England v West Indies, 1st npower Test, Lord's, 3rd day May 8, 2009

England uplifted by rookie success

The Man of the Match was an attacking spinner with genuine allround credentials. The stand-out batsman was a rookie who oozed class and confidence as he overcame a dicey first-day scoreline

For 33 boundary-laden overs, with the sun sucking up the lateral movement that had caused such havoc in the first innings, and with Brendan Nash and Denesh Ramdin digging in for a 143-run partnership that screamed "what if", England were made to work for their win. In the end, however, two hours of solid resistance could not atone for six consecutive sessions of surrender, as West Indies' hold on the Wisden Trophy was loosened barely weeks after it had been secured.

Thanks to that late resistance, this was not a thumping that quite matched up to West Indies' own nose-rubbing win in Jamaica back in February, but England will not quibble about the minutiae. Prior to the match, Andrew Strauss had said his team was out for revenge, and when he himself blazed the winning runs through the covers shortly after 6pm, he delivered exactly that, as the earliest Test match ever staged in England came to an end before the weekend punters had had a chance to sample the new attitude for themselves.

"I think by and large we played some pretty clinical cricket," said Strauss after the match. "You can't underestimate how important it is to win cricket matches. It lifts the spirit in the team and makes people feel they are part of something slightly special. It gives everyone confidence and the more you do it, the more you believe you can win when the chips are down. We've won one now, but we really need to win another one next week."

Strauss knows better than most just how incredible that winning feeling can be. From the moment he made his debut in May 2004, England won eight Tests in a row as a part of an unparalleled run of six series wins on the trot, culminating of course in the 2005 Ashes. Since then, however, victory has been a somewhat rarer commodity. This was the first time they had won the first Test of a rubber for four years and 15 series, and whatever the result in Durham next week, it will not alter the fact that England have beaten only two Test nations since surrendering the Ashes in January 2007 - West Indies at home, and New Zealand home and away.

With that in mind, rather more evidence of an upturn in fortunes will be required before it can be claimed that England are truly back on track, but nevertheless, they could hardly have hoped for a more uplifting start to a new era. The Man of the Match was an attacking spinner with genuine allround credentials. The stand-out batsman was a rookie who oozed class and confidence as he overcame a dicey first-day scoreline. And the most impressive seamer was a debutant who produced accuracy, aggression and variety to claim a remarkable five-wicket haul.

"On day one, the wicket was a bit green, it nipped around a bit, and we needed someone to front up and play the conditions. Ravi did that, and it was encouraging to see that from a guy who hasn't played a lot before. It's more of an examination of his temperament and character than for a guy who's played 50-odd Tests."
Andrew Strauss on Ravi Bopara's matchwinning century

Three troublesome positions, three confident and comfortable candidates for long-term selection. The fact that Graeme Swann, Ravi Bopara and Graham Onions had never played a home Test between them might well have been lost on any casual fan who glanced at the action from this match. Like Strauss five years earlier, they play as if to the manor born, and like Strauss, deserve a chance to make themselves undroppable.

As a batsman, Strauss was particularly impressed with Bopara's composed performance. "On day one, the wicket was a bit green, it nipped around a bit, and we needed someone to front up and play the conditions," he said. "Ravi did that, and it was encouraging to see that from a guy who hasn't played a lot before. It's more of an examination of his temperament and character than for a guy who's played 50-odd Tests."

Perverse as it may sound, one of the most heartening aspects of England's victory was the utter anonymity of two particular 50-Test veterans. Andrew Flintoff did not play and was not missed, not even in terms of being the life and soul of the dressing-room - when he did pop in to say hello, his most notable contribution was to jinx Onions by wishing him luck before he went out to bat. Meanwhile Kevin Pietersen most definitely played. He, like Onions, recorded a golden duck, but contributed neither a catch nor an over to the quietest match of his four-year career.

To remark on Pietersen's plight should not be taken as schadenfreude. For all his undoubted brilliance, in recent months, England have developed an unhealthy reliance on his runs. Prior to this match, of the eight Tests that they had won since their 5-0 thumping in the 2006-07 Ashes, Pietersen had contributed four centuries (one of them a double against West Indies in 2007) and averaged a hefty 59.85. In 12 often high-scoring draws his figures are even better - 66.58, with six hundreds. In seven defeats, however, his average shrivels to 27.71 with a best of 97. Where he fails to lead, his team-mates have been far too keen to follow.

"There have been times over the last 18 months when we've relied on him far too much," admitted Strauss. "He'll come back, all great players come back quickly, and he'll score hundreds for us this summer, but for a really successful summer we need contributions from all 11 players, and it's good to see it from some different faces."

As for Flintoff, he will surely be back, but given his fitness record, and the unavoidable truths about his impact with bat and ball (no centuries or five-wicket hauls since 2005), any way in which England can avoid strapping too many burdens to his back has to be for the team's greater good. To that end, the successful promotions of Matt Prior to No. 6 and Stuart Broad to No. 7, not to mention Swann's flamboyant half-century, add an extra comfort zone to England's permutations for the rest of the summer.

"Matt Prior is a genuine No.6 bat for me, he has proved it time and time again," said Strauss. "Asking Broad to step up to No. 7 was an elevation but he got stuck in well, while Swann went out and played his natural game. I told him not to start thinking about your batting now that we are playing five bowlers, because he is a wonderful timer of the ball.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find too many negatives out of this game, and I wouldn't want to," said Strauss. Having inherited the side in awkward circumstances in the winter, he's made a tidy start in his quest to mould a new improved unit. Just so long as no-one, players or public alike, gets carried away by the achievement thus far, the past three days will have been very well spent.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Raghupathy on May 9, 2009, 18:28 GMT

    Yes, England deserved the win and they did it in style. They had to get back at the West Indies after their series loss against them not too long ago. But I have a feeling that West Indies, more than anything, were victim of the weather. Playing in the cooler English weather might have had a negative impact on their players. Good performance from Bopara, Swann and Onions. In spite of some spilled chances they could finish it off in under 3 days. One good thing Strauss did was to ask the West Indies to FOLLOW ON rather than batting a second time. The same mistake robbed England of a certain win at St. John where he decided to bat even after having a lead of 281 and in the end was thwarted by the last pair. Good luck to England in the second test.


  • StJohn on May 9, 2009, 14:59 GMT

    P.S. I am a big fan of Swann, but for me he hasn't got enough right-handed batsmen out yet, which is one reason why I think a doosra of sorts would serve him well - the ball turning away from a batsman generally seems to be every spinner's biggest asset. To be fair, WIndies have a lot of left-handers, so he can only bowl at what's in front of him. But it'll be interesting to see how he fares against a team with fewer left-handers.

  • StJohn on May 9, 2009, 14:49 GMT

    England's batting is OK, but the bowling lacks the mystery needed to claim 20 wkts regularly in unfamiliar conditions on unhelpful pitches. When the ball's swinging, England can compete with anyone - the problem is, like in the Caribbean, when it's not. How to get that mystery? Swann looks very good, but with a doosra he could become a true great. Monty needs to have the confidence to vary his bowling more (far too flat, fast and predictable in India) and develop a decent arm-ball. Anderson, Broad, Flintoff & Onions or another look like being a very handy pace bowling unit. But this sort of unit struggled to pick up wkts on flat pitches with little swing in the Caribbean. England really need an out-and-out genuinely quick, nasty fast bowler (like a more consistent, happier-travelling version of Harmison). Or Simon Jones (or someone like him) - who is the only England bowler I've seen in the last 5+ years who genuinely & regularly bamboozled batsman with his reverse swing.

  • Derek on May 9, 2009, 14:04 GMT

    ICC 0, Robert Mugabe 1. Why was this series not cancelled outright? The greed and incompetence of the WI board is so evident; why substitute for Zimbabwe, them Sri Lanka at the expense of relinguishing the Wisden trophy? The WI team should volunteer to play the game simply to offer the money to their starving brothers in Africa. The WI team regardless of their mental weakness as ridiculed by that ..... GB; should NEVER be here in May. Having complained to the BBC about the inability to mute Boycott on radio as I can do on Sky I have to settle for switching off like must of my friends.. Cricket will continue to lose support with such mono syllablic so-called experts who have nothing to contribute constructively but hark on about how many year they took to score a run. Gayle and co would do much better forgoing the ego of the WI board in preference to earning money from the IPl to secure THEIR future and that of THEIR families instead of lining the coffers of the ICC.

  • kiran on May 9, 2009, 13:47 GMT

    I believe this team has more skill than credit given england have been playing well all year but the result went the other way or good skill skill by the oppenants to take a draw. And has the potentail not only to win but also be In the top with South Africa, India, and Australia. With flittoff bowling coming back the will win the ashes 3-0.

  • Christopher on May 9, 2009, 13:41 GMT

    One point that hasn't, if memory serves, been raised thus far is that Bopara has, in his first home test, achieved something beyond Ian Bell, and scored a century when no others have, in difficult circumstances. Strauss' praise of Bopara for "temperment" and "character" is entirely correct; Bopara exudes a mental fortitude and self-confidence that, though not as abrasive or overt as a Waugh or Ganguly, is still a great asset.

    I still think Bresnan, though he hardly did enough to warrant either criticism or approbation, will be fortunate to have a prolonged test career however.

  • Mush on May 9, 2009, 13:23 GMT

    An ideal start to the series.. one up. A win always helps team to re-group. Not entirely convincing though, it would have good if KP could have played a decent innings. But, then Bopara did show that if given a chance he was up to it. A very fluent century with some real lusty blows was very enjoyable and very important too. As he came in a time when england were down. A good in all for Swann, he is slowly reaching there to be a consistent performer. English blowers did a very good job to get rid of the big west-indian players. In all a nice start to english summer. Hope they keep the momentum going

  • Rajiv on May 9, 2009, 11:42 GMT

    Thanks for introducing me to the word 'schadenfreude' Andrew! I had a most interesting time discovering its roots, usages and related words and antonyms. Oh yeah, nice article as well ;-)

  • Kamal on May 9, 2009, 8:32 GMT

    It may be too early but Bopara reminds me of what Gautam Gambhir has been doing for India. Both have improved on one Test match after another, with sombre and responsible performances. Onions has been a good newbie! Swann and Panesar have the potential of being the next big Spin Twins!

  • Prince on May 9, 2009, 6:17 GMT

    At last a test win for England;against a hapless West Indies army. @ Pinhead:-Monty is an over-hyped spinner,his record is mediocre.There is no need to keep on shouting about his absence.I honestly believe that Steve Harmison can be recalled for the next test & the Ashes for one last time.These matches will be held in England,& we all know Harmison is a horrible traveller.Play him one last time in the Ashes & then wave him BYE BYE. England might win the series against West Indies,but it's unlikely that they will win any test in the Ashes.

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