NASSER HUSSAIN: New Zealand’s Devon Conway played a lovely innings and made the England bowlers toil away on a difficult surface… the first day at Lord’s was a reminder that Test cricket is hard work
It was a great day to be back. We had Test cricket last year, but it was behind closed doors. on Wednesday at Lord’s, there were spectators in and the sun was out. It felt as if summer was here.
Devon Conway played a lovely innings, in which he let the bowlers come to him, and batted on his Test debut as if to the manner born. And England’s bowlers put in a challenging shift on a difficult surface.
The whole day had an old-fashioned tempo to it. It’s easy to forget these days, but cricket is about more than fours and sixes. Sometimes, the best drama takes a few days to unfold.
New Zealand opener Devon Conway scored an assured century on his Test debut
New Zealand will have looked at their opponents’ line-up before the start, and realised they had a great opportunity to do something about their mediocre away record against the likes of England, Australia and India. And in Conway, they had just the player to make good use of a nice batting strip.
The tourists’ coach, Gary Stead, has spoken about picking on character, and somehow New Zealand just find a way of producing these tough cricketers. He had a nice rhythm to his batting, and he wasn’t afraid to suck up a tough spell when Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were making it swing after lunch.
We’ve seen all around the world in recent years how openers have struggled against the new ball, but Conway looked a natural. I spoke to the New Zealand commentator Simon Doull about him before play, and he just said ‘we’ve got another one in the mould of Kane Williamson – he bats long and he bats time.’
I’ve seen a lot of county cricket this summer, and I see plenty of batsmen standing on off stump and being static and slightly robotic. But Conway bats on middle stump, has a fluency to his game, and plays beside the ball, which opens up different scoring areas.
England fast bowler Mark Wood troubled Conway with short-pitched deliveries before lunch
Maybe county batsmen do need a different technique when the ball is nibbling around. But there is a lot to be said for leaving it when necessary and letting the bowler come to you. That’s what Conway did so well here.
Could England have done anything differently? I thought they might have gone at him with Mark Wood after lunch, because Wood had troubled him with the short stuff before the break. But when Anderson got Williamson straightaway, that brought Ross Taylor to the middle – which meant Root turned to Broad, who has dismissed him 10 times in Test cricket.
It meant that by the time Wood returned later in the day to have another go at Conway, he already had 70 or 80 to his name.
I might also have wanted to go in with a frontline spinner in Jack Leach, but that’s the problem England have when Ben Stokes isn’t fit. If Stokes doesn’t play, and Leach does, that means there’s no room for one of the fast-and-nasties – either Wood or Olly Stone.
England’s Ollie Robinson bowled well on his Test debut was rewarded with two wickets
And when Root wanted some tough overs bowled before the second new ball, Stokes would have been the man to bowl them. Instead, the captain was trying to catch the eye of Anderson, who was busy staring at his shoelaces. He probably felt he needed to save his energy for the second new ball. It’s not just that England miss an all-rounder: they miss Stokes.
That said, I thought Ollie Robinson bowled well. The question was always going to be whether he could convert his county form into the international arena. Did he have the nip? But Hove, where he plays for Sussex, is no minefield, and you don’t average low-20s without a good reason.
He’s tall, and he hits the deck hard. Perhaps the only area he struggled was when he went round the wicket to the left-handers, because he falls away a bit in his action. I’m surprised he wasn’t warned for running on the pitch.
But that’s something to work on, and from over the wicket he had good control. Even so, like the rest of the attack, this was a reminder that Test cricket is hard work – which is what it’s supposed to be.
England’s bowlers put in a challenging shift on a difficult surface on the first day of first Test
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