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A Lord's celebration marred by England's lack of will to win

Day five of the first Test was such a contrast to the last time England and New Zealand had played at Lord's - in the 2019 World Cup final

Tawhid Qureshi
07-Jun-2021
Mitchell Santner bowls to Dom Sibley on the fifth day, England vs New Zealand, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day, June 6, 2021

The Sunday crowd, reduced in numbers, was good natured throughout, even when the contest ceased to be a meaningful one  •  AFP/Getty Images

It was an unplanned and completely spontaneous decision for this writer to visit Lord's for the last day of the first Test between England and New Zealand. Here's how it went.
The game
In the course of a normal summer, a day watching Test cricket at Lord's is always high on my to-do list, but the reduced crowd capacity because of Covid-19 meant tickets were hard to come by. So it was with good fortune that I found a ticket online while browsing the internet, early on Sunday morning. Even more luckily, it was a seat in one of the member's stands adjacent to the pavilion, guaranteeing an excellent view of the game and the thrill of walking through the Grace gates.
I ironed a shirt and put on a pair of smart trousers - I figured it was worth the effort, as any MCC member would be required to do. As I was greeted by the unfailingly polite stewards, I could sense a genuine buzz of anticipation in the air. After the entire third day's play had been lost to rain, New Zealand had the upper hand with a 165-run lead, and there was an expectation that both the teams would play their part in entertaining the crowd in their quest to force a result. In the event, it proved that only one team had a genuine will to win. Disappointingly, it wasn't England.
The best part
Despite two of the world's best batting talents - Joe Root and Kane Williamson - being around, the best performances had come from less-familiar names. Williamson had lost his wicket the previous evening and endured a forgettable Test, while Root had looked promising with a fluent 40 before being given out lbw. He simmered with pent-up anger as he headed back to the pavilion, whether he was cross with the decision or with himself was hard to tell.
Neil Wagner claimed Root's wicket and was the pick of the bowlers on the last day. He was no doubt helped by the England batters, who rarely showed any interest in scoring runs, as they steadfastly refused to nibble at the carrots that were dangled in front of them, in the form of a chase requiring approximately 3.6 per over, across two sessions.
Dom Sibley was the blocker-in-chief; he could, of course, argue that his unbeaten 60 was essential in ensuring England avoided defeat. The innings also helped stabilise his position in the team. From my view, he often looked cumbersome but effective at repelling the New Zealand bowlers.
Earlier, the first wicket of the day fell to the most talked-about cricketer of the Test: Ollie Robinson. When Wagner top-edged to the wicketkeeper, in the search for quick runs, it was Robinson's seventh wicket of the match. Coupled with an impressive batting display, it should have been a debut to savour for him. But rarely have I felt so conflicted when applauding a wicket myself, or felt such bemusement at those in the crowd cheering him with a fervour unusual for Lord's. The furore over his old tweets has split the public, as so many contentious modern issues do. Regardless of how the next few weeks, months and years pan out for Robinson, his old tweets might have caused some real damage, especially to those on the margins of the game in England.
The wow moment
There were few standout moments, mainly as runs and wickets dried up as the day wore on, and both teams crept towards the stalemate. In the morning, Rory Burns showed his agility by taking a sharp catch diving full length. Later in the day, Root unfurled his array of sweep shots against Mitchell Santner, collecting a couple of sweetly timed boundaries.
The best shot of the day came from Ross Taylor. Under obvious instructions to accelerate, he took on a length delivery from Robinson and carved it over the off-side boundary for six. At one stage, the ball looked to be arrowing towards me, but it sailed ten metres over my head and into the hospitality boxes, giving a shock to those enjoying an early liquid lunch.
One thing I'd change
In order to make the venue Covid-19 secure, Lord's was split into three zones, with spectators restricted to their respective spaces. Although we could leave the ground entirely and re-enter, which seemed to negate the purpose of the zonal system in the first place.
But the biggest retrospective change I'd make would be to England's lack of ambition with the bat. Shortly before the players reappeared for the afternoon session, the crowd was re-energised with news of an unexpected declaration from New Zealand and a target of 273 being set. Suddenly, the game had sprung to life, as all outcomes were very much back on the table. Unfortunately, the excitement dissipated every time Burns and Sibley defended stodgily.
The crowd
The Sunday crowd, reduced in numbers, was good natured throughout, even when the contest ceased to be a meaningful one. Sibley's infrequent attacking shots were met with ironic cheers and long before the final hour was called by the umpire, heads had buried deep in the Sunday newspapers. The ones that were watching amused themselves with the minutiae of the spectacle. The big screen showing a person struggling to put on a raincoat the right way around, and a minor mid-pitch collision between Sibley and Root resulted in howls of exaggerated laughter.
As the shadows in the outfield got longer, the odd shout of "boring" accompanied England's innings, the fact that there was no slow-hand-clapping was probably because the thinning crowd were either too polite or just resigned to the inevitable.
Out of ten…
A sleep-inducing seven. As the sun began to dip behind the pavilion, well beyond the scheduled finishing time, I cast my mind back two years, the last time England and New Zealand had met at Lord's. During a similar time of day and under similar sunny skies, one of the most exciting games of cricket ever played - the 2019 World Cup final - reached its climax. The contrast to the ending of the first Test could not have been greater. A vast expanse of empty white seating was the backdrop when the players eventually agreed to end the game.
It might seem crass to complain about the outcome of a cricket match, when simply being able to watch it from close quarters should be a cause for celebration. The past year has taught me to make the most of every opportunity - it's something England might do well to follow too.

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Tawhid Qureshi's twin passions are following England and Bangladesh, and he enjoys playing for a team of assorted civil servants despite his plummeting batting average