Many of the things England have been doing wrong in the field over the last 17 Test matches they got right on Ben Stokes’ first day as full-time captain. It was just a pity their old failings with the bat came back to haunt them.
The seamers bowled a fuller length, the fielders caught everything, with Jonny Bairstow setting the tone at third slip to catch Will Young, and the bowlers didn’t overstep once, where recently they’ve been taking wickets with no-balls.
But no matter how much good work Stokes did in the first half of the day, he was reminded in the second half that England’s Test batting is still a big issue. There’s plenty of work still to be done – technically, mentally and positionally.
Many of the things England have been doing wrong in the field over the last 17 Test matches they got right on Ben Stokes’ (second right) first day as full-time captain at Lord’s on Thursday
The seamers, like the recalled James Anderson (above), bowled fuller and didn’t overstep once
And the fielders caught everything, with Jonny Bairstow (left) setting the tone at third slip
For instance, having Ollie Pope batting at No 3 for the first time was never going to be straightforward. But this is a structural, long-term problem, and it’s not going to be solved overnight. Until that dreadful final session, there were reasons to be cheerful.
Cricket is fundamentally a simple game, and for too long England have been over-complicating it. For example, I liked the fact that Brendon McCullum said he wasn’t going to do rotation: he’d simply pick the best team in front of him for each game.
He and Stokes weren’t too fussed either about having a longish tail, with no Chris Woakes to bridge the gap at No 8. They’ve chosen their best six batters, and their best four bowlers.
Of course that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the opposition 45 for seven after losing the toss. But it gives you every chance of competing. There was a lot about Stokes’ tactics to enjoy.
Yes, he got Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad to bowl a full length, but he also backed them with the right fields. He kept three men on the leg side so they didn’t hide the ball outside off, and he kept mid-off in to ensure they stayed full.
Stokes also used fellow Durham lad Matthew Potts (left) well on his Test debut for England
He also kept cover point open for Tom Latham, the experienced New Zealand opener, and posted five slips. He was dangling a carrot, asking Latham to find the gap – he took it, and edged to Bairstow. Then there was the way he used Potts.
He could have given Broad an extra over or two in the first hour, but brought Potts into the attack on his debut at the Nursery End – the right end for him – and he immediately looked comfortable, removing Kane Williamson with his fifth ball.
Stokes also took emotion out of the equation. Like him, Potts is a Durham lad, and you could see how thrilled Stokes was with each of his three wickets in the morning.
But he didn’t introduce him straightaway after lunch, when he must have suspected Colin de Grandhomme and Tim Southee would go after the bowling a bit, and gave the task instead to the wise old heads, Broad and Anderson.
When Stokes did go back to Potts an hour after lunch, he took a wicket with his first ball. It was a day when the bowling changes worked nicely for the new captain. His demeanour impressed me as well.
He also put faith in trusted lieutenants Stuart Broad (left) and Anderson (right) to take wickets
But although you can change the regime, you cannot change England’s fragility with the bat
It’s easy for a captain to look calm when your opponents are collapsing in a heap – less so when they’re counter-attacking, as a good side like New Zealand were always going to do at some point.
Stokes can be an expressive cricketer, but he kept a cool head throughout.
He looked as if he was enjoying himself, too. At one point, Potts did a Broad-like celebrappeal for an lbw shout – and Stokes seemed to take the mickey. That kind of thing can be infectious.
It was also good to see Zak Crawley reap the benefits of some technical changes with his hands – he’s gripping the bat less tightly, as Joe Root does – only for his old nemesis, the booming drive, to prove his undoing.
After that, it was a familiar story, I’m afraid. You can change the regime, it seems, but not England’s fragility with the bat.