Live By the Pitch; Die By the Pitch: Australia Seizes Control of the Second Test

Test2Day1--COVERPHOTO

Thus far, in this edition of the Ashes, groundskeepers have seemingly gotten more press than any individual batsman or bowler. Much was made of the first pitch in Cardiff—and while it eventually proved to be a surface conducive to entertaining cricket—the claim that England is intentionally preparing slow, flat wickets will only gain steam after Lord’s proved to be even more lifeless than Sophia Gardens.

England, however, were not the beneficiary of the deadened pitch. In a day that saw only a single wicket fall, Australia—who had won the toss and chose to bat first—suffocated any chance of a victory for the home side after a mere three sessions. By evening, the tourists were 337-1, with the loss of David Warner’s wicket attributable to the batsman’s foolish bravado rather than any menace from England’s attack. For Alastair Cook and company, it was, as they say, a bad toss to lose.

Yet, despite conditions that produced cricket Geoffrey Boycott described as “soporific,” nothing can be taken away from the performances of Steve Smith and Chris Rogers—the architects of the third highest second-wicket partnership in the 200-year history of Lord’s. The two Sydney-born batsman combined for 259 runs—Rogers with a career-best 158 and Smith chipping in with a manful 129. The England bowlers only occasionally threatened the pair: Perhaps the clearest cut chance to dismiss either batsman came when Smith, on 50, edged a probing Ben Stokes to second slip, where Ian Bell was unable to take the catch. Although, in the moment, the error did not seem as calamitous as Brad Haddin’s drop of Joe Root in the first Test, England would pay a price similar to the one they had exacted from Australia just days ago.

It was Moeen Ali who provided the day’s lone highlight for England. The offspinner took the only Australian wicket when Warner unnecessarily played a lofted, clumsy shot to deep mid-off, where James Anderson took the catch. Yet, despite not claiming a wicket himself, it was Stuart Broad who looked most threating, beating Australian batsman near a dozen times. If England are to keep the Australians from achieving a truly astronomical first innings total, Broad will be required to strike early and often in the opening session of the second day.

While four days remain, a victory for England looks near impossible. Yet, considering the nature of the pitch, England too will have an opportunity to tally a bounty of runs. Taking 20 wickets will be a challenge for Australia, especially if Mitchell Johnson’s woes continue. A draw seems quite possible, if not probable.

Perhaps that is all England hoped for from the start.

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