Some time in the middle of the afternoon Brendon McCullum quit his position on the balcony, where he had been sitting all through the morning, and disappeared back into the pavilion. He was gone for an hour or so, long enough that you started to wonder if he had clocked that he still had time to make the quarter-to-nine flight from London Heathrow which, with a couple of changes in Dubai and Melbourne, could have had him back in New Zealand by three o’clock Monday morning. Given the way the game was going at the time, he might have fancied his chances of making it back to catch the end of New Zealand’s first innings.
You can only guess what McCullum was thinking behind his sunglasses, the view from his house back in Bay of Plenty, perhaps, his cushy gig making travel shows for Netflix and coaching in the IPL, his stable of race horses, and speculate whether or not there was a touch of remorse about his decision to buy into this project.
Assuming, that is, that it was really him and not a dummy he had rigged up out of bits of discarded kit to buy a little more time for his getaway. He has been pretty inscrutable so far, while he has been sizing up the job he has taken on. You guess that it feels a lot bigger to him now than it did this time last week.
McCullum did come back later in the day, although he seemed to slump lower and lower in his seat until you could barely see his head above the railings.
Maybe he was sending a discreet text to his agent to double check whether there was any mention of a cooling-off period in the small print of the four-year contract Rob Key talked him into signing with the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Early on the first morning, Sky ran a graphic showing how each of their last four head coaches has improved England’s fielding during the first six months in charge. It was a good piece of analysis after their performance at Lord’s, when the slips caught pretty much everything and the fielders’ shies hit the stumps a lot more often than not. But the effect was slightly undermined by the six chances they missed in the rest of the innings, the worst of them the one Joe Root dropped off Daryl Mitchell at slip when his score was on one, which ended up costing them all of 189 runs. Their fielding was lethally sloppy on such a flat pitch.
At first England’s bowlers did their best not to let it get to them. Stuart Broad even made a point of going up to pat Zak Crawley on the back after he had dropped Henry Nicholls at slip, although Broad’s hands did both creep up on to his hips when he went off to his spot in the field, which made him look like a disapproving school mistress who the misbehaving kids haven’t noticed has returned to the classroom after she had nipped out for a minute. But as the innings wore on, and on, and on, the smiles grew thinner, their moods a little less forgiving, and that new found sense of compassion for their butter-fingered teammates a little less convincing.
By late Saturday morning it began to feel like England had Statler and Waldorf opening the bowling for them. Broad and Jimmy Anderson both stepped back from the attack after four overs apiece, and then spent a large part of the afternoon chasing the ball around and chuntering to each other, and everyone else, about the condition it was in.
Meanwhile, Ben Stokes put himself through a pitilessly long spell of swing bowling, an act of self-flagellation for making the wrong decision at the toss, while Matt Potts, who isn’t quite quick enough to pull the tactic off, bashed the ball haplessly into the middle of the pitch.
And then there was dear Jack Leach, whose overs rolled innocuously along at the cost of four runs each.
The weary ineffectiveness of it all felt very familiar. England only picked this squad for the first two Tests of this series, you can be sure that once it is over there will be plenty of talk about what they can do to improve their bowling when they get stuck on flattish pitches like this one.
The answer, unfortunately, is not a lot given the state of their injury list. Jofra Archer, and Saqib Mahmood are both out for the season, Olly Stone is back playing T20 cricket for Warwickshire, but when last asked, said he wanted to spend the summer building up his fitness away from Test cricket.
Back to this match, though. The old maxim is that you can never judge a pitch till England have batted on it, and Crawley duly got out 12 balls into their innings. Alex Lees would have joined him soon after if Mitchell hadn’t dropped him at slip. His 84-run partnership with Ollie Pope bodes well though, since England are going to have to bat their way out of this match. They have only got another 400 runs or so to go.