Andrew Strauss kept his side of the bargain here yesterday and, for four hours or so, Australia bowled just about as badly as they can. But England will still go into the second day of the second Ashes Test today knowing that an opportunity to dominate has been missed.
Strauss stressed that the lessons of Cardiff would be learnt. And while the captain and Alastair Cook were putting together a wonderfully secure stand of 196 – a first-wicket record for England against Australia at Lord's – it seemed as though the home side could not help but cash in.
Yet, after losing six wickets for 137 runs, England finished up last night on 364 for 6, not much better off than they were a week ago when making an unsatisfactory 336 for 7 on the first day of the first Test despite six batsmen reaching 30.
This time, Strauss showed them how to convert small acorns into mighty oaks. Apart from edging a Ben Hilfenhaus no ball into and out of wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's left glove when on 48 and dislocating a finger on Nathan Hauritz's bowling hand with a ferocious straight drive four runs later, England's captain never looked like missing out on his 18th century in 64 Test appearances.
Crucially, despite wickets falling around him, the captain continued on his merry way and walked off his ground, to a standing ovation, with an unbeaten 161 against his name. "Hopefully, there is some unfinished business," said Strauss, who also reached 5,000 Test runs with his 22nd boundary just before close of play. "It was a good day for England but probably a better day for me personally. It's a special moment any time you get an Ashes century, and when it is at the home of cricket it's even more special."
Asked whether, after such a good start, England's score was disappointing, he admitted: "It is a slightly disappointing from being 196 for nought. But I feel there are more wicket-taking opportunities here than in Cardiff and the ball has swung. If we can get up to 450 we will be in a pretty good position, but we will have to bowl better than we did last week."
Strauss and Cook made serene progress while putting Mitchell Johnson, the leader of Australia's attack, to the sword. The left-arm fast bowler conceded 53 runs from his first eight overs and, despite coming back to dismiss Cook and Matt Prior, he still went for 107 off 19.
"I really enjoyed the opening stand with Cooky and we managed to get some early ascendancy over the Aussies but, as is often the case with them, they came back well in that final session," Strauss said. "Lord's is always a fast-scoring ground and if you are slightly off as a bowler then you are going to go. It looked like Mitchell Johnson was struggling with the slope early on and we were able to take advantage."
Australia's fightback began as the ball grew older and their pacemen managed to make it swing. But too many England batsmen failed to sell their wickets dearly, although their captain defended them last night. "I think most of our guys were got out," he said. "Paul Collingwood was probably the only one to have a hand in his downfall [dragging a drive against the spinner Michael Clarke to mid-on] but he was trying to push things along before the second new ball."
Strauss's innings was perfectly timed. Australia made it plain before the series that they intended to target the opposition captain and, having missed out twice in Cardiff, the pressure would have been mounting with another failure here.