England v India, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's July 15, 2014

Bigger concerns for England than Lord's pitch

While the pitch took most of the blame at Trent Bridge, at Lord's England will need to get more controlling overs from their spinners. The reality is there is no quick fix
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Tuesday morning at Lord's and the 22 yards to be used for the second Investec Test against India was very green. But no one is getting too excited just yet. It was a similar colour the same distance out from the start of the match against Sri Lanka a few weeks ago and although that contest produced a thrilling finish - with the visitors hanging on nine wickets down - it was another slog for the bowlers to extract much life.

"Looked like that 2 days out before Sri Lanka test. The key is Thursday morning," tweeted Stuart Broad, one of the footsore England bowlers who were given the day off after hammering away on the unforgiving surface at Trent Bridge and had just 72 hours before potentially doing it all again. Regardless of how green the pitch remains when the coin goes up, you would think every England quick will be calling it a 'bat first' day - and, more importantly, bat long.

It is one of the quirks - or, perhaps, more fairly fascinations - of cricket that a strip of grass and soil can evoke so much debate and even rage. Few sports depended so heavily on the surface they are played on. Alan Titchmarsh, the TV gardening personality, may not be far off a role as an analyst for the rest of the series.

England should not expect any favours from Mick Hunt, the Lord's groundsman, who is fiercely protective of his ground. He produces what he wants and how he wants to using his wealth of experience. No chuntering fast bowlers or pleading spinners are going to change his mind. MCC, too, see it as a key part of the independence that they do not talk of home advantage even for the home team.

All anyone really wants is some carry. Nobody wants a minefield - although the odd, low-scoring three-day scrap can be thoroughly entertaining and surely does less damage than a five-day bore draw - but as Broad said before the series, edges from bowlers at 85mph should carry to the keeper and slips without them having to stand so close as to fear for their facial features (or wear a helmet as Ian Bell did at Trent Bridge).

"It was quite slow against Sri Lanka," Gary Ballance said. "I'm sure ... well, I hope there will be a bit more pace and carry in it for our seamers, and give our bowlers a chance when they do get those nicks. I hope they won't have to bowl as many overs."

Chris Wood, the ECB's pitch liaison officer, who has suddenly become as noteworthy a figure as some of the players in the series, was at Lord's and taking some samples from the ends of the pitch but this is nothing other than standard practice before a Test match.

However, while Trent Bridge clearly was not a good Test wicket, there were still phases in each innings where batsmen fell in clusters. India lost 5 for 42 on the second day, England 6 for 68 on the third and India 5 for 44 in their second innings to briefly open the door for the home side. Batting laziness was to blame for most of those, but it was a reminder of how games can shift even on the most docile of pitches.

Trying to flog life out with bouncers was futile; Moeen Ali was the one batsman to fall to a rare short ball from Mohammad Shami and it was the lack of bounce which caught out Moeen. Apart from that, and MS Dhoni's run out, it was the full delivery that took the wickets. Michael Holding, working for TV during the series, was often incensed by the overuse of the short delivery.

The problem for England, though, stems beyond just the pitch. Whether the presence of Graeme Swann would have meant victory at Trent Bridge is a moot point - the pitch did not threaten to break up, either - but it would certainly have meant longer breathers for the fast bowlers with the control he could offer which Moeen cannot provide yet. The overs are stacking up at an alarming rate.

James Whitaker, the national selector, has previously made a strong hint about rotation. Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes are in the squad for Lord's, although it could just be that England will go with an unchanged side if everyone, barring being stiff and sore, pulls up fit over the next 24 hours.

It is hard to see, at the moment, how the left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan is the answer. Every way you look at his recall it seems odd, even if England are keen to reintegrate him (if we are allowed to use that term) into the squad sooner rather than later. It is difficult to see how he fits into the team and surely he is better off continuing to bowl for Lancashire? Even training with the national side comes with a spotlight. Yes, if he wants to succeed at international level but rushing him now could do permanent damage.

And neither does Lord's have a great record for spinners, unless your name is Swann. He took 40 wickets at 24.07 in 10 Tests there, but Monty Panesar's 18 scalps came at 39.16 and Ashley Giles' 16 at 41.50.

Another of England's young spinners, Kent's Adam Riley, was present at Lord's today. He is the highest wicket-taking spinner in domestic cricket (among the England spinners) and in the first part of this season he has been talked up more than Kerrigan, although partly because of the lack of other options.

Behind him in the wicket-taking standings is 36-year-old Dean Cosker. Panesar has been recalled by Essex but remains a delicate case and James Tredwell, continually solid in one-day colours, is hardly pulling up trees on loan with Sussex in four-day cricket. It is not difficult to see why Gareth Batty, with 28 wickets at 21.75 for Surrey, has been mentioned both in these pages and by Michael Vaughan.

However you look at it there is no quick fix. The fact Ballance was asked a number of questions about his one over of passable legspin at the death of the Trent Bridge Test sums things up. If Kerrigan is, surprisingly, thrown back into the fray no one will wish him anything but the best. However, it will come in hope rather than expectation. Everything suggests it is the quicks or bust for England, which could easily become bust quicks very soon.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • brusselslion on July 16, 2014, 15:28 GMT

    @Barry Glynn: There is a lot of uninformed opinion posted here about how a pitch should be prepared and managed. It would be good to get a professional's view of what we can expect from the wickets throughout the rest of the series, and what the longer term implications are for English wickets. For example, just how much influence can the groundsman have over the wickets during the remainder of this series?

    Also there was a piece a couple of days ago, stating that the demand for Tests to run for 5 days had lead to new pitches being laid, new drainage systems. I assume that this was not cheap, so counties are not going to re-invest unless absolutely necessary. Should we therefore look forward to these slow, dead pitches for the foreseeable future? Is there much that the groundsmen can do to mitigate the negative effects? Thanks. (NB. I'm assuming that you guys don't control the weather!).

  • AISMAIL on July 16, 2014, 14:51 GMT

    Spinners for England ???? Why no one mentions Adil Rashid and Azeem Rafiq of Yorkshire - the county has been doing very well with their skills?

  • dummy4fb on July 16, 2014, 13:34 GMT

    The thought of Kerrigan playing fills me with dread One spell, the Indians will be well aware of how he buckled last year. They WILL target him and they are substantially better players of spin than the Aussies. That will reduce England to only daring to bowl 3 seamers as Kerrigan goes for 7 an over... again. That's one seamer less than they had at Trent Bridge. Far from ease the pressure on 4 seamers. "long-hop, half volley, full-toss, 3 foot down leg side" Kerrigan will destroy the three that play along side him as Cooke might never risk giving him a second spell.

  • IndianInnerEdge on July 16, 2014, 12:48 GMT

    My 5 c worth....ideal pitch: first 1.5 days bounce, carry, seam, swing and the keeper catches them shoulder high, slips are deep. next 2.25 days, lesser bounce but similar carry, last 1.75 days - takes spin-not a square raging turner but if you are good enough and impart enough revs on the ball a la murli, warne, saqlain....u can turn it. The one consistent thing in this would be bounce and carry, batsmen are tested, bowlers who bend their back are rewarded. Perhaps the time has come to prepare custom pitches....who knows.......i only hope the groundsman is left to hisown means and devices in every country (including mine)as influencing the groundsman should never happen anywhere

  • dummy4fb on July 16, 2014, 12:26 GMT

    I think India can go with Gambhir instead of Dhawan in Lords test because Dhawan looks little bit restless early in his innings . We all know if he gets set what he can do but as everybody expecting Lords wicket to do something , Gambhir can be tested.

  • dummy4fb on July 16, 2014, 12:15 GMT

    I am sure Shami & Kumar can bowl much faster that they bowled in the first test and of course Ishant Sharma. I wonder because they were bowling around 145 kph consistently during IPL and Bhuwneshwar Kumar touched 148kph in IPL pitches and in England he is bowling below 130 kph is it because of the pitch . But still he managed to take 5 wickets. So i expect more speed from Indian bowlers in the coming tests without losing accuracy.

  • Harlequin. on July 16, 2014, 12:04 GMT

    @neil99 - nice to see you held restraint in not mentioning that the last time these two teams met on those standard Indian flat tracks, India lost, showing that victory isn't even guaranteed for them in their tailor-made conditions!

  • Nayan_Bhuyan on July 16, 2014, 12:00 GMT

    Gautam Gambhir should replace Sikhar Dhawan in the Lords, no matter how the pitch will be. Dhawan should need some rest & practice a bit harder to find his form. Its been long time for him out of form.. Therefore he should be rested now..

  • dummy4fb on July 16, 2014, 11:56 GMT

    Hilarious how the talking point is the pitch and not some woeful batting by England and their total lack of a proper spinner. None of the Sky pitch experts would even know how to start a mower let alone produce a pitch. As a groundsman I know the demands of producing a pitch that can last a day let alone five days. It's not just the weather during the match that can affect the way it plays but the weeks previous

  • Gowers_Great_Tiger_Moth_Flyby on July 16, 2014, 11:43 GMT

    @ Arun Bose

    "I am amazed to see all these "pitch talk"..How could an international team depends so heavily on pitch and conditions? If you can only play on a particular kind of wicket and in particular kind of conditions then how could you call urself an international test cricket team?"

    What an amazingly short, possibly minute memory. Funny that India can't win regularly away from home, and at home, have to rely heavily upon the standard Indian flat track which turns on days 4 and 5. Then again, how can India call itself a proper test team if they can only win on a particular kind of wicket? We'd all be very pleased to see your thoughts...