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There is a lot to contend with on the opening day of a Lord's Test - emotion, pressure, famous faces - but the most important is adjusting to the famous slope
July 18, 2013
The Queen, The Long Room, the history, the architecture, the members, the photographs, the adulation, the autographs, the Nursery, the nets; the Queen, your family, your friends, their friends, the tickets; the Queen, Shane Warne, the pitch, the toss, the heat, the slope, ouch, the slope! Eight feet and eight inches of it. Lads, the slope. Listen up. There is a lot to think about on the first morning of an Ashes Test at Lord's, but the one to get right above all others is the slope.
When Richie Benaud first came to England in 1953, Neil Harvey brought him to Lord's for a look. "Bit odd that slope, Harv, doesn't look right," said Benaud. "Nor would you if you were 150 years old" said Harvey. Thomas Lord moved his folly here from Westminster in 1814. Strapped of cash, he was bailed out by the governor of the Bank of England, William Ward. In the days before the lawnmower, sheep used to graze on the ground before being herded to Smithfield Market, where they were slaughtered and sold for supper.
At a guess, James Pattinson won't know much of a past that celebrates its 200th anniversary next year. But he knows that from Grandstand to Mound Stand the most famous sporting field of them all has a slope. Apparently Glenn McGrath spent Tuesday working with the Australia bowlers. McGrath loved the slope. He took 8 for 38 against England here in 1997, eight in the match in 2001, and nine in the match in 2005.
He ran in from the Pavilion End and hit a perfect length six inches outside off stump before nipping the ball back in to the batsman as if he were the devil himself. There was once a bit of a ridge too, which led to awkward bounce, and McGrath exploited it mercilessly, but that appears to have been ironed out, perhaps by the new drainage that has redirected the channels of rain water. Or perhaps this is myth. Either way, "Pigeon" loved the joint, so it was a good call by Darren Lehman to ask him to help out.
The message will have been typically uncomplicated - "Stand the seam up and hit the top of off stump with an occasional throat-high bouncer." This was the McGrath mantra at every venue, everywhere in the world. Easier said than done Glenn. Then he will have said something like: "From the Pavilion End, your line is six to eight inches outside off stump. From the Nursery End, the line is middle and off stump. The angles work in your favour because the ball will move a little with the lie of nature." He might also have said that if you get this wrong, the angles work unkindly against you. Ask Pattinson. Poor "Patto", a real giver of a cricketer, one for the trenches. But not one for a bloody slope.
Pattinson is 23 years old. With Pat Cummins, who is chronically injured it seems, he is the brightest star in the firmament of Australian cricket. He is tall and strong and bowls at a good lick. As the pros say, he hits the bat hard. He has 45 wickets at 24 apiece, so it's a promising work in progress. You might not put your house on him yet but the garage and the garden shed are safe. For all that, Pattinson could not suss the slope.
The Long Room is the first thing that gets you: all those members, ghoulish in their fascination. Then you mark out your run, and as the place wraps its arms around you, you think, gee, I dreamt about this. Pattinson was given the Nursery End but the McGrath instruction needed adaptation, for the leftie, Alastair Cook, was on strike.
So wayward were the first two overs Pattinson bowled that Michael Clarke whipped him out of the spotlight and turned to a man more experienced. One moment the captain's nemesis - in the world according to Mickey Arthur, that is - next moment, the captain's friend. It was Shane Watson to whom Clarke gave that newish ball and immediately Watson rewarded him by trapping Cook in front of all three with a lovely inswinger. That surprised us. So did the fall of Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen. Not in the script at all, not before Her Majesty. We were not amused!
Okay, great start, thought Clarke, back to "Patto" for the right-handers. No luck. Pattinson was nervous now and not much better. One good ball, one bad. He tried for the McGrath prescription, that middle-and-off line, but pushed it there rather than really let fly. Consequently the ball went too straight and Jonathan Trott worked it away, a batsman without compare off his pads. Then he over-corrected and Brad Haddin was taking deliveries in front of first slip.
No matter, "Patto" (thought Clarke, trying to stay calm), come start afresh beneath the shadow of the grand old pavilion. Thus, the 12th over of the match was bowled by Pattinson at the opposite end to the one at which he started and it was his third spell of the morning. He is not the first to find the Lord's formula elusive and he will not be the last. There was some venom this time but not much direction. The mental strain was obvious. A young man eager to make his mark at a place of champions was suffering from the whisper in the stands. A stage whisper that eats away. The harder he tried, the more transparent the pain. So Clarke gave him another breather.
Three overs straight after lunch were tidier but venomless. At three o'clock he was back, snarling. But it was no good, just not to be. The first ball back clipped the pads and raced to the fine-leg boundary. Four. The next was wide, way wide, of off stump. The others in the over were soft. Easier than it sounds, Pigeon.
Then, eureka! It is not a Pattinson day at all, thought Clarke, it is a Steve Smith day. Actually, he probably didn't think that at all but instead pined for his pal Warney, who used to lock up the Nursery End and throw away the keys. McGrath from the Pavilion, Warne at the Nursery - lovely, if only. But wait, we have a legspinner in our number. Eureka! And Smith took the three wickets that Pattinson had dreamt about. It is not a game for dreamers, not often anyway.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UKFeeds: Mark Nicholas
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