For 20,000 folk who have tickets that will now never be used, there was not too much to celebrate. But for Andrew Strauss and his England team, winning the first Test of the summer inside three days and by the thumping margin of 10 wickets was just what they – and new head coach Andy Flower – had ordered.
“I think we played some pretty clinical cricket,” said captain Strauss, who had special words of praise for man of the match Graeme Swann, century-maker Ravi Bopara and seven-wicket debut-maker Graham Onions. “It’s just good to get over that finishing line because we struggled to do that in the West Indies.”
Strauss’s opposite number, Chris Gayle, suggested that conditions which were right up England’s street had played a big part in the match, although he admitted his team had “lost the plot” when dropping catches and then collapsing from a first innings position of promise. “I think he’s right to a certain extent in that we are more used to these conditions but there were little periods when the game could have gone either way – and we won those important periods,” said the home skipper.
“You cannot underestimate how important it is to win. It lifts the spirit of the team, it makes people feel part of something slightly special, it gives everyone confidence and the more you do it the more you believe you can win when the chips are down. We’ve won one now and we really need to win another next week.”
Having drawn their last six Tests at Lord’s and lost their last three series, home and away, England were especially keen to hit the ground running at the start of an Ashes summer. But there are a good many people who would rather they had finished the job 24 hours later.
At least today’s ticket-holders know they will get their money back under the England and Wales Cricket Board’s refund scheme. And the wider game will not suffer, at least not financially, as a result of an insurance policy which covers early finishes as well as wash-outs. But the Marylebone Cricket Club can kiss goodbye to around £180,000 in lost food, drink and merchandise sales with their ground standing empty today. So why start a Test on a Wednesday and run the risk of losing weekend trade?
Apparently, that is all down to the congested summer programme and the International Cricket Council’s not unreasonable demand that players should be guaranteed at least three days between Tests. Working backwards from the end of a season which includes a Twenty20 World Cup as well as two Test series and numerous limited-over internationals took the fixture planners to Wednesday 6 May. Fair enough, perhaps, but that does not help a lot of would-be cricket watchers work out what they will do today for entertainment.
For a time it seemed as though the MCC might try to arrange a special Twenty20 game to fill the void. But, logistically, that always looked like a non-starter and, in any event, until they lost their last five wickets in a hurry, West Indies threatened to take the Test into a fourth day.
Mind you, had it not been for a feisty sixth-wicket stand of 143 – the highest of the whole match – between Brendan Nash and Denesh Ramdin, yesterday’s crowd of around 20,000 would have been heading home with the afternoon commuters instead of being entertained until early evening. Wicketkeeper and vice-captain Ramdin played some handsome shots but it was all-rounder Nash who stood out.
Nash is unlikely to be the last Australia-born batsman to frustrate Strauss’s team this season. But, on this occasion at least, a bloke raised in Perth who has played most of his cricket in Queensland was a welcome sight on centre stage at Lord’s for those wanting a contest between bat and ball.