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History was made at Lord’s on Friday, and a full house of almost 30,000 will be proud to say they were there to see it.
Four Englishmen scored hundreds in a Test innings for the first time since 1938, and the third of them, wicket-keeper Matthew Prior, made a debut century of exuberance and impertinence.
Many of them, however, will be at least part-fibbing. Normally, nothing could have delighted a Lord’s crowd more than a day like this. But in mid-afternoon there were as many drinkers round the back by the Nursery End as you would expect in the lunch interval.
The problem was not England, though they were slower than they might have been in capitalising on the opposition’s ineptitude. But cricket is a game of situations. And there was no pleasure in this situation for anyone: the great tradition of Caribbean cricket was being ground into the dirt.
Before bad light (or maybe the mercy rule) intervened to bring the second day of the summer’s opening Test to a close, England had reached 553 for five against West Indies, with a declaration imminent.
West Indies have not been competitive against England since the millennium. While Brian Lara was around, there was always the chance of retaliation: but even he has gone now.
As in their great days, West Indies again rely on four seam bowlers. The difference is that the four all used to be fast and brilliant; this lot would struggle to get nicked for breaking the motorway speed limit, though they might be hauled over for veering around erratically.
England can of course only beat the opposition in front of them, and they ought to do that in short order. After a dire winter, it should get the regime of new coach Peter Moores off to an encouraging start. But this is a desperate-looking West Indies team.
As usual with teams in extremis, they had no luck. Paul Collingwood should have been out three times in the 30s: he was dropped twice and was eccentrically reprieved by umpire Asad Rauf for an indisputable lbw. And throughout the morning, West Indies – led by Daren Powell – bowled very respectably.
Their sole reward was the wicket of England’s first centurion, Alastair Cook, for 105. After lunch, when they took the new ball, they lost their grip.
Collingwood didn’t exactly blossom, but he did sprout a little, and made his way to a century that some thought was the worst they had ever seen for England. This was thoroughly unkind, especially if you happened to remember Derek Randall’s crabby effort against Pakistan in 1982.
Collingwood was finally out for Nelson – 111. This reversed events at Trafalgar, when Collingwood took over after Nelson was killed.
The contest, however, was no great battle: it was turning into a routine act of playground bullying. Ian Bell also went on to a century, with an intermittently pleasant but over-introspective 109 not out.
He was, however, beaten to it by Prior, the Sussex keeper who might not have been chosen for this match had his old county coach Moores not been in charge. He bats the way wicketkeepers often do: bum stuck out towards square leg and bat flailing at anything pitched short. But that is not the way England’s recent keepers have batted.
However, he became the first England keeper to score a century on debut, and may now have secured his place for the foreseeable future, even though treating this attack as though they were Pease Pottage Second XI is no guide at all to how he might bat against the likes of Australia.
It also seems to have been the fastest of all the 17 hundreds hit on debut for England: just 118 minutes, quicker even than the great Ranji in 1896. Lord’s would have fidgeted and wandered less if Ranji had been out there.