If there’s any amusement to be had from Australia closing on 337-1 today, it’s that it has once again made an awful lot of journalists look silly. They don’t need much help in order to achieve those lofty heights, but their continued lack of awareness when jumping on a single victory as a harbinger of the future generates as much amusement as ever. One wonders if today’s play was mainly down to Andrew Strauss as well, for example.
Instead of reacting with pleasure to England’s victory at Cardiff, but noting it was a single Test match and that Australia hadn’t become a bad team overnight, several once again got giddy – just as they did in the West Indies, and then just as they did against New Zealand. After one outbreak of egg-on-face disease, it might have been thought that a lesson would be learned, but oh no, they did it again after England beat the Kiwis, and then a third time after Cardiff. There’s not a thing wrong with offering an opinion, or making a call on what might happen – the risk that you will be wrong is an occupational hazard – there is a lot wrong with going over the top repeatedly and failing to learn the lesson that baseless hyperbole tends to bite back. Doubtless the scurrying back over the bridge and pretending none of it happened will be in evidence tonight.
Now equally, it shouldn’t go too far the other way (place your bets on how doomed the fourth estate will consider England after today), it’s day one of five. Lords is what it has been for quite some time, an excellent batting surface lacking in pace and movement. It shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise that Australia, having won the toss, have had a good day. It shouldn’t even come as that much of a surprise that they’ve had an exceptional day. They’ve simply made the most of conditions, which is what decent sides do.
The irony is that over-reaction is one of the charges continually aimed at the bilious inadequates, yet it is the established press (one again) who are most guilty of it time and again.
No doubt also there will be some complaining that the pitch is too flat and that it is therefore some kind of anti-cricket surface. That may yet prove to be true, but it is a faintly ridiculous line to take after a single day. Much will depend on how it plays over the remainder of the Test – should it prove to remain entirely flat, then such comments will be justified. If it deteriorates – and let’s be clear, Lord’s usually produces a result – then there’s no reason for any such claim.
What today’s play does mean is that Australia are in a very strong position to dictate terms for the next couple of days at least. England didn’t bowl badly, and while they missed a couple of half chances they couldn’t be said to have performed badly – not that they were outstandingly good, just not bad – it was benign conditions for batting and Australia just cashed in. At this stage it’s already going to be key how England bat in response. Even with everything going right, England are going to be facing 450; more realistically somewhere around 550 and above is probable. Rogers and Smith deserve immense credit for maintaining their discipline, and should they survive the first hour, England will unquestionably be chasing leather.
The pitch at that point is if anything likely to be even better for batting on, so there’s no reason for England to have a problem on it. Except that thing called scoreboard pressure. Australia will have their tails well and truly up, and negating the early stages will be critical. Cook had a quiet first Test, but he will be needed to play one of those long innings in reply. There’s no reason whatever he can’t.
For Australia, the one person in the team who may need to be kept away from sharp implements is David Warner. Being positive against the spinners is one thing, and players who take a chance in order to dominate always risk looking foolish when it goes wrong, but the nature of the three shots in an over against Moeen Ali were outright slogs at the ball. First one was fair enough (a full toss), the second was wild, and the third was downright rash.
Cook rotated the bowling well enough, trying different things, and attempting to find a combination that worked. Sometimes you just have one of those days. What we do not know yet is whether that is an example of England lacking penetration on flat surfaces or simply a result of the conditions. Certainly the ball barely swung, and definitely didn’t seam. England tried to counter this by bowling dry, which was exactly the right approach, but weren’t able to maintain the pressure. If one was to be critical, that’s perhaps where it might lie, a few too many four balls. It’s quibbling, they worked hard.
Short of having a disaster and being bowled out for 150, day one is a set up day, with limited certainty about what is to follow. It has always been that way and always will be that way. Australia have had an outstanding day today, but whether it is a decisive one, it is impossible to say. There’s no doubt though that England are up against it as things stand, and will have to play well to get a result. They are quite capable of so doing, and if they do, there is the potential for a borefest. The additional pace in the Australian bowling order will make them feel that they can get something out of the surface that England didn’t, and they may be right about that too.
Today is one day. And a very good one for Australia it was too.