The excitement of both sides at the prospect of a Lord’s Test with the sun shining and the stands bursting will be tempered with apprehension. The concerns of India will be greater if only because they are 1-0 down after a match at Edgbaston that could have gone either way. After such games the victors are exponentially boosted, the losers battered.
In Birmingham, India bowled well and their captain, Virat Kohli, batted sublimely but that was not enough to win. They desperately need runs from another source and for the second Test at Lord’s they may tinker with their side accordingly. The adhesive reputation of Cheteshwar Pujara has been enhanced in his absence and he may well be recalled. India will also consider a second spinner. Ravi Jadeja would seem the obvious choice but somehow his talents abroad seem to be more highly rated by Englishmen than Indians. Kuldeep Yadav, the left-handed wrist-spinner, is the bold alternative to Jadeja.
England also tinkered by necessity and by choice. They are obviously diminished but hopefully not distracted by Ben Stokes’s absence. He has not contributed many runs since his return to the side but his bowling at Edgbaston was decisive. Stokes swung the ball at pace. While Jimmy Anderson was England’s most skilful and persistent bowler, Stokes was the most dangerous.
Do they opt for Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali? It is a question that highlights the value of Stokes since there are concerns the seam attack will seem light with Sam Curran as the only ally for Stuart Broad and Anderson, yet Woakes (or Curran) at No 7 prompts fears of a lack of depth in the batting.
Captain Joe Root’s confirmation that Pope is batting at four only adds to the anticipation. The decision to replace Dawid Malan, which allowed the introduction of Pope, makes sense; Malan’s confidence was visibly fading, which must have prompted the selectors to opt for change rather than sticking with a blinkered determination to demonstrate loyalty to those in the team after a dramatic win. Ed Smith has yet to announce a dull, predictable squad, a record the national selector will not want to sustain for much longer.
The first Test provided a timely reminder of how captivating a tight match can be. There is space for so many subplots in a long game, which at Edgbaston encompassed Malan’s agonies, Kohli’s eagerness to prove himself in England, which culminated in his wonderful duel with Anderson, then his desperation to find some support; there were Alastair Cook’s travails against Ravi Ashwin, who will be forever loosening up in the first 15 minutes of England’s innings if the veteran opener is still there; Curran dipping his toes in the water and enjoying the feeling; Adil Rashid’s low-key return, which left him in credit and, decreasingly, a controversial presence.
Stokes excelled despite his engagements this week; he demonstrated a top player’s capacity to thrive on the pitch while his private life is in some turmoil.
Beyond the two dressing rooms there is a craving for more of the same, a contest in which every boundary and every wicket changes the balance of the match. In recent times England have not been involved in many close games but Edgbaston offered us that delicious uncertainty and great chunks of the nation were engaged. There were no dull passages of play. Run‑scoring was tricky but the best batsmen could – and did – prevail. Bowlers who bent their backs while retaining their discipline were rewarded.
If only we could bottle that formula. A key constituent is the ball, the importance of which is easily forgotten. Ashwin used his experience of playing for Worcestershire last year to make some interesting comparisons: “I learnt how much the Duke ball does in the first 40 overs. For a spinner the ball is definitely different to the Kookaburra [used in Australia] and the SG [used in India]. I think Duke is No 1, Kookaburra two and SG three.”
Ashwin, though a spinner, recognises how the Duke, which stays harder and swings for longer, can enhance the game. England’s head coach, Trevor Bayliss, takes a similar view. He would welcome the Duke being used everywhere. “You get a bit of sideways movement. I’m a fan of Test cricket and some of the lower-scoring games produce a good Test match for the fans.”
So the right ball is in use at Lord’s. The other major factor is always the playing surface, which was rarely visible on Wednesday since it was covered for most of the time. This suggests the groundsman, Mick Hunt, who is producing his final Test pitch before retirement, is concerned about its dryness. There is a light covering of green grass but underneath there are cracks. It has the hallmarks of an interesting surface. The draw looks the least likely of outcomes, which always adds a bit of spice to proceedings.