First Test: Not Just a Bore Draw

Dave HarrisCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2008

The first test between England and South Africa at Lord's ended in a draw this afternoon.  The South African batsmen ground out for two days to save the game, losing just three wickets in the process.

Yet despite the paltry run-rate of 2.35 an over, this wasn't a draw that was characterized by the failure of England's bowlers.  For once, although they toiled away for little reward, the quartet of Sidebottom, Anderson, Broad, and Panesar stuck manfully to their tasks. 

They bowled a tight line and a good length, making it difficult for the batsmen to score, things that they have been criticized in recent years for failing to do.

It was the wicket that was to blame, in this case.  It offered little for the bowlers, and the obduracy of the South African batsmen belied their indifferent performance in the first innings.  Then, the England bowlers made the most of poor, undisciplined batting.  Second time around was never likely to be quite as easy.

On such a placid pitch, one on which England racked up nearly 600 in their only innings let's not forget, getting 20 wickets would have been an immense task.  Getting the first 10 in three sessions of play merely raised expectations for the final two days. 

Let's not blame the England bowlers for the draw.  Remember how badly the South Africans bowled on Thursday and Friday—not so long ago that would have been the England attack, pasted around the ground with every long hop, half-volley, or wide delivery.

Instead, consider the positives coming out of the game:

Ian Bell batted beautifully to shake off any doubts about his place in the side, coming up shy of a double-century by the smallest of margins; Kevin Pietersen dazzled us with the array of shots we know he is capable of in making a big century of his own.  The opening partnership again set a solid foundation, making Graeme Smith look foolish for inserting England when the score reached 100 without loss.

Stuart Broad continued to add to his burgeoning reputation with the bat, as well as bowling consistently.  Monty Panesar comprehensively out-bowled the opposition spinner, Paul Harris.

So we have to look forward.  The next test, in both senses of the word, is at Headingley. If nothing else, we should expect a better "cricket" wicket than the one that saw a sixth straight draw at Lord's.

Selection need not be a dilemma. Despite the continual analysis from the Sky commentary box that proclaimed that Andrew Flintoff should be sent for, there was nothing at Lord's to suggest that England should be anything but unchanged—for a seventh consecutive test.

Paul Collingwood was unlucky.  It always seems to be the way of things that you get a dodgy decision when you are most out of form, and this was no exception.  The bat was nowhere near the ball before Hashim Amla caught it off his pad, and you could see in his face as he trudged off that his luck was out.

Even so, to replace Collingwood with Flintoff would be effectively to replace a batsman with a bowler who hits it a bit.  Despite his bludgeoning 39 to help Lancashire to victory today, "Freddie" has shown no form with the bat at all this season, and selecting him to bat at number six would be a huge risk. 

If the selectors must make a change to bring Flintoff back in, it should be as a specialist bowler, meaning that either Broad or Anderson should make way (or Sidebottom if he is unfit, as he appeared at times on Sunday).

Needless to say, it leaves more questions than answers, but Flintoff has been included in the squad in place of Chris Tremlett and that will leave people guessing until a decision is reached nearer the start of the game.