England v Australia, 2nd npower Test, Lord's, 1st day July 16, 2009

The weight of history

Australia's raw attack struggled to cope with pressure of play at Lord's, but apart from Andrew Strauss England failed to make them pay

For approximately half of the first day at Lord's, Australia bowled as badly as they have done in any Ashes Test for a generation. All the while that Mitchell Johnson was spoon-feeding England's openers in a ghastly new-ball spell, a packed Lord's crowd that has witnessed five Australian wins in their last six visits was left blinking incredulously through their pint-glasses. Who were these impostors, and what had become of the men who pushed England to the brink in Cardiff last week?

By the close of the first day, we knew. While Andrew Strauss settled serenely into the innings of the day - his fourth century in 12 Tests at Lord's, the ground on which he learnt his trade as a young buck at Middlesex - Australia's rookie cricketers were quite simply crushed by the expectant weight of history. Nobody in the ground can have been unaware that the Baggy Green has reigned supreme at this venue since 1934, and nobody seemed more acutely aware of that fact than the Australians themselves.

No fewer than eight of the men who followed their captain out of the visiting dressing-room, down the central staircase and through a packed and buzzing Long Room were playing in their first Test at the grand venue, and not one of the six bowlers used on the first day had ever had to contend with the vagaries of the slope, let alone follow in the matchless footsteps of the great GD McGrath, who etched his name on the dressing-room honours board three times in three occasions.

Last week, Australia were deprived of the victory that could have settled their nerves for the summer, and at the close of play, Brad Haddin mentioned the tension of the occasion on five separate occasions in a ten-minute press conference. Contrast that anxiety with England's ease with their surroundings. Of the 14 men who vied for selection in this game, only two - Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad - have yet to make their mark on the walls of their dressing-room, and it's fair to suggest that time is on their side.

"We've all batted pretty well at Lord's in the last few years," said Strauss, and with 17 Test centurions since Australia last had a hit, that's something of an understatement. "It has been very batting friendly to be fair, but there's a lot of confidence in our batting unit here, and hopefully we can continue to display that over the coming days."

But confidence in English batsmen is a very dangerous thing, especially when coupled with Australia's ability to rise above adversity. By the close, the two traits had collided to create a perfect cliché - a day of two halves. In their first 47.4 overs, England managed 196 for 0, and then 168 for 6 in their last 42.2. By the time they retreated to their dressing-room, no doubt for the sort of talking-to that their opponents received over lunch, they had squandered their second priceless toss of the series.

Top Curve
England squad members with hundreds at Lord's
  • 2009 AJ Strauss, Australia 161*

    2009 R. Bopara, West Indies 143

    2008 I.R. Bell, South Africa 199; K.P. Pietersen, South Africa 152

    2007 K.P. Pietersen, India 134; K.P. Pietersen, West Indies 109; I.R. Bell, West Indies 109*; M.J.Prior, West Indies 126*; P.D. Collingwood West Indies 111; A.N. Cook, West Indies 105

    2006 A.J. Strauss, Pakistan, 128; I.R. Bell, Pakistan 100*; P.D. Collingwood, Pakistan, 186; A.N. Cook, Pakistan, 105; K.P. Pietersen, Sri Lanka 158

    2004 A.J. Strauss, West Indies, 137; A.J. Strauss, New Zealand, 112

    2003 A. Flintoff, South Africa 142

Bottom Curve

At Cardiff last week, England attempted to seize the momentum, but ended up taking the piss. Their desire to dominate translated into arrogance, as ten starts and a top-score of 69 amply testified, and their first-day scoreline of 336 of 7 was soon revealed to be entirely inadequate. What, then, will be made of this effort? As Strauss proved by piling on through to the close, the opportunity was there to atone for those first-Test errors, and convert a confident start into a formidable finish.

But the recriminations will abound if, as Australia suggested with their end-of-day rally, their stage-fright has dissipated by the time their turn comes to bat. "The whole occasion of Lord's got too big for a few of us," admitted Haddin, "but late in the day we got into our rhythm and started to build a bit more pressure, and relax more into our work. We were looking down the barrel of a very bad day at 0 for 200, and I thought we fought back well."

They certainly did, but England assisted them in their downfall. Superbly though he played for the first 146 balls of his innings, Alastair Cook missed pretty much the first straight one he received (just as he had done at Cardiff), and once he had gone nobody else could muster the necessary application - not even Paul Collingwood, whose out-of-character shovel to mid-on with the new ball looming was the most culpable failure of the day.

Coming so soon after Ponting's agenda-setting 150 at Cardiff, Strauss's hefty performance was timely in one ways than one. But as he admitted at the close, it had been a better day for him personally than for his team, and nothing telegraphed his frustration more pointedly than the look of daggers he gave Collingwood, his Cardiff hero, as he made his way back to the pavilion.

"It is a slightly disappointing [position] from 190 for 0, but I suppose Collingwood was the only one you could say had a hand in his own downfall," said Strauss, "He was trying to push things along before the new ball came along, which can sometimes happen. But otherwise it was a bit of swing and a bit of nip that did for most of our batsmen, which was pretty encouraging."

"There are more wicket-taking opportunities here than at Cardiff, definitely," he said. "The ball swung around more, and when it swung at times batting was quite tricky. At the same time, in between that there were opportunities to score. It's always a fast-scoring ground, so if you're slightly off it's going to go. If we can get up to 450 tomorrow, we'll be in a pretty good position in the game, but we'll have to bat better than in Cardiff."

They'll have to bowl better as well, and in that respect, the percentages selection of Graeme Onions over Steve Harmison may in hindsight prove to be prudent. On his last appearance at Lord's, Onions claimed four wicket in seven balls, on his way to becoming the latest notch on England's honours board - and while the quality of his West Indian opponents were barely worth mentioning in the same context, he can at least claim that Lord's rarefied atmosphere did not affect his performance in the slightest.

Today, that was not remotely true of the Australians. If they can recover their poise from this position - and this evening they made a fantastic fist of a comeback - then they truly are worthy to follow in Bradman's footsteps.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on July 17, 2009, 11:16 GMT

    Not difficult for any Aussie bowler to have picked up more wickets than any England bowler - Australia have batted once and Engand have batted three times.

  • andrews on July 17, 2009, 9:13 GMT

    Pommy criticism of Australia's bowling is hilarious. Johnson, nowhere near his best, is still many times more dangerous than anything in the English attack. In fact, he has picked up more wickets at this stage of the series than the entire English team. So has Hilfenhaus. Once the toss and the luck evens out, England are gone.

  • Amreesh on July 17, 2009, 7:21 GMT

    Good fightback by Australians @ the end but the it was unfortunate that Alaister cook got out early in the innings. He was playing so well...Now the Captain leading from the front and he has ensure that he sticks to his plan ang get past 450 or close to 500. it they do..i think its gonna to ne a thrilling contest b/w the arc rivals. Hope English comes hard this time and make this ashes as the best ever.....

  • Amahl on July 17, 2009, 6:05 GMT

    I think the Australians have done considerably well towards the end of the day to pick up those 4 wickets in the final session. I didn't watch that part but was stunned to see the scoreline at stumps. To me, England need 500 which they CAN get as long as Strauss sticks around for another 50 runs minimum. Swann, Broad and Anderson are all capable of pushing the score along. The Aussies would certainly settle for 450, close to what England scored in the first innings at Cardiff. If anyone is under pressure however in this situation, it is the Australian bowlers if one considers what happened in England's first innings at Cardiff. Mitchell Johnson needs to get his radar right in order that Australia can clean up the tail quickly. The Aussie batting response will also be intriguing. All eyes will certainly be on Hughes.

  • Rajesh on July 17, 2009, 5:27 GMT

    Well the Aussies finally had everything going wrong for them tleast for the first half of the day. If it had not been for some decent bowling in the later half of the day, the Aussies might have got their biggest thrashing in a day, since Petersen and Collingwood stuck into them in Australia in the second Ashes test last time. Ironically today they were helped to a large extent by Pietersen, whose suicidal tendencies at the batting crease would put to shame even the greatest Kamikaze pilots of World War II. With Collingwood, Flintoff and Prior also going cheaply, the onus has once again fallen on Andrew Strauss to bail them out. England did a very good job first up, but then as is wont their fragile middle order (which on current form, is worse than the weakest porcelain crockery) has let them down again. That is should have happend while thier captain was at the other end is equally stupefying.

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