England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 1st day July 22, 2004

Key turns the corner



Robert Key: easing the ball around as if he hadn't been away © Getty Images

The new Wisden Cricketer names and shames the 11 worst tactical blunders in the game's history. It is early days yet, but it's just possible that this match might have featured if the magazine had waited a month or two. Brian Lara, perhaps influenced by the overcast weather at the toss, put England in ... and then watched the sun come out. England romped along at over a run a minute, even once the clouds returned, and were firmly in charge by the close.

Robert Key's maiden Test hundred was the highlight of the day. There had been a concern that Key, who was in superlative form for Kent at the start of the season, might have lost his edge after more than a month of comparative inactivity, playing the odd one-day bash and Twenty20 thrash.

But we needn't have worried: Key was soon easing the ball around as if he hadn't been away, and actually improved his first-class average of nearly 90 for the season. He is a reassuring sight at the crease, angular, bottom jutting, bat held loose but pendulum-straight in defence. There's a hint of Steve Waugh (albeit Waugh after a particularly hearty meal) about Key's slightly open stance and general method. His first move is a press forward - something he mightn't have got away with against the previous generation of West Indian fast bowlers, some of them about a foot taller than Tino Best and Fidel Edwards - but he is ready to rock back and crack back-footed drives if necessary.

Key's key shots today were some clunking straight-drives, one of which whistled back past Edwards before he could inhale, and a nonchalant pull off Best that scooted away in front of square for another four. Later there were three effortless pulled fours in one over from Best, who huffed and puffed as much as usual but showed little sign of blowing England's house down.

Key took a liking to Omari Banks's gentle offspin, shimmying down the pitch early on to chip him to midwicket, and later running down and hammering one straight back at ankle-biting height. This time there was no fatal loss of concentration, as there had been at Perth 18 months ago when he fell to the undemanding Damien Martyn after defying the rest of the Australian attack for a chirpy 47. This time Key carried on for that elusive hundred, a record partnership, and the upper hand for England.

At the other end Andrew Strauss continued his love affair with Lord's, collecting his third century in as many international matches there. Against bowling that was generally too loose, he crunched some cover-drives past grasping hands today like a pocket-sized Matthew Hayden, and was rarely in trouble. Like Key, he hit 15 fours in his hundred, but his shot of the day arguably came late on, when with minimal effort he stroked the expensive Banks up the hill to the midwicket boundary for another four.

It was a dish to set before a king ... or at least a Queen, who watched some of the fun from the pavilion. She must have spotted the Prince of Trinidad biting his nails and scratching his head.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.