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Analysis

Ollie Robinson has what it takes on-field, England's young batters have much to prove

Six things we learned from the first Test between England and New Zealand

George Dobell
George Dobell
06-Jun-2021
England can take plenty of lessons from the first Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

England can take plenty of lessons from the first Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

The first Test between England and New Zealand at Lord's petered into a draw, but there was plenty of intrigue along the way. Here are six things we learned:

Ollie Robinson has what it takes

If we ignore, for a moment, the off-field issues, Ollie Robinson enjoyed a hugely impressive debut. Only two England bowlers this century have claimed more than seven wickets on Test debut, while only Rory Burns scored more runs in England's first innings. Robinson's 42 played a significant role in helping England avoid the follow-on.
But bowling is his primary skill. And it was the excellent, probing length he hit, combined with the ability to nip the ball both ways that bodes particularly well for the future. He gained more swing than any of his colleagues in the second innings and, even with New Zealand looking to accelerate, conceded under two-an-over. He looked a captain's dream, really. On the pitch, anyway.
But, after the furore of the first day, he did show strength of character in being able to compartmentalise things and retain focus on the job in hand. None of this makes what went before OK, but it does show he's a cricketer with a future at this level. You'd think he'd quite enjoy Australian pitches, too. In fact, he found the MCG quite fun with England Lions last year. Whether he gets a chance to experience them again... well, that's another issue entirely.

England's young batters have much to prove

New Zealand's declaration was intriguing. It wasn't so much that it was generous - it wasn't, really; not on a surface going up and down and against a line-up which has lost their last three Tests and is missing Ben Stokes and co - but that it suggested they really didn't rate the England batting.
And you can understand that. In the first innings, England's five young middle order batters - from Zak Crawley to James Bracey - contributed 24 runs between them. Three of them (Sibley, Bracey and Dan Lawrence) were out for ducks. None of them average more than Ollie Pope's 31.76 with Crawley having scored nearly 40% of his Test runs in one innings. Given that he has now had 22 innings, that is a worry.
But it might be unfair to expect too much more. This was the youngest top seven England had fielded in a home Test in history. It's is probably inevitable they will take time to come to terms with the higher quality bowling.
Still, some of the shot selection - Crawley pushing at balls in both innings and Lawrence trying to thrash a wide one without foot movement - will be a concern to the England management, as will the technical issues which saw Pope fall over to the off side and Bracey leave a gate wide enough to let through a cow.
It's been almost a decade since England produced a specialist batter who has been an undisputed success at Test level with Joe Root making his debut at the end of 2012. The likes of Pope, Crawley and Lawrence really are just about the best options England have from county cricket. But they've a lot to do to prove they can make it at this level.

Mark Wood can be a point of difference

New Zealand were 288 for 3 at one stage in the first innings. A total of well over 400 seemed likely. But then Mark Wood, on a slow pitch and against set batters, made the breakthrough. His spell helped England claim four wickets for six runs. His pace (over 150kph at times), skill and control combined to test the batters in a variety of ways and the manner he was able to sustain his effort underlined the impression that, since he lengthened his run-up and recovered from his latest bout of ankle surgery, he has the stamina to at least rotate with Jofra Archer and Olly Stone in the fast-bowling role. England are blessed in terms of fast-medium bowlers who can provide control and dominate in conditions where they have some assistance. What they have not had, until recently, were a batch of fast bowlers who can provide a point of difference in the attack and perhaps get some life out of the sort of pitches in India and Australia on which they have tended to struggle. Wood offers that.

They are half the team without their allrounders

It goes without saying that England missed a player of Stokes' ability. But they missed Sam Curran, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali, too. Without them, it's almost impossible to balance their side to ensure the requisite amount of batters, seam and swing bowlers. In this match, they opted to go without a spinner but there was no perfect option. Had they picked Jack Leach, they would either have had just three seamers - an issue when one of them is 39 and another has a bit of a dodgy fitness record - or one fewer batter. And you can understand why they wanted to bolster that batting line-up; it looks disconcertingly brittle. If nothing else, this match was a reminder of the incredible value of Stokes to England cricket.

England's openers have value

Rory Burns and, in particular, Dom Sibley are going to divide opinion. For some, they will appear appallingly negative. For others, they provide the old-fashioned determination which builds a platform on which the more fluent middle-order can attack. Few would pretend they're in the class of Boycott and Gooch or Atherton and Trescothick. But after years of England struggling with poor starts, Sibley and Burns at least hint at more solid contributions ahead.
Both men played huge roles in England saving this match. Burns' first-innings century - the only score in the innings above 42 - ensure his side did not have to follow-on, while Sibley's second-innings half-century ensured England claimed a draw. There will be days, no doubt, when Sibely's pace of scoring causes some frustration. Indeed, you could feel that from the crowd at Lord's on Sunday. But with a middle-order as fragile as England's, some old-fashioned grit is probably rather valuable. And remember: a day of this match was lost to rain. It wasn't, perhaps, England's tactics as much as the weather that caused the frustration.
Both men have work to do to cement their places. Burns' previous eight Test innings had realised just 78 runs (including three ducks) while none of Sibley's previous eight had reached 20, but Burns has now made three Test centuries.

English stadiums need a roof

Had this game not lost a full day, it could have developed into a classic. Instead it petered out into a bit of a dull draw.
Is it really so fanciful to suggest a ground with a roof could be built in England? A new ground if it's too expensive to alter an old one. It's happened in Australia, after all. Surely, in a country where it seems to rain relentlessly, it makes more sense to do so here.
No doubt the costs would be vast. But have you seen how much money English cricket has spent in recent times? The MCC, for example, have just spent in excess of £50m to add a couple of thousands seats to the capacity at Lord's and, not so long ago, spent £25m on a Warner Stand which has poor visibility in some seats.
And then we come to The Hundred. Rather than gambling more than £50m a year on a competition which nobody was calling for, couldn't the ECB have used the reassurance a roof might provide to TV schedulers to increase the value of broadcast deals?

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo