So after two days of closely fought cricket, yesterday’s play was something of anti-climax as England rolled over the Irish batting unit for 38, the lowest ever score recorded as Lord’s, in under a session.
For those foolhardy enough to attend the game yesterday (not mentioning any names who decided to give it a miss, TLG), it looked like the sort of day that bowlers dream of. Dark, dank conditions with plenty of rain in the air is always a bowler’s paradise at Lords and having attended Lord’s plenty of times as a Middlesex fan, I’ve seen how these conditions can change a fairly flat pitch into something of a minefield. After Ireland removed Ollie Stone with the first ball of the day, just as I was queuing to get to my seat of course, it was clear that the Irish batting line up had to either knuckle down for a couple of hours until the sun was due to come out or pray that Woakes and Broad bowled too short in the way that they did in the first innings. Unfortunately neither was the case, as both Broad and Woakes much to the surprise of most England fans, bowled with good nip and great lengths ensuring that batting against the new ball in these conditions would have been a challenge for any Test side. It was clear early on that one could easily become two and that two could quite easily end up as a horrible batting collapse for a team playing only its second Test Match with a batting line up made up of mainly ex-county pros. That being said, I have often been hyper critical of England’s ability to read the pitch when bowling with the new ball and especially of Woakes and Broad after the first innings, but they bowled quite superbly, giving very little away and could quite easily have done the same to the Australian top order.
A 143-run victory looks good in the history books, even though it was barely deserved as England without doubt had the luck of the green in terms of the conditions (put it this way, I don’t think Leach would have made 90 odd yesterday!), but considering the position England had allowed themselves to be put in at lunch on Day 1, a victory no matter how underserved, saved some serious blushes from the England camp. The one sour note that came from this victory, aside from the batting, was Roots decision to criticize the pitch at the presentation. Now whether this was just an attempt to take away some of the criticism from his own batsmen or just a snide remark, it is hardly fair to criticize the groundsman after having less than week to prepare a Test wicket after the World Cup final. This is especially true of a groundsman who is in his first year of the job. Was it a great pitch, no it wasn’t, but I’d rather have a pitch that offered some assistance to the bowlers than the type of roads that Mick Hunt used to routinely prepare for both England and Middlesex and in my opinion it was a pretty classless thing to say on television. It may also not help relations in the future when England need a specific pitch prepared at Lords. As for Ireland, this may well be the first and last time that some of their veterans get to play at Lords, which is a crying shame. Ireland might not have the most talented group of players that they have ever had, but as always they played with plenty of heart and no less skill and gave England a huge fright in a game that they were treating as an Ashes warm up. I also want to give special praise to Tim Murtagh, who actually is a remarkable county bowler with a great bowling average and someone who has been a fantastic servant to Middlesex. Murtagh was never ever going to be called up by England as he doesn’t bowl the ball at 85-90 mph and is very much an old fashioned swing bowler, but he once again showed that he is a master of his art and in my own humble opinion, no-one else deserves to be on the honours board at Lords more than Mr ‘Dial M’ for Murtagh.
So with the Ireland Test match ticked off, likely for at least another 4 years, England now get to focus on the Australians and the first Test of the Ashes. We have had the announcement of the squad this morning and I must say, it doesn’t fill me with hope. Roy for me is not an opener in the longer format and never will be, though I could get on board with him as an attacking number 3, Burns looks horribly out of form and Denley is no more than a decent county pro who has been thrown into the England Test set up due to a mix of desperation and insipid selection choices. Put it this way, if I was Dominic Sibley, I would be very disappointed not to have been called up, because Ed Smith wants to try something funky at the top of the order by playing a specialist white ball opener (Roy bats in the middle order for Surrey). It was also interesting that during the presentation yesterday, Root was asked whether the batting unit was a cause for a concern, something he categorically denied. Now Root isn’t going to go on TV and admit it’s a bit of a shambles, but that’s what it is at the moment, hence don’t be surprised if we have a fair bit of chopping and changing at the top of the order as the Ashes progresses. It is also slightly unfair that Jack Leach, who won the ball with the bat was omitted. Put it this way, Moeen needs a very good match with the ball at Edgbaston as his batting has regressed at alarming alacrity.
Oh and on one last note, this Twitter post from George Dobell was very revealing last night:
I have a lot of respect for George and do think he’s one of the good guys, who is prepared to stick his head above the parapet and comment on what his views are of the game, rather than what is parroted to him by the ECB comms team. It will be interesting to see if we get more and more coming out publicly against the White Elephant that is the Hundred (even Mike Gatting has written to the ECB to pledge against downgrading the 50 over game). That being said, don’t expect anyone from Sky to provide any sort of analysis of the upcoming format, rather than puff piece interviews with Strauss, Clarke, Harrison and anyone else who can blindly bluff their way through why the hundred will be so great. David Lloyd and the rest know who pay their wages and are more than willing to place their morals at the door and keep their mouths shut in exchange for piles of cash. Ca plus change.
As ever, feel free to comment below on the above piece or on any other thoughts you might have. We’ll have a full Ashes preview coming up next week and if you’re tempted, we may start a new Ashes panel if we get enough interest, just comment below if you’d like to be included….