Friday, May 22, 2015

You're a beauty England.

First you generate a day fit for the tropics. Glorious sunshine and a sweltering twenty degrees to see in a new summer of exciting Test Cricket. Add to this vista a pitch perfect for the first morning of a Test; A fine smattering of grass, but not too severe, allowing for generous sideways movement, and overhead conditions that contributed just enough swing to the potion to make the first session fascinating.

Sure, having the home side thirty for four after 12.2 over's wasn't part of the plan. Put into bat, Alastair Cook lost the toss but won the day. Like Britain's many battles throughout history, his batsmen took a pounding early on. Four good deliveries, four wickets. At times one must accept a foe has unleashed the unplayable. And Ian Bell, in particular, received a delivery fit for the heavens from Matt Henry. That Henry, who was on debut, and at Lords, the home of Cricket, made a ball seam just enough to hit the top of Bell's off-stump all the more remarkable. So much for nerves.

Adam Lyth, too, on debut, was sent on his way by Tim Southee, with a cherry picking up enough steam to swing the slightest and garnering the grisliest of thin edges through to BJ Watling. Not the ideal debut though there are still three innings left for Lyth to cement a place as Cook's opening partner against Australia.

The downfalls of Cook and Gary Balance may not have been quite as excusable as the aforementioned. Nonetheless, the batsmen were entrapped in the bowlers lair. One where good line and length was always going to be triumphant initially.

Thankfully, though, for England, like many of those great battles throughout history, they managed to slave away through the tough times and save enough troops to fight the good fight for Queen and Country.

Two of those troops, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, know a fight when they see one and know how to fight that fight. Now the battle had shifted from the bowlers lair into the batsmen's enclave of attacking defence. For the hour leading into the lunch break, the two newbie's blazed away at a run per ball. The hazardous conditions decreased and Stokes and Root ripped shots to all parts, having a hoot on this hallowed turf.

Not that there was anything extravagant about their play. Yes, they blazed, but they certainly were not crazed. Just the simplicity of playing each delivery on its merits. If only certain others in the very recent past could have learnt their lessons and comprehended this. That's bye the bye though, I guess, and anyway, not a risky shot countenanced and by lunchtime, 113 for 4.

This was a fightback to show England the way in this new era of attacking Cricket. Gone are the days where run rates of two runs per over are considered acceptable. Closer to four is now the norm. As it should be. Root and Stokes displayed what could be done once the conditions had settled and they returned serve with some pressure of their own.

Bowlers, like most others, don't like being put under pressure. Their utopia is that of the batsman blocking and blinking at balls firing just outside off-stump. Turn the tables on them and slash and smash wayward deliveries to the boundary and they'll lose their line and length and linger in doubt over after over.

Let them conquer, they'll conquer. Make them hurt, they'll hurt. Which is what Stokes achieved after the break. Though he came up short of a second test century by eight is no slight on his ability. Much like his maiden test century against Australia in Perth, this was an inning of a fighter. And, like in Perth, one up against a top line attack.

He was in good company, too. For Root also fell just short. By two. This guy though is fast heading toward being in the company of the all time greats. In the past twelve months he has averaged 96.76, all against respectable opposition. Sure, he has another few years to go to truly prove himself. There is no reason he won't. He can attack, he can defend, a calamity or two does not offend his sensibilities - He's a man for all seasons.

In this inning alone he showed the aptitude to change when needed. Before lunch it was attack, after the break he slowed his scoring rate down considerably and held up an end while Stokes took the attack to New Zealand. Often leaving he ball outside off, playing defence with the straightest of bat's but positively, and respecting a foe without cowering. That was his lot.

In the circumstances, two scores in the nineties were gold. That England finished the day on 357 for 4 displayed a team not devoid of fighting spirit.

New Zealand, for their part, are a very good team. And yet quite possibly the most overrated side in World Cricket. Let's put this in perspective: Here we have an English side that if they had gone any lower in recent times would have been residing in Antarctica. Yet, by the day's end, an average English side have come out on top against the World's third ranked team. Yes, it's only day one - Anything can occur.

Knowing this lot, anything probably will occur.

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