England v South Africa 2008 / Features

England v South Africa, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day

Pitch battle falls flat

This was a stultifying day's cricket that did no favours to the Test format

Andrew Miller at Lord's

July 14, 2008

Comments: 14 | Text size: A | A


Hashim Amla guided South Africa to safety, but he wasn't truly challenged by the conditions © Getty Images
Enlarge
 
And so England's Lord's hoodoo grinds on into another year. Yet another draw, their sixth in a row on this desperate strip of turf, and by the time the two teams reached their farcical "gentleman's agreement" midway through the final session, England's resignation was graffiti-ed across their body language. With apologies to Hashim Amla, this was a stultifying day's cricket, one that did no favours whatsoever to a form of the game that can feel itself being marginalised with every passing minute.

Test cricket is said to be dying, and on this evidence its most famous pitch is already dead. England have posted scores in excess of 500 in the first innings in six out of their last nine Tests at Lord's, yet they've converted those starts into a solitary victory and five draws. There have been 23 English centurions in the past ten matches alone, and South Africa have just added four overseas entries in a single contest. It's the accolade that cricketers dream about as children, but these days the dressing-room honours board has about as much exclusivity as a Blairite New Year Honours List.

It's a sad indictment of the times. The MCC, the guardians of the game for two centuries, spent most of this match backtracking on a leaked plan to transform the height of the English summer into a Twenty20 bonanza. While the proposal may have its merits, the timing of the disclosure was unfortunate to say the least. The net effect was to create distractions on all fronts, and in the final analysis, no party was more distracted than the players themselves.

This isn't how great escapes should feel. When Michael Atherton and Jack Russell defied South Africa at Johannesburg in 1995-96, they galloped off the field with arms linked around each other's shoulders, into the grateful embrace of their team-mates. When Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee saw off Steve Harmison at Old Trafford in 2005, the Australian balcony erupted as if they'd sealed a famous win.

Today, Amla and Ashwell Prince seemed every bit as bored as England's fielders, as between them they concocted a spurious appeal against the light, and skulked back to the pavilion. "It wasn't dark, we'd just had enough," admitted Michael Vaughan, with disarming candour. It is a crime against Test cricket that a match that was so eagerly anticipated, and so delicately poised when Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell came together on the first afternoon, could flounder in such a pathetic manner.

Amla's century was a sublimely compiled effort, one that built on the foundations laid down by Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie, and applied some sweetly sculpted touches as the innings wore on and his confidence in the conditions grew. But not even he could pretend it had been a challenge. In 2004-05, he made 36 runs in two Tests as Harmison and Co. bounced him back to provincial cricket, and though England tried the same tactic this time around, there simply wasn't, in Vaughan's words, enough "zest" in the pitch.

Nor was there enough drama in South Africa's survival, which amplifies the excellence of the rearguard they mounted, but also the futility of the final two days. "A hundred at Lord's, it's great," said McKenzie, the real star of the second innings. "But I haven't really rated it in terms of where it is. I'll definitely take the runs, but I'm under no illusions that things will get tougher." You can't imagine Atherton, or Willie Watson and Trevor Bailey shrugging off such a monumental achievement only minutes after it had been completed.

Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this contest, and that is the immediate onset of the second Test at Headingley. The effort and exhaustion of the Lord's experience means England are already approaching Leeds with trepidation, as they sense the momentum of the series swinging the way of the visitors.

"If we win the toss and bat, it'll be a long fielding session for them," said McKenzie, with a touch of relish in his voice. "We let ourselves down on the first couple of days, but we showed a lot of character in coming back for the last two days. We're into full competition mode now, and we've got away with having not been up for it for the first two days. We won't be sitting back any more."

"It's a slight concern," said Vaughan. "Our bowlers will be feeling weary, but hopefully the back-room staff can work their magic. I'm sure we won't do much fielding practice over the next few days, but we haven't had to chase many balls because it's been pretty static."

Static is one way of putting it. The decent final-day crowd who turned up to watch a challenging day of Test cricket, only to be left booing in the late-afternoon sun, might have another word for it. Lord's and the MCC clearly want to be seen as innovators at this critical juncture for the game. But perhaps they'd do well to break off from gazing at the stars for a while, and start looking down under their feet.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

RSS Feeds: Andrew Miller

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by dsperl on (July 15, 2008, 14:57 GMT)

I'm interested that Andrew didn't comment (and no-one else has) on Vaughan's decision to enforce the follow-on. Would a tempting target (450-plus in 4 sessions) have perhaps made for a different approach by SA. At the very least it wd have given England's bowlers a respite and England's top order a chance for some stress free additional batting practice.

Posted by Liberty311 on (July 15, 2008, 13:41 GMT)

"Hard to see what England could have done differently..." St John. Perhaps England should not have enforced the follow-on to give their bowlers a break. Either way, in the end it was one century too many. Prince, Smith, Mckenzie and Amla share the honors. I agree with the comments about Harris above. Geoffrey Boycott was hard on Harris (and many others!), but I appreciated Boycott's denunciation of South Africa's affirmative action policies. I like to listen to Sir Geoffrey Boycott. He speaks his mind. He is also very informative. He has been there, done that and it is a pleasure listening to him tell it like it is. Finally, the record books say it was a draw. In fact, it was an enthralling succession of closely fought battles, with the outcome still to be settled. You can't make it up.

Posted by Harj_Birmingham on (July 15, 2008, 13:28 GMT)

We need to be careful. It was an 'interesting match' in that despite the 1st 3 days SA hit back. However, it would have been an enthralling match if they had done that with a pitch that was offering something. Hitting back and achieving a draw on such a flat pitch is hardly enthralling cricket.

What makes this even more dull is that this is the 6th draw in a row, surely there comes a point when the groundsman has to rethink the pitch.

We can however be reasonably sure that next years encounter here, probably wont be a draw......

Posted by StJohn on (July 15, 2008, 12:25 GMT)

I don't read the article as lamenting the death of Test cricket, but rather the dead nature of the Lord's pitch. There is no doubt that SA batted well to draw the game. But it was SA's 1st innings rather than their 2nd that was the exception rather than the norm. Bottom line is that if SA had approached their 1st innings with the same resolution, this would probably have been one of those rather boring Tests where both teams make massive 1st innings totals. This Test should perhaps not be viewed through the prism of England versus SA, but rather bat versus ball. In that context, Lords seems to produce pretty uneven contests of late.

Posted by StJohn on (July 15, 2008, 12:23 GMT)

I don't read the article as lamenting the death of Test cricket, but rather the dead nature of the Lord's pitch. There can be doubt that SA batted well to draw the game. But it was SA's 1st innings rather than their 2nd that was the exception rather than the norm. Bottom line is that if SA had approached their 1st innings with the same resolution, this would probably have been one of those rather boring Tests where both teams make massive 1st innings totals. This Test should perhaps not be viewed through the prism of England versus SA, but rather bat versus ball. In that context, Lords seems to produce pretty uneven contests of late.

Posted by BellCurve on (July 15, 2008, 12:06 GMT)

Watching Panesar and KP open the bowling in poor light and fairly heavy rain at around 7pm on the 3rd day is what test cricket is all about. Just Greame Smith's expression when he realised Billy Bowden is calling them to come out and bat again was priceless. That is real, tough, testing test cricket. You got to take to the bad with the good.

Posted by porcospino on (July 15, 2008, 11:25 GMT)

After Allen Stanford denounced Test cricket as "boring" live on TMS, the home counties were redolent with the odour of burnt teacakes for days. But on yesterday's offering, he might have a point. Here's a breakdown of what you got for your money, depending on which day you went to Lord's:

Day Wickets Batsmen Runs 100s Th 3 5 309 1 Fr 5 9 248 1 Sa 10 10 240 1 Su 1 3 229 2 Mo 2 3 151 1

The prize ticket was Saturday's. The booby prize was Monday. They should really think about digging up that pitch and filling it with landmines, or something.

Posted by StaalBurgher on (July 15, 2008, 11:17 GMT)

I agree whole-heartedly with most of the comments above. Day four was as intense as you could ask Test cricket to be. The only problem is that the Lord's pitch is dull but that is not the same as saying Test cricket is dying. The only format that is likely to die is 50-overs cricket.

The end was not farcical. The draw was the only result feasible at that point. I think it was shocking of the Lord's crowd to be booing after such a huge first innings by England, which I'm sure they enjoyed immensely, and then a monumental fight back by SA. So much for English decorum.

Posted by Pinch-Hitter69 on (July 15, 2008, 11:08 GMT)

I am delighted that SA were finally able to stop-the-rot mid-match and fight back, it was enthauling cricket and deserves to be seen as that. Four centurians, one not expected to muster much (Prince), one with a percieved weakness against short stuff (Amla) and one living in the shadows of Gibbs and Smith (McKenzie), a truely dogged effort even on a flat pitch. One thing irked me though was the commentators total disregard and disrespectful comments towards Paul Harris as a bowler. He has proven himself already against Pakistan and India in particular, two contries noted for their dominance over spin. Statistically he has out-performed Monty yet nobody has said Monty "cant bowl" Harris Test career: 41 wkts at 31.65ave (s/r 70.4), Monty 105wkts at 32.58ave (s/r 68.2) Monty also just managed 4 wkts in 86 overs here and none in the last 2.5 days, aren't spinners supposed to thrive on wearing pitches even flat ones? Now I wouldnt dare suggest Monty cant bowl as more respect is due

Posted by edrich on (July 15, 2008, 10:38 GMT)

The only thing that is dying in Test cricket is people's understanding of it. Sadly this article exemplifies that.A fascinating match.A fine defense of their position from SA on a pitch that offered nothing.It sets up the series quite nicely.This match will be remembered at the series end,unlike the one-day nonsense that is barely a memory the next morning.

Bore-draw or great escape? Have your say
Comments have now been closed for this article

TopTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Andrew MillerClose
Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
Tour Results
England v South Africa at Cardiff - Sep 3, 2008
No result
England v South Africa at Lord's - Aug 31, 2008
England won by 7 wickets (with 14 balls remaining) (D/L method)
England v South Africa at The Oval - Aug 29, 2008
England won by 126 runs
England v South Africa at Nottingham - Aug 26, 2008
England won by 10 wickets (with 215 balls remaining)
England v South Africa at Leeds - Aug 22, 2008
England won by 20 runs
More results »
News | Features Last 3 days
News | Features Last 3 days