A dreadful over-rate but a fine day of cricket in what promises to be a close Test match.
Such has been the constant hoopla surrounding Joe Root for the past six months that we’ve developed a kind of anti-hype machine to counteract all the hullabaloo. For every voice on the radio that questions Nick Compton (two Test centuries), for every article in a newspaper suggesting Ian Bell (17 Test centuries) should stand aside to make room for the lad from Sheffield (no Test centuries), we grow a little bit taller in our stance. Our defiance is ingrained, however even cynics like us were forced to admit today that Root looks a very fine player indeed. In a partnership of 123 with Jonathan Trott that really should have taken the game away from New Zealand, the youngster scored relatively freely whilst his senior partner struggled to get the ball past the fielders – even when Bruce Martin was bowling poorly. At one point Trott had scored one run in an hour, but as the day developed his anchor role looked more important (especially as Ian Bell had a nasty bout of Sars or something).
Anyway, back to Root. There were no noticeable flaws as he compiled his 71 from 120 balls and he struck eight fours along the way. But what really impressed – again – was his temperament. Whereas Jonny Bairstow for example looks nervous and under pressure from the outset, Root seems unfazed and able to gauge each innings according to the situation. Few watchers would have been surprised if he’d made his first Test hundred by close, so much so that his eventual dismissal – playing a tad too late to Tim Southee and inside-edging the ball on to the stumps – was a shock. There’s more runs, many more, in this lad, that’s for sure.
The day was probably greater than the sum of its moments. No incident stands out above the others, but there were plenty of talking points. In the morning session Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson bowled superbly, giving New Zealand no chance to match or exceed England’s total. Even Steven Finn somehow finished with four wickets despite being expensive, threatening only to the tail.
England batted with more intent than on the first day, but Compton fell to a good ball from Wagner (though the batsman’s footwork was flawed and his gate too wide) and Cook to a fine catch from a diving Dean Brownlie. Then Trroott began their stand, which for a while looked like it would only end via a comedy run-out – for which there was plenty of opportunity. It was around 17.45 that Root fell, and suddenly New Zealand had fire in their belly, a tiger in their tank and a toothy Tim with his tail up. Bairstow was yorked and Matt Prior, having a dreadful game, was caught at square leg to complete his pair; he looked uncharacteristically uneasy – particularly when he irked Trott by turning down a simple single – and the only conclusion is that he had presumed he wouldn’t be called upon to bat. Then, as the close approached, Kane Williamson began turning balls like Murali in Kandy. He bowled Trott and had eight fielders around the bat to Finn.
Overall, it was a good day of cricket with the late collapse ensuring New Zealand are still very much in this game. It was marred however, by just 80 overs being bowled by 18.30 – a dreadful over-rate which ought to be punished on a day without weather delays. Tickets for Lord’s are not cheap – the paying spectator deserves to be treated to a full day of cricket, not additional drinks breaks, long chats between overs and players generally ambling around as if they were pootling down to the shops for a bag of chips.
What a surprise – the first hour will be crucial. England should have enough runs to be favourites, but lest we forget, they were 180/4 after day one and soon collapsed like a bad souffle. With the pitch turning, Graeme Swann will be itching to get stuck in to the Kiwis and we suspect a target above 225 will be a struggle for the tourists.