The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the lovely London lassies have shunned their winter layers and the First Test at Lord’s is only a day or two away. What a glorious time to be in the capital and our man on the streets, at the bar and in the queues, The Tooting Trumpet, has captured the tone, optimism and excitement of the European spring in typical English understatement in his preview of what will be an important series for Vaughan’s troops before the South African pace onslaught later this northern summer.
Come Thursday May 15, the England’s international season begins with the First Test at Lord’s. Despite this date being historically very early, after ten days of unbroken sunshine in London and Sunday’s conclusion to football’s Premier League, it feels about right. With no Home nation qualifying for football’s Euro 2008 tournament and the Olympics mired in drug-tainted public apathy (along with very few British gold medal hopes to build a narrative), cricket has an opportunity to stamp the English sporting summer with its identity for the first time since the entire nation seemed to stop for Ashes in the heady days of 2005.
But it hasn’t got off to a good start. The one English cricketer who energises the floating sports fan, Andrew Flintoff, is out of the first two Tests (and, most likely, the series) due to a side strain. It’s hard to tell whether such an injury is “one of those things” or related to his admirable desire to prove his bowling fitness for Lancashire. That’s the problem with Flintoff – he’s always trying too hard or living too hard. It endears him to the public, but it must infuriate coaches. At least we do know that judges as experienced as Justin Langer opine that Flintoff the bowler is not yet consigned to the history books.
England’s other injury doubt is Paul Collingwood, the victim of a bad shoulder. The Trumpet laments reports that Colly has been given a cortisone injection in order to play – how that drug is not defined as “performance-enhancing” and how players can consent to play with the pain covered, but not cured, is beyond me. Were it the deciding Test of the Ashes, there may, just may, be a case, but the First Test vs NZ?
Despite some bandying around of names like Rob Key and Michael Carberry, England’s selectors have given the established top order the chance to repeat their series win of just a few months ago – that has to be right. Michael Vaughan retains the captaincy, but needs a score or two to silence the doubters.
Amongst the bowlers, the recall of Matthew Hoggard has pleased his legion of fans who believe that this wholehearted cricketer was harshly treated in New Zealand, dropped after one lacklustre performance. He may not yet make the final cut, but if he does get a run, expect his mix of canny outswing, in-dippers and cutters to be far too much for the Kiwis’ fragile top order. With Sidebottom and Broad inked in, England must perm any two from Panesar, an in-form Anderson and Hoggy to round off the bowling battery. The Trumpet favours going with an all seam attack in May at Lord’s, but expects that Jimmy Anderson will be carrying the drinks.
And New Zealand? The usual mix of batsmen who bat like bowlers and bowlers who bat like batsmen. Their best (perhaps only chance) is to pile up a first innings lead quickly with the powerhouse late middle order of Oram, McCullum and Vettori supplementing the exciting Ross Taylor which will allow their pop gun, but disciplined, attack the chance to prey on English Lord’s nerves. It would be so different were New Zealand’s big beast not banned – no, not Jesse Ryder, 90mph man Shane Bond. The BCCI have their shiny IPL bauble now and should no longer object to the ICL rebels being chosen for their Test XIs. Bond is a once in a generation bowler for NZ and is in England playing for Hampshire – heads should be knocked together and the man should play.
The Trumpet is not complacent, but cannot see anything beyond a 3-0 win for England – if the weather holds. You can’t win too many Tests from 191-5 and 115-5 (as NZ did in Hamilton) with Wellington’s 113-5 and 173-5 and Napier’s 119-5 and 172-5 just not good enough for a top order worthy of the name. The South Africans lurk for the second half of the summer – Kallis might get those scores himself.