London: No electric pace. No alarming bounce. No movement off the seam. No purchase for any turn. And once the lacquer wears off, no swing either. The Lord's pitch laid out for the second Ashes Test is a pile of corporatised soil, compacted by a heavy roller designed to squeeze the last bit of living life from it but last every bit of the five days, to ensure the turnstiles keep turning and the bean counters keep counting.
Mitch Marsh of Australia celebrates taking the wicket of England's Ben Stokes during Day Three of the second Ashes Test between at Lord's Cricket Ground on Saturday. Pic/Getty Images
It is a Alastair Cook type of wicket where the batsmen needs to have a lot of patience, be risk averse, avoid sparring at deliveries harmlessly sliding down the slope and wait for the bowlers to bowl at the stumps to flick away or wide enough to cut. Be patient and grind the bowlers in to dust. It's a wicket that was a throw back to an earlier time when Test cricket moved like molasses rather than the New Zealand inspired crash-bang-wallop style of a high energy rave.
Saddled with the first target of avoiding the follow on, Cook took full advantage of the dead pitch that negated the Aussie bowlers as he looked to score his first Ashes century at home. Nudges, pulls, prods, drives and cuts, all of them appeared to fill up Cook's wagon wheel but he was defeated, eventually, by the slowness of the wicket as Mitchell Marsh induced an inside edge. Earlier, Marsh had done the same to the aggressive Ben Stokes as well, thirteen short of his first Ashes home hundred. It was a slow and dull passage of play on the morning of Day three as England looked to make a turgid march towards the goal of making Australia bat again.
But the evening session of Day two provided the most gripping passage of play of the Test as Australian speedsters, with the cushion of 556 runs, let loose on the tired English batsmen. During the Ashes down under, in the second Test of the series in Adelaide, after Australia notched up 570 on a slow wicket, Mitchell Johnson took the playing surface out of the equation by firing his thunderbolts.
At Lord's, with the new ball, Mitchell Starc, Johnson and Josh Hazlewood blasted the top order out by bowling full, swinging the ball and took the slow surface out of the equation. Adam Lyth, the newest of Cook's opening partners went fishing outside off, Gary Ballance was beaten by pace while camped on backfoot, Ian Bell paid the price for playing across the line to a swinging delivery, and Joe Root – who had been the safety net during a lot of recent England top order collapses – was done in by Johnson's short ball tactics.
As they say, old wounds never really heal. At the slightest sign of pressure, they begin to bleed again. In the 2013-14 Ashes, Johnson and Co. bulldozed through England leaving bruised egos and bodies, hustled batsmen and hastened retirements. England have attempted to rebuild through infusion of youth, embraced a positive approach and a new coach. The honeymoon period of optimism and bubbling enthusiasm brought them a morale-boosting win at Cardiff. Then they lost the toss at Lord's.
There is nothing wrong with pitches being prepared to favour the home side. That is the challenge of international cricket. A square turner in the subcontinent could be as challenging to the batsmen as the fiery bounce at WACA and the seaming track at Leeds. While providing benefit to the bowling styles of the home bowlers, pitches like that allow good batsmen to make runs, as the cricket stays entertaining all around.
But the square that welcomed the teams at the Home of Cricket was one designed to blunt the pace attack of the Australians. In doing so, it made the English bowlers toothless as well and made toss the most vital aspect of the game. Australia piled on the runs, and the superior skills of their fast bowlers with the new ball – 4 wickets in 10.3 overs with the first and 3 wickets in 10.1 overs with the second – sees them well on their way to evening the series 1-1. This ought to be a lesson to all teams everywhere – be careful what pitch you wish for. Hope England realise their folly and provide more sporting tracks for the rest of the series.