The World Cup final and a thrilling debut Test match for Ireland - Lord’s has hosted some classic games of cricket this summer, and not even the weather could prevent this from turning into another.
The second Ashes Test of the summer saw Australia batting to save the game, despite winning the toss and bowling England out for 258 on the first (or second) day. An excellent performance with the ball meant that the tourists dominated on Thursday, while the rain then halted England’s progress the following morning as they took Australian wickets at regular intervals. Saturday and Sunday, therefore, could have been rather uneventful. With only two days of actual cricket left, plenty would have to happen for the contest to remain alive. It did. Some fine bowling from Broad and Archer gave the hosts a slim lead, before a vintage Ben Stokes century set up an intriguing couple of sessions on the final day.
England managed six wickets and left Australia firmly on the back foot, but weren’t able to quite force the win. With such a quick turnaround before Headingley, however, it seems fair to assume that we’ve seen a significant momentum shift. Not only did England come close to levelling the series at Lord’s, they also discovered (as if we didn’t know about him already) a true talent. Yes, Jofra Archer more than lived up to his billing as the quick, aggressive fast bowler everyone hoped he would be. His spell on Saturday afternoon to an ‘in’ Steve Smith will have sent shockwaves through the Australia dressing room, not least for their own individual concerns about self preservation.
Before we turn our attention to the aforementioned Archer, there was a worrying moment on Saturday afternoon when Steve Smith was hit on the neck by a bouncer and fell to the floor. Thankfully, he was back on his feet before too long and even returned to bat a little while later. Whether or not that was advisable has been heavily debated, but Marnus Labuschagne would at least replace him for the second innings.
The incident was even more pertinent given the similarities between these events and the tragedy involving Phil Hughes back in 2014. Given the risks involved, it is refreshing to hear that Smith will play no part in the Headingley Test; the player’s safety must come first. Undoubtedly the player of the series so far, we hope to see Smith back for the fourth and fifth Tests. We absolutely do not condone the small number of boos that could be heard upon his return to the crease, and wish the world’s best batsman all the best over the coming days.
Now, the name on everyone’s lips. Jofra Archer has undoubtedly injected life into this series. He has swung the pendulum back towards the hosts, and it all comes down to one word: pace. This guy is quick. We knew that, sure, but we’ve only ever seen it in limited-overs cricket. Could he sustain it over a day or two, and would he retain the discipline required to succeed at this level? Yes. Yes to both.
Archer is the first genuinely quick bowler England have had for some considerable time. His spell will have rattled not only the Australians, but the rest of world cricket. Provided he can stay fit, and there is little to suggest that he won’t, England have found a Test regular. How many times have we been able to say that with such authority and ease in recent times? Granted, he has only played the one Test match, but the confidence he displayed and the immediate nature of his impact are impossible to dismiss. It remains to be seen to what extent Archer can affect the rest of the series, but he did enough at Lord’s to suggest that his involvement could prove decisive. He has the ability to remove every one of the Australians, either by consistently sending his rockets down on a classic line and length or by bouncing the batting lineup out. Add Broad, Woakes, and maybe Anderson into the mix, and you’ve got a serious bowling attack.
While Jason Roy has yet to make his mark on the Ashes series, both Rory Burns and Joe Denly should be relatively happy with their performances at Lord’s. They’ve slipped under the radar and that’s perhaps unsurprising; neither got the scores they will have wanted, but both looked relatively at home given their lack of actual Test match experience. Burns certainly looks like he could be a fixture at the top of the order for a while now, and Denly seems like a player just one big score away from kicking on. The latter has got out a few times having done the hard work, but if he can convert a start then don’t rule him out moving forward. Both players have a great opportunity to establish themselves in this Test team, with some uncertainty still surrounding the top order.
In addition to the encouraging signs shown by the new boys, there was evidence of our ‘engine room’ beginning to fire once again. Bairstow made runs in the first innings, while Stokes and Buttler ensured that we set up an interest last couple of sessions on the final day. Buttler may have fallen in the thirties, but Stokes’ century was a timely reminder of England’s ability with the bat. On the ground where he won England the World Cup only a month ago, could the newly appointed vice-captain have breathed fresh life into the Test batting line up as well?
With the series finely poised still and the third Test beginning tomorrow, it almost feels as though the events of the Lord’s Test could soon be lost in the series’ wider context. It is crucial, though, that we take some time to reflect on the way the game started – not with a toss, nor with a spell of fiery quick bowling, but with a reminder of the most important things in life.
Thursday’s crowd donned their brightest reds as they turned out in the thousands to support the Ruth Strauss Foundation. The day helped raise an incredible £382,462, which will go towards research grants and support for patients and their families. You can still donate to the foundation now (link), and we would like to with Andrew Strauss and his family all the best for the coming weeks, months, and years.
Listening to Strauss, McGrath, and Agnew share their experiences in the buildup to the Test match served as an important reminder that cricket isn’t the only thing we should be thinking about. Cricketers are, after all, just people, and we have a duty to offer our support to all people during difficult and testing times. Thursday’s tributes certainly did that, as Lord’s delivered once again.