England go-slow largely vindicated
"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."
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