A glorious day, and a green pitch. Crowds flooding in from all parts of the city, and indeed the world. The heat is intense, the pressure on the home side even more so, the captain walks out to do his country proud. I am talking of course about Alistair Cook doing this morning on cricket’s greatest stage what Thiago Silva will do later this evening on football’s.
The England captain was inserted by his opposite number, in conditions that look summery above, but distinctly spring-like below, and the Sri Lanka attack of steady seamers exploited the early conditions ideally, before England fought back with all the grit which their winter performances lacked, as Root and then Prior put Sri Lanka to the sword in style.
Three men made their bow in international cricket, but none will have felt out of place. Chris Jordan and Moeen Ali were both part of England’s World T20 squad in Bangladesh, while Sam Robson, the captain’s new opening partner, is a Middlesex player familiar with the surroundings of Lords. It was the local man whose day started the earliest, and he spent more time on camera sitting on the balcony, discussing the quality of his coffee; his day will come. Ali had the most successful day, looking serene batting at 6, despite coming in with England precariously poised at 120-4. He played with total confidence, leaving well and playing better, even biffing his first ball against spin in Test cricket for 6 over mid-wicket. It was spin that was his undoing though, and he hung his well-bearded head for a while when he nicked a big loopy half-volley to the jubilant Mahela Jayawardene at slip of the same spinner, Rangana Herath. Chris Jordan we will see in earnest with the ball tomorrow.
The Unsackable Cook
While Cook hasn’t scored a hundred in 21 innings, and in that time averages just 25, he will probably not have felt under much pressure. The changes made to the team mean that he is now totally unmovable, barring injury or illness. Paul Downton, the new England managing director, said in his tea-time interview with Sky Sports that this was Cook’s opporutnity to create “his team”. His chop on to his stumps with 17 to his name was a lazy, self-inflicted delivery, when England needed him to navigate the difficult first session. Before he can build his team, he will need to reconsider his own game. He will need a hundred before the series is over if he doesn’t want to face questions about his own role.
Who’d be Matt Prior? He had as bad a winter as any England batsman, made the decision to have an operation on a long-standing Achilles problem, and while still in recovery, a week before the Test squad announcement, the young pretender to his gloves scores a truly magnificent international hundred at the home of cricket. There could not have been a louder siren sounded to the England selectors that Jos Buttler wanted more, and that he was the man in form. However, almost before the hype had started, Chairman Cook deflated it, telling the press that Buttler “isn’t ready” for Test cricket. Is that what he means? Or is it that his old lieutenant Prior is more dangerous as an enemy? Had Prior’s second-ball LBW decision been a millimetre straighter, Cook’s decision-making would have been further questioned. But Prior survived, albeit he continued to look nervy and shaken, as though relearning the game, attempting to run himself out at least once, but he did make 50, and should turn it into a hundred tomorrow.
Our Joe Root
There was one overwhelming positive from the day: the return of Joe Root. He smashed Australia to all parts at Lords last year, but that will have felt many years ago when he came in a 3 down for not many this morning, with ball nibbling around. He seemed, like Prior, to be working on his technique in the middle – the worst place to do so – with conscious efforts to put his foot down the pitch and get forward. There was still a classic back foot punch or two, and he was almost trapped on the crease by Matthews’ gentle medium pacers once or twice. However, he also manoeuvred the ball expertly around, and played some genuinely fluent shots when England were under serious pressure.