkeeper at head height might satisfy the ego of a bowler but it did not please their captain. In seaming, swinging conditions fast bowlers need to pitch the ball up to encourage the batsman to drive.
It was such bowling that allowed Sidebottom to claim his last three wickets. Armed with the second new ball the 30-year-old knocked out the off-stump of Mills with a beautiful inswinger and shattered Tim Southee's castle when he had a huge heave at a straight ball. With Chris Martin, Test cricket's worst batsman, at the other end Vettori went for his shots and took 14 runs of an Anderson over. Then, for some inexplicable reason, he opted to leave a straight ball that struck middle stump.
Lord's has never been a ground where wicketkeepers enjoy plying their trade and Tim Ambrose will not have revelled in his inaugural Test appearance here. For some unknown reason the ball swings after it pitches, a phenomenon that causes glovemen untold problems. On four occasions in New Zealand's innings the ball deceived him and ran away for four byes. It would have been a reassuring sight for those stoppers playing club cricket today. Even Test cricketers get it wrong on occasions.
England won toss
New Zealand – First Innings
(Overnight: 208 for 6)
J D P Oram c Strauss b Sidebottom 28
139 min, 97 balls, 3 fours
*D L Vettori b Sidebottom 48
152 min, 100 balls, 6 fours
K D Mills b Sidebottom 10
67 min, 59 balls
T G Southee b Sidebottom 1
9 min, 9 balls
C S Martin not out 0
20 min, 13 balls
Extras (b16 lb14 w1 nb3) 34
Total (387 min, 86.2 overs) 277
Fall: 1-2 (Redmond) 2-18 (How) 3-41 (Taylor) 4-76 (Marshall) 5-104 (Flynn) 6-203 (McCullum) 7-222 (Oram) 8-258 (Mills) 9-260 (Southee) 10-277 (Vettori).
Bowling: Sidebottom 28.2-12-55-4 (5-1-14-0, 1-0-3-0, 6-2-14-0, 6-2-19-0, 7-4-3-1, 3.2-3-2-3); Anderson 20-5-66-3 (nb1, w1) (7-1-23-2, 5-2-19-1, 6-2-9-0, 2-0-15-0); Broad 24-4-85-2 (nb2) (4-0-13-1, 5-2-21-1, 5-1-32-0, 1-0-4-0, 9-1-15-0); Collingwood 3-1-11-0 (1-1-0-0, 1-0-6-0, 1-0-5-0); Panesar 11-2-30-1 (1-1-0-0, 3-0-15-1, 7-1-15-0).
Progress: Second day (min 98 overs): 250: 337 min, 75 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 258-7. Lunch: 260-8 (Vettori 31, Southee 1) 82 overs. Bad light stopped play 1.41pm-2.04pm, 260-8 (Vettori 31, Southee 1) 82.2 overs. BLSP 2.23-2.38pm, 275-9 (Vettori 46, Martin 0) 85.5 overs. Innings closed: 2.40pm.
McCullum's 50: 127 min, 65 balls, 8 fours.
England – First Innings
A J Strauss not out 24
96 min, 69 balls, 2 foursA N Cook not out 43
96 min, 61 balls, 6 fours
Extras (nb1) 1
Total (for 0, 96 min, 21.3 overs) 68
To bat: *M P Vaughan, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, †T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Martin 8.3-2-24-0 (6-2-15-0, 2.3-0-9-0); Mills 5-0-10-0 (nb1); Southee 3-0-19-0; Oram 5-0-15-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Second day: BLSP 3.14-3.26pm 15-0 (Strauss 3, Cook 12) 5.3 overs. BLSP 3.57pm; tea taken 26-0 (Strauss 9, Cook 16) 12 overs. Bad light prevented restart until 4.58pm. 50: 72 min, 16.1 overs. BLSP 5.40pm.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong.
Match referee: R S Madugallef.