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On An Off-Script Day 1, Australia Strong-Arms Tepid England

Steve Smith
On the route to an unbeaten 85, Steve Smith reached 15,000 international runs.

In the first half-hour of play on Wednesday, June 28th, David Warner stood erect and physically prevented a protestor from approaching the field before kneeling and playing a paddle sweep against Stuart Broad. It is fair to say that these two scenarios were completely unplanned for the first chapter of the Lord’s Test. Even if they were not as absurd as Jonny Bairstow airlifting a juvenile protestor off the field as if he were going to power-slam him. That was the nature of the morning. It was such a day at the most revered cricket venue in the world. A day in which much of the action appeared to deviate from the typical script for cricket at Lord’s on a cloudy day.

For, when Ben Stokes won the toss and elected to field in front of a teeming throng, all dressed in their opening day finery, and with a shroud of gloom covering the north London sky, the day appeared primed for England’s bowlers to finally have a say in this series. But not only was it not to be, but what we saw instead was a lackluster collective performance with the ball that enabled Australia to dominate to the point where they may already feel in control of this second Test.

Warner initiated the incident after he and Stokes (talk about tag-teams) had secured the safety of the field from the demonstrators. As he has on this tour thus far, the veteran opener displayed the kind of intent that was lacking four years ago, both in terms of footwork and the desire to score.

And in conditions where the ball was bouncing all over the place, Warner was able to not only endure but also score quickly. When they became excessively full in pursuit of additional movement, he drove, and when they lost length, he cut and tugged. It made sense, therefore, when he abruptly pulled out a scoop sweep on an extremely bewildered Broad who couldn’t stop gazing at his old adversary with a look of “when did that become a thing in our relationship?” Warner was attempting to assert his dominance over Broad and the other English seamers for the first time in years. And he did execute the sweep much more effectively a short time later against a subpar Ollie Robinson.

If Warner appeared to have something to prove, Steve Smith appeared to be on a mission. On the eve of the Test, he appeared to have regained his prime form in the nets, and he began his innings similarly to how he sometimes does in practice. By taking numerous shots and seeking to score right away, accompanied by numerous head nods and hand signals of approbation. And once he reached 25 off just 20 deliveries, his innings reverted to the more conventional Steve Smith film script. From that point on, Smith composed a masterpiece at his end of the field, while the action continued across the pitch from him.

Prior to the Lord’s Test, Marnus Labuschagne modified his posture marginally. And it appeared to serve him well whenever he desired to score runs and boundaries through the on-side. Even off-stump deliveries pitched on off-stump were easily dispatched through mid-wicket due to his slightly open stance. However, he was unable to overcome the tendency he’s had over the past ten days to poke at extremely wide deliveries, and he nearly got himself into trouble several times before he even got started.

But he hung around long enough with the man he’d famously replaced as a concussion substitute on this very ground in 2019, to provide the solid base that Travis Head then needed to blast off.

If you were looking at a passage in play to sum up how uninspired the English attack looked for large parts of the day, this was it. The first 30 or so balls that Head faced on Day One were exactly the 30 balls he’d have asked the English for if given a choice. It was an insipid phase where England let Head dictate terms in conditions where the ball was still moving around appreciably.

Forget seizing moments, they barely seemed to be in a position to acknowledge them. And for as well as the South Australian dynamo batted to break the game like he does, he was allowed to do so with little opposition.

Perhaps they hadn’t quite recovered from bowling 66 more overs than their counterparts in Birmingham in the first Test, despite the seven-day break that followed. Probably they might be feeling a bit taken for granted in this new era of English cricket where they barely get a chance to put their feet up. Regardless, they had no excuse to fall back on a day that seemed custom-designed for them to give their team a grand beginning. Stokes to his credit kept changing his bowlers around but there were no Bazball fields or funky setups like we saw in Birmingham.

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