Fitness

Australia are pretty good, England may not be as good as they think

Have Australia got a hand in the Ashes after the first day at Lord's?

Bairstow carting a protester back to the Grand Stand was the only time an Englishman extolled dominance

Vithushan Ehantharajah

Have Australia got a hand in the Ashes after the first day at Lord's?

Have Australia got a hand in the Ashes after the first day at Lord’s?

Andrew McGlashan explains how Australia took early control of the second Test

At the end of the opening day at Lord’s, two protesters from Just Stop Oil ran onto the field armed with yellow paint powder. Their aim was to spread it as far as possible across the pitch, only to be stopped in their tracks by Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and David Warner. Honestly, can you think of three worse cricketers to face?

Apart from Bairstow warming up in the home dressing room to change from a white shirt that had turned orange, there was no real disruption to proceedings. The auxiliary pitch – sitting two to the left of the main strip as you look from the press box – does not need to be used. As it turned out, Bairstow carrying one of the protesters back to the Grand Stand from where he had emerged was the only time an Englishman praised the dominance on the first day.

Any yellow debris on the field was removed with a petrol-fuelled blower, just to really hammer home the futility of the protest. A worthy consideration of the harmful effects of fossil fuels on the climate. But like many things we need to change about the world around us, there was a nagging feeling that everything was too far away. Even for believers, there is enough skepticism about the productivity of such activities to let the nuisance of inconvenience, however small, prevail as the dominant emotion.

“They continue to show a complete disregard for the people who pay to attend the events,” CEO Guy Lavender said in an MCC press release about the protest that went down an hour later. A line more instructive than he expected 24 hours after the institution faced a rebuke from the Independent Commission for Equity in Cricket for being too disgruntled to distance itself from “contemporary Britannia”.

Jonny Bairstow removes the ‘Just Stop Oil’ pitch invader from the field Getty Images

The home of cricket is home only to those who look a certain way and, above all, can afford the entry fee. A fee that the MCC felt entitled to people who could afford it for an uninterrupted day’s play without being reminded that the ground’s main sponsor JP Morgan was the worst fossil fuel financing bank.

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It also gives them the right to, well, not watch cricket. As the members rushed to take their places in the Pavilion before the start of the game, the afternoon was celebrated on the various greens of the Nursery Ground, Coronation and Harris Gardens. There’s a point in the day when they think, you know, all this cricket is getting in the way of our conversation.

This time, you can understand the motivation of those players, no matter how strong their ties to this England team are. It’s not pretty to watch, by any means. Bowling too full at an alarmingly docile pace. Nuts that are bare you can see the birthmarks.

No one in the England outfit looked like they really wanted to be there, apart from Josh Tongue in his second Test, which was devastating in its own way. They exceeded the best conditions you could ask for on this earth. Even Stokes seemed out of his usual funk, fidgeting intermittently when testing Travis Head with the short ball, but otherwise sticking to the by-the-book fields featured in many of the paintings that adorn the walls of the closed Long Room.

As England came through on the back of 83 overs of toil, they must have looked at the empty spaces now in the stands with some jealousy. If only they could just sit back and relax, instead of addressing Australia’s screw in vain.

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Other times, players will think nothing of it. They all know that this is a land of non-cricketers who are seen rather than actually doing anything seen. But with all the success to come this summer, all the Bazball buzz heading into an Ashes, even the way the opener is played at Edgbaston every day, something about these empty white seats is create more stain than any yellow pigment.

There was a feeling of despair. Of a team that prides themselves on entertaining whether they win or lose, only to lose the thread of their most proud – and thus, most watched – series to date, in a rather unwatchable way. Whether you watched all 339 runs and five wickets, or just the first session, you were left with the same mundane conclusion. Australia is pretty good. England may not be as good as they think.

There is a point to be made that this is the worst place for this particular Test side in England. It is as strong – no significant bounce now from the Nursery End – as the tradition hanging on this joint, cruelly underscoring the greatness of an Ashes in a group whose best cricket last year came through of not taking the game and their part in it too seriously.

They also need their viewers to be emotionally invested in what they’re doing, which doesn’t happen here. Maybe on Wednesday they found out the hard way that this Lord’s crowd needs a little more than vibes and the wrong kind of energetic hat to buy what you’re selling. And not those who wander, more those who stay. They’ve seen more than most, and they don’t care about golfing anecdotes other than their own.

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There is no Hollies Stand or Western Terrace here. Except for the occasional sponsored brass band in the outfield, no instruments are allowed. All beer snakes are killed at birth. Try and insert an extra can at your peril. Oh and having fun? Just try and get over that with a thorough pat-down. Any noise to be made had to come from the middle, and but for the cracks between the bats of David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Head and Steve Smith (with plenty to come from him), England would not have produced the infectious music that scored in the last 14 months.

Expect all or some of the above to get used to some reason behind closed doors, and pray to whoever you’re praying for that they don’t say it publicly. There is enough talk in life. Six days into this series, England’s worst by some distance have a whole narrative they’ve built that turns against them. Former lauders are now skeptical. Their most high-profile celebrants are now their harshest critics.

Now, only action matters. And at a time when English cricket and the rest of the world are stepping up to fight harder in the never-ending battles for improvement, those on the field (who are destined to be there) now find themselves rallying to similar way. They should hope like hell that these aren’t equally futile events.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo

#Australia #pretty #good #England #good

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