Zak Crawley was dismissed for another low score
He or she who has fasted for a month seizes upon the feast. And the England batsman who has gone for more than a year without being applauded for his shots must be tempted to hit boundaries when Edgbaston is three-quarters full and roused to full voice not only by alcohol but the appearance of freedom.
England’s Test batsmen are collectively young – Dom Sibley, at 25, third oldest – and still learning their own game, let alone the ways of Test cricket: only Rory Burns and Joe Root are, so to speak, graduates from the ancient university of batting. All have been brought up in the shot-a-ball age of T20. So throw in, at long last, a crowd of 18,000 on a warm day, and vocal as only Edgbaston’s can be, and the batsman is even more likely than usual to chase the swinging ball and be caught in the act.
Burns and Sibley played soberly before lunch and let the outswingers pass when the crowd itself was sober. The sound was the pre-lunch hum of Lord’s, until the Barmy Army tried a new trumpeter at 12.05. At 12.45 Edgbaston broke into its first chants of “Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land!” – and the effect was so intoxicating, so emboldening, that Sibley rocked on to his back foot against Ajaz Patel (how wise of New Zealand to select a spinner) and hit a four.
Sibley, no doubt conscious of the criticism that he can be too passive in letting bowlers bowl, hit as many as five boundaries, and not all legside: why, twice in one Neil Wagner over he cover-drove fours. Burns, at his best, and perfectly balanced, hit ten fours all round the wicket and had thousands chanting “Rory Burns! Rory Burns! Rory, Rory Burns!” well before tea. Kicking on from his century at Lord’s, he wears on the back of his shirt “Senior Opener”.
Which actor could resist the urge to play to the gallery after 18 months without so much as a clap? Lord’s had its crowd of six thousand, but not vocal, never raucous as the Hollies stand was once again, as part of a government pilot scheme. When the cloud which had aided New Zealand’s swing bowlers was dispersed by evening sun, the crowd had everything: cut-and-thrust cricket, human companionship, a long-lost feeling of normality, and every reason to cheer. The cage door was finally open.
Edgbaston was lively on day one of the Test match
Even so, after all the extenuating circumstances, too many wickets were lost through batsman-error or, if you prefer bluntness, naivety. At Lord’s Tim Southee held the ball outside offstump and watched England throw the bat at it. Here it was Matt Henry, Wagner and Trent Boult, who only arrived in England last Thursday. To bowl 23 whippy overs so soon after a flight of as many hours must set a world record for acclimatisation, but Boult must be bone-achingly stiff on the second morning, which gives Lawrence a chance of his maiden hundred.
With Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to re-claim two of the top seven places, and perhaps Dawid Malan a third, Lawrence has stolen a march on Ollie Pope: there is space for only one at six, between Stokes and Buttler. Lawrence is compulsive viewing, not least because he is such an uncertain starter. What he will do next ball is utterly unpredictable. He can do things others cannot do, like putting away good balls as well as bad. In his first over or so at the crease he was beaten by Patel yet also played the stroke of the day, a back-foot force through the covers that was breathtaking for the speed of his hands and placement.
Zak Crawley and James Bracey are currently the two other candidates most likely to lose their place for the India series. Crawley has forgotten what to play or not to play. Bracey re-tied his laces before chasing his first ball, time better spent in reconnaissance, and in analysing where Burns had gone wrong the ball before. The urge to score his first run for his country, and perhaps hear the roar of approval, then proved too much.
Defiant Dan Lawrence comes to the fore
By Tim Wigmore
There is a defiantly individualistic air to Dan Lawrence with a cricket bat: a man who might flounder or thrive, but one who will emphatically do so in his own way. This self-belief, detectable in an idiosyncratic, leg-side dominant method and an avowed determination to assert himself, is all part of the fun.
This spirit brimmed through Lawrence’s second innings in first-class cricket – when, aged 17 years and 290 days, he became the third youngest County Championship centurion. It has brimmed through Lawrence’s audacious approach to the challenges of batting at Chelmsford. And it brimmed through Lawrence’s embrace of a peculiar position as a specialist number seven in the final Test in India when, with his technique against spin widely lampooned, he made a brisk 46 and 50, scoring more runs than any other Englishman in the Test.
So it was at Edgbaston too. After an aberrant waft at Lord’s led to a two-ball duck, Lawrence arrived at the crease with pressure on both the team – England were a perilous 127-4 – and himself. For all the impression he had made with his elan, Lawrence’s first six Tests had yielded only an average of 24.8.
Lawrence’s approach to a semblance of crisis for country and individual was not to deviate from his faith in the qualities that had taken him this far. His first 10 balls, which included an lbw review survived against Trent Boult, betrayed a player who had lost a little rhythm.
Lawrence seemed to reason that his best way of finding form was to hit himself into it. To his 11th ball, Lawrence displayed sumptuous timing to rock back in his crease and steer Ajaz Patel through the covers. It was the catalyst for a splurge of boundaries: a sequence of five in 25 balls, abetted by some fortune – in the space of four deliveries from Matt Henry, Lawrence earned one boundary when a ball ricocheted off his bat as he attempted a leave, and then another past third slip.
If there was a slightly frenetic feel to this phase of play, it was the prelude to Lawrence showing the best of himself. The zest for attack remained, but it was married to a little more control.
Dan Lawrence's knockl kept England in the game
And there still remained sprinklings of brilliance. A vignette of his gifts came against Boult, armed with the fifth over of the second new ball. An attempted pull almost ended up uprooting his leg stump, but Lawrence was unfazed: he promptly drove the next ball sumptuously through the covers. The over ended with Lawrence’s most dashing shot of the day: shuffling across his stumps, he flicked a delivery through the on side for four, a shot of chutzpah, wristy impudence and simply phenomenal skill. Still to come was a thundering straight drive past Boult in the 89th over; Lawrence, you see, is not the sort for whom the imminent arrival of stumps is any reason to avoid plundering runs.
As he walked off, with 67 from 100 balls, he had gone a long way to changing the feel of the game. He had retained his panache – the essence of what makes Lawrence Lawrence – while adding a little selectivity.
It amounted to a reminder of Lawrence’s status as among English cricket’s most exciting prospects. The Tests ahead will show whether Lawrence can convert this abundant promise into consistent Test runs. For all the uncertainties that accompany any career, we can be sure of one thing: finding out will seldom be less than enthralling.