The first three days of the first Test at Lord’s were distinctly attritional and old-fashioned. If it wasn’t for the sheer novelty of finally seeing some actual Test cricket after months of smouldering cesspit T20 tournaments with hype so plastic you could wrap your sandwiches in it, we might well have been forced into a power nap or two. Of course, the fourth day changed all that, with a battered and bruised New Zealand suddenly being blown away like empty gin bottles left outside when it’s really, really windy.
Despite the horror finish, New Zealand actually competed extremely well for those first three days. Indeed, within the 51allout bunker opinion was split about who had the edge going into the final innings. Some of us were confident England had enough runs in the bank while others felt that New Zealand might just be able to pull off a remarkable win. Plus one muppet bet £200 on the draw, in a last desperate attempt to win back some of 2013’s hideous gambling losses (to date). Seriously kids: don’t get addicted to gambling.
Unfortunately for the tourists, they head into the second and final game shorn of both BJ Watling and Bruce Martin, the former having injured his knee rolling around on the Lord’s pitch, the latter having somehow injured his calf during his two step runup. In Watling’s absence, Martin Guptill returns to theoretically bolster the batting (while bringing the average number of toes per foot down substantially) while Brendon McCullum will take the gloves. To replace Martin, New Zealand have called for Dan Vettori. Assuming he passes a fitness test, Vettori will slot straight in at number seven while simultaneously improving New Zealand’s beard rating by about a million. Seriously, there’s a reason that no-one’s seen Big Dan for months: he’s been working on a truly amazing new beard.
There’s no such beard-related drama around the England selection. Once again our call for the maverick selection of occasional beard wearer Liam Plunkett fell on deaf ears, meaning that the squad is unchanged. The only decision to be made is therefore around the massively unexciting Finn/Bresnan debate. Despite bowling some utter garbage at times, Finn still finished with 4/63 in his only innings at Lord’s so expect him to retain his place.
For both teams the plan will be fairly similar: do what they did at Lord’s, only much better. England’s batting was distinctly patchy in the first encounter; Compton and Bairstow could do with some runs, while we’d quite like Ian Bell to also fill his boots, if only to annoy Scyld Berry. For New Zealand their bowling was fine; it’s more a case of the batting not collapsing under pressure like a badly made soufflé.
With the football season now complete, cricket has a real opportunity to grasp the sporting limelight over the next few months. As such, a first day of England crawling along at less than two an over isn’t exactly what we’d be looking for. Hopefully Headingley will produce something a little more dynamic. Although it is in the north, so it’s just as likely to rain for five days.
We’re really not great at predictions, not that it’s ever stopped us before (see our podcasts. And indeed all our articles). Still, it’s hard to see beyond another comfortable England win. New Zealand to compete manfully. Dan Vettori’s amazing beard to be the main talking point.