England hopefuls made to wait
Tea Durham 244 for 4 (Blackwell 63*, Smith 43*) v MCC
Even for the hardy souls huddled up against the April chill inside Lord's there was very little to give away that this was the start of a crucial summer for English cricket. There are some major decisions to be made over the coming weeks - not least the new national coach, but also who will bat three in the Tests and who will captain the Twenty20 side - and the opening day of the season gave few clues to any of them.
But England will show their hand early after Geoff Miller, the national selector who watched the day's play, said the squad for the first Test against West Indies will be announced on April 18. It will be an expanded party, but that still doesn't leave much opportunity for those trying to impress. There is no Championship match for Michael Vaughan next week and Robert Key could be facing the mite of Loughborough UCCE. Ian Bell is the only one of the three battling for No. 3 with a proper match, so suddenly an innings in this game carries extra weight. Owais Shah, the man in possession, may just be breathing a little easier.
The three candidates in this game, however, spent the day trying to keep warm in the field after Durham had been put into bat and reached 244 for 4. Key, who is in the running for the Twenty20 captaincy, marshalled the bowling from mid-off, Bell perched at second slip and Vaughan had a taste of what life is like back in the ranks as he was switched between mid-on and fine leg.
Andy Flower, the front runner to be the new team director as the list of candidates shrinks by the day, was also in attendance. With the Test squad being named in a little over a week an announcement on who is taking the top job may be more imminent than expected. However, rather than making notes on batting form Flower and Miller had to be content with a look at the MCC's quick bowlers.
Tim Bresnan, a late inclusion in the MCC team for the injured Steven Finn, was the pick of the attack, but Chris Woakes, the 20-year-old Warwickshire fast bowler, caught the attention with tidy spells of swing bowling at decent pace. However, for the most part players eased themselves into action, cautious of not pushing too hard too soon.
Kabir Ali bowled the first ball of the season to Michael Di Venuto and the left-hander was soon off the mark with a strong cut past point. While Kabir dropped short, Sajid Mahmood, who is also eyeing an England return, struggled to keep the ball away from leg stump at the Nursery End.
Mahmood was replaced by Bresnan after a four-over spell and, following the first rain break, Woakes was given his introductory bowl from the Pavilion End. Woakes was tidy during his opening eight-over spell and showed plenty of the promise that earned him a place in England's 30-man World Twenty20 squad.
Bresnan should have made the opening breakthrough before lunch, but Stephen Moore at first slip put down an edge from Mark Stoneman when he had 20. It was a morning for keeping your hands warm, and maybe Moore wasn't too keen to take them out of his pockets.
Drizzle forced an early lunch - after two weeks of spring sunshine it was inevitable - and play didn't resume until 2.50pm with no one appearing in too much of a rush to get back out. Di Venuto continued to latch onto anything off line as he reached fifty off 67 balls before Bresnan ended an opening stand of 104 when Di Venuto edged a push to second slip.
Bresnan then followed that up by squeezing one through Stoneman's forward lunge when he was one short of his half century. As the MCC's bowlers warmed to their task - and their bodies heated up - batting became harder work for the middle order. Woakes caused problems and had Gordon Muchall caught behind before repeatedly beating Will Smith, Durham's new captain, and his predecessor, Dale Benkenstein.
Mahmood improved during his second spell although was somewhat fortunate with his wicket when Benkenstein pulled a short ball to midwicket. The innings was revived by Ian Blackwell, who marked his first-class debut for Durham with a 44-ball half-century, as he took advantage of the short Grandstand boundary. It was a useful workout for the defending county champions, but less so for those pushing for England recalls.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo