New Zealand’s Warm Up Series: Day One

Just thought I’d flick that around, given they’ve got a big date before too long and too many are viewing this as England’s preparatory series for India.

Test cricket is back, and with crowds. Not a full crowd, but a reasonably sized one, and enough to generate a background noise that is so much better than an artificial backing track. So let’s get something out of the way first, the over rate. It was poor. Again. By the time play came to a close we were four overs short. It’s not new, it’s never been tackled, and it’s abundantly clear the ICC couldn’t care less. It’s also true that a lot of cricket supporters aren’t that bothered either, so why be so annoyed about it? Because after the last 15 months where players and administrators have fallen over themselves to explain why spectators are so important and so valued, it is disrespectful to shortchange them like this, and doubly so to do it without the slightest sense of anyone in authority caring. There have been days when the shortfall has been worse than today, but it is still saying, on a daily basis, that the fans don’t matter, that what they’ve paid doesn’t matter. It is entirely fair enough for those who go and aren’t put out by it, but it’s not about that, it’s about the mentality of players, captains and administrators who don’t care in the slightest, and on the day Test supporters returned after such a long hiatus, it’s unforgivable. Don’t give us the bullshit about how much you value cricket fans and their presence at matches, when you can’t even be bothered to deliver what they paid (a lot) for. The media complain about it, but they barely ever confront the players about what their actions imply, and they should. Every single time. Enough.

As for the cricket, it’s as clearly New Zealand’s day, and they’re in a fine position to go on to dominate the Test. Devon Conway has been the star of the show, so look forward to all the “Devon’s got the Cream” headlines in the morning – and they’re deserved too. A late entrant to Test cricket, he’s taken his chance, and by demonstrating some decidedly old-fashioned skills – that of the patient opener. There’s something rather special about those who are nowhere near the Test arena until relatively advanced into their careers, who then grab the chance with both hands. As ever, one innings says nothing about the future, but a hundred on debut, at Lord’s, is no bad way to start. More to the point, he looks the part – slightly unsettled by Mark Wood’s pace at times, but able to adapt and cope.

His century is more impressive for the lack of consistent support until the arrival of Henry Nicholls midway through the afternoon session. England’s bowlers had chipped away and the innings could have gone in either direction. Digging in – for neither exactly dominated proceedings – and grinding down the England attack to push their team into, if not a dominant position, certainly a healthy one is how Test cricket used to be far more frequently than in today’s game. And it was a welcome return of such past values and skills.

It is a flat surface – there was some movement in the air, and the new ball carry through well enough to the keeper, but aside from one spell from the luckless Broad when he was all over Ross Taylor, it can’t be said New Zealand looked in a great deal of trouble.

Much comment has gone around about England’s choice not to select a front line spinner, relying on Root to get through a number of overs. And while by the end of this match that may prove to have been an error, it can’t realistically be stated so baldly on the first day – the idea one would have been certain to pick up wickets on such a friendly surface at the start of the game is the epitome of a player showing huge improvement by virtue of not playing. Had one been picked, they would have done more or less the same role as Root himself, to get through a few overs as cheaply as possible while rotating the seamers.

Nor have England bowled at all badly – they’ve probed and kept things tight without resorting to anything as base as bowling dry, it’s just that on the day the batsmen, specifically Conway and Nicholls, have been better. It happens, and New Zealand are a good team – which is why they’re in the World Test Championship Final and England aren’t.

England also picked a pair of debutants, James Bracey and Ollie Robinson. The former kept tidily enough, and nearly nabbed a stumping off Root as well. So far so good in his case. Ollie Robinson will be pleased enough with his day on the field – a couple of wickets and bowling nicely. It will be slightly ruined by the realisation that some old tweets as a teenager have garnered attention and it is an issue that will need dealing with. One observation there is that it is something of a mystery why neither player’s agent (assuming he has one) nor the ECB think it a worthwhile idea to check these things properly in advance to ensure there’s nothing detrimental or embarrassing that can come up when a player is selected.

Tomorrow is another day. England may not have bowled badly, but they can bowl better. The modest run rate means New Zealand haven’t got away so this match hasn’t decisively tilted one way just yet. But New Zealand will be the happier, and they deserve it too.