Selectors in a spin but Ballance, Root and Prior come up trumps in encouraging start to the summer
Last Updated: 01/07/14 4:33pm
After a winter of discontent, England’s new era began with a dramatic Sri Lankan stalemate at the Home of Cricket.
Three debutants started what they hope will be long and prosperous Test careers, while a couple of older heads also had points to prove after falling dramatically out of form.
Below I take a look at the positives and negatives from the Lord’s encounter, as well as assessing what decisions England coach Peter Moores still has to make with a five-match series against India looming on the horizon.
What we learnt…
No spin, no win
If we didn’t know it before, we certainly do now. ‘Swanny, where are you?!’ We were all baying Delia Smith-like from our perches as England’s final day push for victory came up agonisingly short. Joe Root and Moeen Ali’s part-time spin was negated with ease by Sri Lanka’s batsmen, putting extra pressure on England’s seamers, who almost pulled off a last-gasp win. England’s over-rate also suffered for the lack of a reliable spin option, landing captain Alastair Cook a fine from the ICC as a result.
Matt’s not finished
Many believed Prior’s Test career was over when he was dropped during the winter Ashes debacle but he proved his class with a vital 86 in England’s first innings. At 209-5, Sri Lanka were just beginning to assume a semblance of control but Prior, who survived an lbw appeal first ball by the skin of his teeth, batted England into a position of dominance alongside double centurion Root. Prior’s glovework was also exemplary on a difficult pitch and he appears to have cemented his position behind the stumps for the India series, at least.
Ballance is strong
Filling the void of Jonathan Trott is no mean feat but Yorkshire left-hander Ballance showed all the hallmarks of a Test match No 3 during his memorable maiden Test hundred on day four. With England in the midst of a potentially fatal collapse in the afternoon session, Ballance held firm at one end before accelerating through the gears to reach his 100 in style. Strong off his legs and imperious on the drive, Ballance looks every bit Test match quality and will be relishing his Headingley homecoming this week.
The passion is still there
Many questioned the appetite and hunger of the England side when all was going so spectacularly wrong in Australia. But the fight and desire of the team could not be doubted at Lord’s, where the pitch looked to be the only winner for much of the five days. James Anderson, the leader of the bowling attack in every sense, epitomised the will to win with a sensational spell either side of tea and England’s energy on the final day created pressure which almost yielded a famous win.
You can only hope the Board of Control for Cricket in India were watching the thrilling climax on Monday. England were celebrating with two balls to go after a huge lbw verdict was upheld on last man Nuwan Pradeep, only for the batsman to review, knowing full well that he’d got an inside edge on to his pad. Although the DRS review sent England from an incredible high to a deflated low, ultimately, the right decision was made.
And what we still don’t know…
Is Robson ready?
Scores of 1 and 19 on his debut means the jury is still out on whether or not Middlesex right-hander Robson has a lengthy Test future ahead of him. Playing with certainty outside off-stump is a pre-requisite for any successful opening batsman, however two rather innocuous dismissals in that region have caused early concern. At just 24 years old and with only one Test behind him it would be harsh to make immediate conclusions, however you feel he already needs a score of at least 50 to make his place assured for India.
Captain Cook still the man?
Praised widely for his captaincy at Lord’s (the declaration aside), one telling statistic cannot be ignored: Cook has not scored a century in his last 22 Test innings. Whether this lean trot is merely fluctuating batting form or the result of burn out from the captaincy, only Cook will know, however England need his runs to return soon. Under his guidance England have won nine of 21 Tests and a belated declaration ultimately came back to haunt Cook as England came agonisingly close to making the perfect start to the summer at Lord's.
Is Broad 100% fit?
It is not often Broad is the slowest pace bowler in the England attack but his pace was noticeably down at Lord’s. A recent knee operation and dead pitch look certain to have played their part as he averaged under 83mph during the match, but concerns still linger over Broad's fitness heading to Headingley and beyond. He was deployed in brief spells of 6-3-5-5-4-5 overs in the first-innings and 5-6-5-4-1 in the second, hauled back into the attack for a thrilling last over. Overs under his belt will certainly do Broad no harm, providing he can recover in time for back-to-back Tests.
Pitch good or bad?
It was the subject of much debate in the Sky Sports commentary box during the five days as a draw looked inevitable for large parts but, in the end, the surface made for a thrilling finale. In an age where sports fans are demanding a quick fix, I’d argue that it is actually quite refreshing to see a match last it’s course with the outcome of the match ebbing this way and that. That said, with England’s main strength their pace attack, the slow, dead wicket played nicely into Sri Lanka's hands. One thing's for sure, they'll be a bit more life in Leeds…