ASHES: Australia tests Queen's allegiance

At the first day of the Test at Lord's, Australia chases victory against England with a Royal audience.

Lord's, London — The England and Australian Test teams stood in neat lines outside the Pavilion at Lord’s. The Queen arrived promptly at 11am. England, who had won the toss, started batting at 11.15am, 15 minutes later than scheduled, presumably to allow Her Madge to be seated comfortably in a leather armchair in the MCC Committee Room, and perhaps be presented with a cup of morning coffee.

It was reported this morning that Her Majesty had punched the air when England won by 14 runs in the first Test at Trent Bridge. But she is Queen of both countries, and if there was air to be punched during her presence, it was on behalf of her Australian connection.

For half an hour after the start, Australia’s bowlers played out of their skins. England’s openers were gone for 26, and soon afterwards Kevin Pietersen slunk off having scored only two. England were 28 for 3. Ryan Harris, brought into the team for this game in place of Mitchell Starc, had taken two of the wickets; Shane Watson, who was brought on for an over when James Pattinson still searching for his right line, had Alastair Cook lbw for 12. It was the dream start.

There are England supporters who would feel quite sanguine about this state of play. The concept of an Australian win at Lord’s is not heretical. It would breathe excitement into the Ashes series, though they probably don’t say so to Australian friends for fear of being thought patronising.  

Australia’s bowlers had squeezed as much as could be had out of a first-day pitch on a day of sub-tropical heat – by England standards – at Lord’s. There was some swing to be had; they pitched the ball up, Harris and Siddle gave exemplary performances, though Pattinson, bowling the for the first time at Lord’s, found it difficult to adjust to the slope, which exaggerates movement off the pitch. As the sun rose in the sky, however, what moisture remained in the pitch dried and the wicket was one for batsmen rather than bowlers to exhibit their skills.

So it proved, until the final 45 minutes when three England wickets fell for even fewer runs than the first three. As the pair of English batsmen walked back to the Pavilion at the close, the Australian team hung around congratulating each other. England were seven wickets down for 289. An hour before the close, they might reasonably have expected to have scored 40 more runs and lost a couple of wickets at the most.

England's recovery was started by Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. Despite the deeply uncertain start, both were untroubled by the bowling. By lunch the score was 80 for 3. A remarkably high percentage of the runs were coming in boundaries, suggesting – correctly – that the bowlers were losing their venom. Trott was especially fierce on both sides of the wicket; he was bullying the bowlers, but that comes naturally to him. Ian Bell, who had scored an invaluable hundred at Trent Bridge, was picking up where he left off. He is a small, slightly vulnerable looking figure who has been promising for so long that he has reached the age of 31 without ever looking it.

After lunch, the pair set about the bowling remorselessly. One hundred came up with a wide; Trott moved smoothly to his 50 from 77 balls. So it was mildly astonishing when he played early at a short ball from Harris which fell lazily to Usman Khawaja, running in from mid wicket. (Khawaja had replaced Ed Cowan, who had shown little conviction at Trent Bridge.) Trott and Bell had put on 99 together, but the stand had ended too soon to give comfort to England.

Jonny Bairstow joined Bell. He is an inexperienced, 23-year-old No. 6 but the selectors believe in him, and he played with more style and certainty than he had done in the first Test. Then, on 28 he had the same kind of luck that Ashton Agar experienced on his way to his memorable debut last week. Bairstow was 21, England were 171 for 4, when he played across a fine ball from Siddle which smashed into the leg and middle stumps. It was an ignominious way to go. He began to walk until the umpire asked him to wait. There was the suspicion that Siddle might have bowled a no ball, and the more often the television shot was replayed, there more certain it seemed. Bairstow was reprieved, and began to play more freely.  

Bell played serenely, scoring faster in this Test, reaching his hundred in 203 compared with 264 balls. As the partnership passed 100, the scoring was easy, especially off poor Pattinson, who conceded 16 in one over. Michael Clarke had run out of ideas, except for one unlikely, even desperate last throw. Steve Smith is a leg break bowler who was initially picked for the Test side as a spinner but who had transformed himself into a No. 5 batsman.

Bell was 109, the same as his score in the first Test, when Smith was called upon and in his first over he delivered a perfect leg break which flew off the edge directly into Clarke’s grateful hands at first slip. In Smith’s third over he bowled a full toss at Bairstow, who clouted hard and low and into Smith’s outstretched hands. In his fifth over, Smith, who had kept Matt Prior uncharacteristically quiet, persuaded him to edge a catch to the keeper.

From 271 for 5, England were now 283 for 7. Three wickets had been taken for 12 runs in 22 balls. This first established equilibrium, and then pushed Australia ahead at this stage of the match. And the wicket is likely to remain a good one for batting until the week end. The Queen might regret that she did not slip back in for the last hour as well. But as it turned out, she wasn’t needed.

Stephen Fay is a former editor of Wisden and author of books about the Bank of England and the collapse of Barings.