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England handed out a pair of debuts as fans returned to Lord’s on a picture perfect day.
James Bracey, the Gloucestershire wicketkeeper-batter, and Ollie Robinson, the Sussex seamer, became England men’s Test caps No698 and 699 respectively.
Both were into the action promptly, as New Zealand’s Kane Williamson won the toss and unsurprisingly opted to bat first.
On a surface that appeared benign, the Black Caps negotiated the first hour calmly, reaching 50 without loss, with another debutant – opener Devon Conway – looking at ease.
Robinson came onto bowl at the Pavilion End after an opening burst from James Anderson (who is equalling Alastair Cook’s record of 161 Test appearances for England ) and Stuart Broad, the new vice-captain.
Robinson’s first ball was a no-ball, but he soon had a maiden Test wicket, bowling Tom Latham off the inside edge to leave New Zealand 58 for one.
A crowd of 6,700 flooded through the iconic Lord’s gates, making this the first time England have welcomed fans to a home fixture since the unforgettable summer of 2019. The ground has a different look, with the Compton and Edrich Stands at the Nursery End redeveloped.
The bell to signal five minutes until the start of play was rung not by a cricket legend, as usual, but the family of Captain Sir Tom Moore. Key workers will be doing so on the remaining four days.
Bracey, who made a tidy start with the gloves, was handed his cap by Marcus Trescothick, another left-hander from the West Country, while Robinson received his from England’s fast-bowling coach Jon Lewis, with whom he worked at Sussex.
Both debutants have been part of England squads often over the last year, with England selecting enlarged squads due to Covid-19, and have enjoyed fine starts to the County Championship season.
Robinson got the nod alongside Mark Wood in a four-man seam attack, meaning England went without a specialist spinner on a pitch with a hint of green. While summer has finally arrived and the weather is set fair over the next few days – which should dry the surface out – there could be some stormier weather this weekend.
Jack Leach was the unfortunate spinner to miss out, with England opting for Joe Root’s part-time off-breaks. Root admitted yesterday that his performances in the subcontinent this winter – including career-best figures of five for eight in Ahmedabad – had increased his confidence in his bowling.
This two-match series – the Second Test is at Edgbaston a week tomorrow – will be a significant challenge for Root, shorn of a number of senior players. Notably, Ben Stokes – who balances the side – is absent, while Chris Woakes and Sam Curran are also missing.
With Jos Buttler, Ben Foakes and Jonny Bairstow absent, Bracey is stepping in as the fourth-choice wicketkeeper. Buttler and Bairstow are rested, while Foakes suffered an unfortunate injury last week.
“I’m absolutely buzzing,” Bracey told the BBC. “I opened the curtains to see blue sky, with crowds back. It’s how you imagine a Test debut would be growing up.”