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Match Analysis

A pitch to damage Test cricket

The pitch against New Zealand, just a couple of months ago, was a brilliant Test surface that brought fascinating action so what has happened?

It is ironic that, in the week in which the MCC World Cricket Committee warned that Test cricket "will not survive" if "left as it is," the pitch at the ground they own should provide such a poor advert for the game.
While it is often said that some players "empty bars" with their exciting play, this was a surface to fill bars. It was a surface to pour cold water over the growing excitement in English cricket. A surface that might have been acceptable a generation ago but which now, in the age of T20 and more leisure opportunities, presents a danger to the future viability of the game. It is a poor surface.
This Lord's pitch is not poor in the way that Cardiff was poor. This surface, at least, has not offered variable bounce and, when the edge of the bat was found, the ball did just about carry to the slip cordon. It is a pitch that is fair to both teams.
But whether it is fair to both skills - batting and bowling - and to spectators is far more debatable. There has always been a place in Test cricket for attritional play and there have always been pitches of which bowlers had nightmares. But if the MCC are to lead by example rather than simply pontificate, they really do need to sort their own house out first.
It does not matter if there is, at some stage, a dramatic finale. A rock fall can be dramatic: it does not mean the 30,000 years of erosion that preceded it is great television. If the administrators are really serious about combating falling attendances and worrying viewing figures, they must combat the pitch problem.
Might Lord's have been following orders from the ECB? Perhaps. The England management insist not - they say there have been no specific instructions this summer - and the groundsman, Mick Hunt, points out that the days immediately before the game were full of rain. There was simply not, he says, the sun to bake the pitch into a quicker surface.
It is an explanation that may raise eyebrows from those who recently enjoyed an almost uninterrupted Wimbledon Tennis Championships only a few miles down the road. But, until the last year or so, most Lord's pitches were like this.
It does seem a coincidence that the last two Tests on this ground - against New Zealand and India - have seen more lively surfaces. It does seem a coincidence that, once Mitchell Johnson is around, the two pitches prepared for this series have been painfully slow.
If England asked for such pitches - if Andrew Strauss was on the grassy knoll, insisting the grass was cut and the knoll rolled flat - they can have no complaints.
That would be a shame, though. After weeks of telling us how aggressively they were going to play, England were given little opportunity to "express their talent" or "show off their skills" on this surface. It was so slow, so flat, so lifeless that they had little option but to revert to more traditional tactics.
They didn't bowl quite as tightly as they might, but Alastair Cook was all but faultless in the field. After the excitement of Cardiff and the drama of the New Zealand series, this was a hugely anti-climatic day for English cricket. The game really does have a problem with self harm.
Credit where it is due: Chris Rogers and Steven Smith batted with the hunger and application to take advantage of the situation. But this really was the sort of surface which any batsman would want to take home and introduce to their parents?
Maybe it was a shame, too, that England did not have Adil Rashid available for them. On such a flat surface, perhaps his leg-breaks may have been able to coax more out of this surface.
For a while on Tuesday, it looked as if he was going to be in the side. With Moeen Ali struggling with a side strain, Rashid was told that there was a good chance he could play and asked to ready himself.
He then reported a finger problem - what is described as a relatively minor abrasion on the ring finger of his right hand - and ruled himself out of contention.
It seems that some in the England camp are underwhelmed by that development. Not only are they surprised that he did not report the problem until Tuesday night, but there were some raised eyebrows when he considered the injury bad enough to rule himself out of a Test debut against Australia at Lord's.
To be fair to Rashid, he could be forgiven for not wanting to be judged when anything below 100% fit and only he can say with certainty whether he is ready. But many is the spinner who has gone into a game with ripped, blistered fingers - most would consider it an occupational hazard - and he may come to rue this decision as a crossroads moment in his career.
If he is deemed fit to play for Yorkshire in their Championship match against Worcestershire at Scarborough on Monday - and at present the England camp expect him to be available for it - it will be a surprise if he is in the third Test squad.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo