Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer
England's day of toil on flat Lord's pitch could provide valuable Ashes lessons - Getty Images

England’s day of toil on flat Lord’s pitch could provide valuable Ashes lessons – Getty Images

Test cricket is going through an era of heightened home advantage. For home teams, the surest way to win is to make conditions as extreme as possible, doubling down on the benefits of playing in familiar climes.

It is a strategy that England have embraced in recent years. With good reason: a cocktail of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad – with Chris Woakes as potent at home – a Dukes ball and movement off the seam has underpinned England’s unbeaten record in home Test series since 2014. Even India, the Test number one side who have defeated Australia away twice in the last three years, succumbed to this approach. On a seaming wicket under sepulchral skies at Lord’s three years ago, India’s vaunted batting line-up was bundled out for a combined 237 runs in the Test, en route to losing by an innings and the series 4-1.

Yet England’s problem is that their template for home dominance has been a road to nowhere overseas. In India, New Zealand and Australia, the other members of the Test top four, England have won one of their past 27 Test matches, going back to the end of 2012.

Chris Silverwood, England’s head coach and now chief selector too, knows that, more than anything else, his reign will be judged on whether he can improve this lamentable record. And so Silverwood wants English Test pitches to be better than previous years. This should both help England’s young batsmen to learn how to build big innings in Test cricket and their bowlers to adapt when getting scant assistance from the pitch.

On the first day of the Test summer, Silverwood got his wish. This was a Lord’s wicket almost the antithesis to the spiteful seamers of the late 2010s: the ball seamed only half as much as during the second day (the first day was rained off) against India three years ago. Not since 2016, against Pakistan, has a Lord’s pitch offered less seam movement on the first day.

Not coincidentally, that was a Test that England lost. But in asking for more benign batting conditions, Silverwood is essentially happy to accept a trade-off: less pronounced home advantage in England to build the tools to succeed in all climes. A less well-resourced Test nation might be content with merely thriving at home, but with their wealth and playing pool England should not be.

England's Ollie Robinson celebrates taking the wicket of New Zealand's Ross Taylor out for 14 runs  - AFPEngland's Ollie Robinson celebrates taking the wicket of New Zealand's Ross Taylor out for 14 runs  - AFP

England’s Ollie Robinson celebrates taking the wicket of New Zealand’s Ross Taylor out for 14 runs – AFP

On this evidence, England still have some way to go. In the absence, for reasons of availability and selection, of Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, and Jack Leach, England’s attack had a rather monochrome feel. In isolation, Anderson, Broad and debutant Ollie Robinson all bowled with solid control; the problem was that, in conditions like these, a phalanx of right-armers bowling a little over 80mph tend to be worth less than the sum of their parts. England learned as much in Australia four years ago.

In this company, Mark Wood offered a salient point of difference. While he did not snare a wicket, Wood’s pace and bounce – he reached 95mph at one point – was the closest that England came to disturbing Devon Conway’s preternatural equanimity on debut.

On the field, at least, Robinson’s day went well. After beginning with a no-ball, he settled into the easy rhythm and relentless line and length that has turned him into a county cricket phenomenon, even if his pace – an average of 81.7mph, the slowest of any seamer on the opening day – allows no margin for error. While Anderson and Broad retained their customary excellent control, they lacked threat with the old ball. It added up to the sort of day that will make Silverwood more inclined to play one – not both – of England’s top two Test wicket-takers at the Gabba come December.

Still, it is a lesson that Silverwood would far sooner heed now than in Australia. For England’s long-term development – not just the away Ashes – days like this are essential. And so, in a curious way, perhaps England’s underwhelming performance was vindication for Silverwood’s willingness to move away from home comforts.