Bowlers shine before batters falter as new England era starts with a bang against New Zealand

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A bitter-sweet day for Ben Stokes on his debut as captain  (PA)
A bitter-sweet day for Ben Stokes on his debut as captain (PA)

If the first day of England’s red-ball summer was an indication of things to come, we are in for quite a ride. Under new coach Brendon McCullum and new captain Ben Stokes, England first toppled New Zealand for 132 runs, with the damage done mostly in a thrilling opening session to the delight of a rapt Lord’s crowd. The new regime might even have ruffled a few feathers among the MCC members gently roasting in the late morning sun, so quick was the dismantling that it barely resembled Test cricket at all.

Then came a familiar batting collapse that served as a stark reminder of England’s flaws. A flurry of late wickets saw five batters fall for only eight runs as they relinquished all control, as if perplexed to have held it in the first place. England reached stumps on 116-7, trailing by 16 runs, perhaps notionally in the ascendancy but with momentum well and truly sucked away.

In the build-up this week, McCullum and Stokes had talked of keeping things simple and it had showed in their selection: Joe Root at his favoured four, Stokes dropping down to a pressure-free six, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad restored to the team after their contentious omissions from the West Indies tour.

Yet the day belonged to England’s debutant bowler, Matty Potts, who picked up the first four wickets of his Test career for only 13 runs in a spellbinding show. The Durham seamer has enjoyed an eye-catching season so far with 35 first-class wickets making himself impossible to ignore, and he transferred that form seamlessly on to cricket’s grandest stage.

Kane Williamson had won the toss and chosen to bat, but this was not a bad toss to lose after a dewy morning had left just enough humidity in the air to offer swing for England’s bowlers, and Anderson and Broad took full advantage.

Ben Stokes lost the toss on the opening morning at Lord’s but his bowlers impressed anyway (Getty Images)
Ben Stokes lost the toss on the opening morning at Lord’s but his bowlers impressed anyway (Getty Images)

They had been given reverential ovations as they took up the new ball, and both quickly drew blood: Anderson found the outside edge of Will Young’s bat and then fellow opener Tom Latham’s too, bringing excellent catches from Jonny Bairstow, perhaps the benefit of positioning a keeper at third slip. Broad did likewise to Devon Conway before Potts entered the fray to rattle through the middle order.

Potts took the New Zealand captain Williamson in his first over with a fine edge, collected brilliantly by wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, and the 23-year-old never looked back, sending New Zealand to lunch on 36-6 after a beauty which bowled Tom Blundell through the gate. By quarter to three he had his fourth wicket, reducing the tourists to 102-9, and although Colin de Grandhomme added some late runs, Stokes took the final wicket to end the brief revival.

Matty Potts produced a scintillating spell on his England debut (Getty Images)
Matty Potts produced a scintillating spell on his England debut (Getty Images)

When not bowling Potts’s every move was cheered down at fine leg, from some rudimentary fielding to even a slurp of his water bottle. The positive mood filled Lord’s along with a sense of optimism about what might be to come. The irony was that for all the times Anderson and Broad had sat out and watched on, rested or rotated as England tried out new talent, here they were leading the high fives as a potential successor announced himself.

The resounding notes of the new era this week had been around freeing players from their shackles and the burden of the shirt: loosen the grip, shake out the shoulders. England appeared relaxed and confident throughout, and not like a side with only one win in 17 Tests.

The only negative of the morning session was an injury to Jack Leach: McCullum had called on his players to chase every ball until it hits the boundary rope and Leach took this message at face value, diving head-first chasing a lost cause, crumpling over his neck and into the turf. He was sent for checks after suffering a suspected concussion, replaced by Matt Parkinson, and is now a doubt for the second Test.

Zak Crawley provided England’s lone batting resistance with a knock of 43 (AFP via Getty Images)
Zak Crawley provided England’s lone batting resistance with a knock of 43 (AFP via Getty Images)

But after the morning’s success came a troubling evening. Zak Crawley accelerated through the early part of England’s innings before wafting needlessly outside off stump on 43, and from there England stuttered, before spluttering to a standstill.

Pope looked composed before feathering behind off Kyle Jamieson, before Root brought a fine catch from Williamson playing square off his back foot. Bairstow, Stokes and Potts quickly followed back into the pavilion, with Trent Boult taking two wickets in an over shortly before stumps.

A strange day brought renewed hope and familiar angst in equal measure. England’s new era remains a curious gamble, but the first day suggested it will be anything but boring.

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