The calmness stood out. Two teams, two captains, one buoyed by an extraordinary win from the jaws of defeat and the other with knowledge that his side were just inches away from a historic win. If the Edgbaston Test stood out for England and India trading blow for blow until the home side landed the knock out punch, the build up for the Test at Lord’s was marked by a serenity that underlined the teams’ confidence in themselves to get better and put in an improved performance.
That’s just on the field and during practice. Outside of it, things were very different. Ben Stokes’s trial has engulfed the papers in England, and the volatile nature of it means some of it would have definitely rubbed off on the hosts too. Twice in two days, England’s press conference began with a statement that there should be no questions on the trial.
Trevor Bayliss had already warned that replacing Stokes would essentially mean needing two or even three players to step up. And his absence means England’s team combination comes into question. Can Sam Curran be trusted more with a bat? Can Chris Woakes or Moeen Ali, playing as the allrounder, do a good enough job with both bat and ball?
And it puts the spotlight on their already struggling top order. Joe Root may be raking up fifties for fun, but with Ollie Pope taking up the number four slot, there are two out of form openers and a debutant in England’s top order.
If England will be praying that those two or three indeed step up in Stokes’s absence, India will be fervently hoping for their own top order to hit form. Virat Kohli stood out like Sisyphus at Birmingham, while the rest of the batsmen were on a free fall. That performance from the top order will have the Indian team contemplating changes, with Cheteshwar Pujara waiting to take his chance.
But their bigger headache will be whether they need to get in the second spinner.
The pitch, as Kohli stated in the press conference, was hard and the grass cover was only present to hold it together. The visitors will be tempted to add Kuldeep Yadav or Ravindra Jadeja to the XI in order to make the most of a hard, dry pitch.
But the lack of certainty about the conditions and pitch has left both teams in a bit of a quandary. England and India have both left it till the last morning to decide their final XI, and it may just come down to how the teams read the pitch and react.
A tremendous first Test. A promise for better in the second. Superficially, a relaxed environment. Inside, a ton of nerves and lots of indecision. A piece of history waiting at Lord’s. The second Test could be another tonic for all those weeping about the death of the longest format.