England v New Zealand, 1st Investec Test, Lord's May 16, 2013

England go-slow largely vindicated

It may not have wowed the punters but in tricky conditions and against good bowling, England may have established a strong foundation in this game

"Why didn't England just get on with it?" a spectator asked at the close of play. "Why didn't they just give it a whack?"

It was an understandable question. The fellow concerned had just spent £70 on a ticket - and a good deal more on alcohol judging by the smell of him - to see a day of cricket that could best be described as attritional. England managed just 15 boundaries in the 80 overs before rain condemned the day to a watery grave with only one of those coming between mid-on and mid-off. 30 of those overs were maidens.

But England also lost only four wickets. And, in testing conditions against an impressive attack, that might not be considered too bad a result. While their slow method does not allow them to damage opposition quickly, they have ended the first day of this Test with the game just about at a cross-roads. It might have been much, much worse.

Some spectators might dispute it - this was not a day's play to appeal to a generation raised on T20 cricket - but England's approach was largely vindicated by the close of play score. While the wicket of Ian Bell, drawn into pushing at one he could have ignored with some comfort just 10 deliveries before the close, left New Zealand with their noses in front and a new ball to come in the morning, England need not look back very far to realise how bad things could have been. On the first day of the reverse series in Dunedin, England were bowled out for 167 with several batsmen contributing to their downfall with sloppy strokes when a more determined approach was required.

Whatever England's faults or limitations, there was no complacency on this occasion. All four of the men dismissed batted for more than 90 minutes, with three of them batting for more than two hours. While the failure of those who had built decent platforms for their innings - three men were dismissed for scores between 31 and 39 - may yet come back to haunt England, two of them, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, were dismissed by excellent deliveries which owed far more to bowler skill than batsman error.

It may even prove that England have established a strong foundation in this game. "I still think there's potential there to set-up the game well," Jonathan Trott said at the close of play. "We've spoken about our batting in the first innings and setting up games. With the batsmen that are in and the new ball that will hopefully come on a bit in the morning, there's potential for us to kick-on a bit."

These were not easy conditions. While the straw-coloured nature of the pitch might have seduced England into batting first - New Zealand would have bowled first anyway - there was assistance for bowlers of all varieties. The painfully slow pitch - the groundsman had been forced to clear ice from the covers overnight - made strokemaking problematic, while the re-laid outfield, surely the slowest for a Lord's Test in many decades, provided little reward for shots that beat the in-field.

"It's not what you expect," Trott continued. "The pitch was a lot slower than people are used to and the ball stopped in the outfield when it went down the slope rather then sped-up. People expect high-scoring games at Lord's but it might be a little bit different this time."

It is hard to envisage even a player as good as Kevin Pietersen scoring significantly quicker

Most pertinently, New Zealand bowled beautifully. While Trent Boult, almost immaculate of line and length and gaining incisive swing, may gain most of the plaudits, this was an effort built around team contributions. Tim Southee maintained a wonderfully nagging line and length and Bruce Martin, finding some surprising turn and grip, conceded only three boundaries in his 24 overs.

Even Neil Wagner, who offers more "release balls" than his colleagues and conceded a third of the boundaries, played his part, contributing more overs than the other two seamers and, by bowling both over and round the wicket, swinging some into the right-handers and skidding others away from them on the angle, eventually wore away at Bell's defences. There was no weak link, with every one of the four main bowlers maintaining the pressure and preventing England casting off the shackles that hindered them throughout.

"There was no impetus on being defensive," Trott said. "New Zealand bowled well, didn't give us much to hit and used the conditions to their advantage. I felt really good and got a good ball. It reminds you how tough Test cricket is. It seemed to stop and bounce a bit. Maybe I pushed at it a bit, but it was a good ball. I'm sure our bowlers can extract similar things from the pitch."

England's few attempts to attack ended badly. Nick Compton will take some criticism for his dismissal - down the pitch, attempting to loft over the field, but caught at cover after mis-hitting one that turned fractionally - but there was some logic in his approach. Like Bell in the first innings at Ahmedabad, he was attempting to disrupt the New Zealand game plan, push the field back and then pick up runs in the holes. His execution of the stroke was not as he would have liked but we cannot bemoan a lack of positivity and a perceived recklessness in the next breath.

Perhaps England might have looked to attack the admirably consistent Martin a little more but, after Compton's demise and with some balls appearing to stop in the surface, such a ploy would have constituted more of a risk than usual. Besides, with Graeme Swann back in the side and foot-holes from the left-arm bowlers already creating rough, England may yet be grateful for the assistance given to spinners from this pitch.

It is worth speculating how other batsmen might have adapted. Kevin Pietersen has shown many times, most recently in Mumbai, that he is the one man in this England side who can transcend such conditions to play an aggressive innings and his absence continues to be missed. But against these bowlers in these conditions, it is hard to envisage even a player as good as Pietersen scoring significantly quicker for any length of time.

Besides, while the run-rate was low, this was a far from dull day's cricket. There was an absorbing passage in the morning in which Cook was forced into a thorough examination of his defensive technique. Southee, generally nipping the ball back into the left-hander sharply but sometimes angling it across him, delivered a wonderfully probing spell that demanded the upmost respect. The spectator bemoaning the slow scoring rate might not have liked it, but it is such passages of play that give Test cricket its unique rhythm and character.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rama on May 17, 2013, 14:06 GMT

    It appears that Mr. Dobell spoke too soon. With England being bowled out for 232, what the slow play on the first day did was England lost an opportunity to dominate the proceedings and stamp their authority on the New Zealanders. Let us not forget that NZ are at the bottom of the Test Rankings along with Zim, Bangladesh and WI.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2013, 10:47 GMT

    Very good article. England are damned if they do damned if they don't. They didn't get the runs in NZ and were caned in the media, accused of being complacent. Yesterday was clearly a riposte to that with survival being the optimum goal. The outfield was so slow there were several shots in the morning that would have been boundaries on a 'normal' lords pitch. 160 could have been 200 / 210... NZ bowled very well indeed. Talk of 8th placed team is rubbish. They simply are not playing as the 8th place team at the moment. Good solid performance at the beginning of a very testing summer!

  • Tim on May 17, 2013, 10:07 GMT

    New Zealand won that day. 4-160 after winning the toss at home is unacceptable. It was acceptable for England to bat slowly through the first session but after that they needed to take the game on. If England want to be considered one of the powerhouses of world cricket they need to be beating teams like New Zealand 2-0. They've already failed to beat NZ in 3 attempts away from home. Another draw here will lead to serious doubts of this aging top order to get the job done. Perhaps Compton is not the answer and Trott is near the end but the real problem is mindset. England are not playing like a number 1 contender.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2013, 9:53 GMT

    This seems spot on. There is an appalling tendency to underrate NZ in the media, and the cricket-watching population at large. Similarly, there is a tendency to underrate the potency of disciplined bowling to make life difficult for the batsmen. (Hence comments like Sridhar's about the NZ attack being no better than "good, steady".) NZ were captained well; they were not flash, but they were good, disciplined, hardly a loose ball to be hit. Those that could be hit tended to go for 1 rather than 2, 2 rather than 4, due to the slow outfield. That's (for all you mathematical geniuses out there!) enough to halve the run-rate from what it would otherwise have been. To my mind, Dobell's got it just about right here.

  • Garry on May 17, 2013, 9:09 GMT

    How is Cooks average against us now? Must be low 30's. He really is our bunny.

  • James on May 17, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    @ Carl Sinclair "On paper England have an amazing team."

    No they don't.

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    Flipping heck, there's some flack flying around on here...

    For those of you saying England should have done better, clearly it's not as simple as that. If you have people like Michael Vaughan saying this isn't an easy pitch to score on, I don't really know why you feel you know better. Put SA/India/Australia on that and the best they could realistically hope for would be 20-40 extra runs and 1 or 2 less wickets lost. The pitch is slow, which makes it difficult to time the ball, and when you do the outfield is slow, so instead of 4 you get 2. Add to that that NZ are a vastly better bowling side than people continue to give them credit for - of course it's difficult.

    I agree that England aren't playing to the level they were 2010-2011, or even in India, but in India they were skittling their way through a not-up-to-scratch batting line up that may well have made them look better than they were. To suggest we are over-reliant on Cook and Trott is daft, Bell and Prior in Aukland?

  • Dummy4 on May 17, 2013, 7:54 GMT

    It seems like there is widespread disapproval from fans about today's performance. In my opinion the cautious approach today can only be properly judged at the end of the test match. It is far too early to scorn the efforts thus far. 160-4 may not be the most entertaining days cricket you'll see but it is preferable to being 200 all out after a more attacking approach in what seemed to be conditions that favored the bowlers.

  • Satish Chandar on May 17, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    England always followed the Go slow strategy.. The only enforcers in their team are the injured KP and Prior.. England should look at ways to send in Prior in at 6 whenever they get chance.. Had Bell not got out today at fag end f the day, it would have been perfect scenario for Prior to come in next morning and dictate terms and also, increase the scoring rate..

    Plus, England are pretty confident that their attack can get out opponents if they can score more than 450 at 2-3 per over.. Their scoring rate will be increased when Prior and co get in..

  • Graem on May 17, 2013, 6:47 GMT

    Well done to George Dobell for having the courage to write a piece that runs contrary to the general media narrative. My only real criticism of England, apart from Cook's decision to bat, was the failure to accelerate from about 50 overs onwards when the ball stopped swinging.