After Lord's

Walking back to my hotel through the sun-blasted back streets off the Edgware Road, I tried to work out what I thought about the First Test between England and Pakistan. It wasn't easy, but that was as much due to the savage, brain-addling heat as to the fact that the match ended as a draw in which neither side was obviously superior.

As Mike Atherton said during the presentations, 'the pitch was the winner', with Mick Hunt's strip proving too good for two depleted bowling attacks, but the batsmen of both sides were only too happy to fill their boots. The game also represented a missed opportunity for England, who, although victory without Flintoff was always unlikely, would have given themselves a better chance by pushing on and declaring before the close on Sunday. Their caution betrayed their lack of confidence without Flintoff and you have to hope that he remains fit well into the future, both for his obvious qualities with bat and ball and because he'll hopefully prove a less cautious captain than Strauss. Then again, you can only captain with what you have, and captaincy will always be made easier for Flintoff by the fact he'll have himself in his side.

There was much to enjoy throughout the five days, beginning with the partnership of contrasts between Paul Collingwood and Alastair Cook on the first afternoon. Cook the public schoolboy whose gilded progress to the national side has followed an apparently inevitable path since he was a young teenager, Collingwood the gritty and self-possessed man of Durham who's conquered the doubts of many to carve a niche for himself in the Test side to go with his indispensable slot in the one day team.

I just like Cook. Although his hundred was quite a scratchy affair, aided by a series of dropped catches, there's something reassuring and utterly classical about his presence at the crease. His best strokes - especially the on-drive - bear the mark of a very special player indeed. While it's certain that his career will hit the rocks at some point he seems likely to go to Australia as England's number three and I'll be happy to see him there.

Although a long-time admirer of Collingwood's durable temperament (never better illustrated than by his vital innings in support of Pietersen on the last day The Oval last year), I could never really see him as a Test batsman. I'm very happy to have been proved wrong (for the time being at least), and, although the Pakistan attack was never very menacing, his 186 was an innings full of well-selected and executed strokes until he got slightly bogged down prior to his dismissal after lunch on the second day.

Also, as Will Luke quite rightly says here

he must be the finest fielder England have ever had. I remember Derek Randall well, and, while he was quicker over the ground than Colly and perhaps a slightly more accurate thrower at the stumps, Collingwood's ability to stop virtually anything on the ground and consistently take catches which defy belief give him the edge.

Having spent most of Friday watching from in front of the pavilion I happened to choose the minutes prior to the first two wickets of the Pakistan first innings to walk round behind the Warner Stand to buy an ice cream. While eating said ice cream I watched the game from the back of the stand and had a more dramatic view of Collingwood's latest brilliant catch than I would have had in the pavilion. However, I was further away, and at first I wasn't sure who had taken it. I can't think why, though, as he seems to do things like that all the time.

I also enjoyed Ian Bell's hundred immensely. He's someone I've consistently supported, even when he was struggling against Australia last year, and while he often appears diffident and lacking in the inclination (but surely not the ability) to really dominate an attack (although he was just showing signs of opening up when Strauss ran him out in the second innings) he's worth having around the side for the beautiful purity and adroitness of his technique. Although he'll probably lose his place once Flintoff returns, he's put himself ahead of Key and Shah in the race for Australia.

Strauss batted as well as we know Strauss can on Sunday, which is very well indeed. His captaincy was okay, although, as I've said, I would have liked to have seen a much earlier declaration and more confidence in his use of Panesar in both innings. I feel that England have a potentially world-class spinner in Panesar and both Strauss and Flintoff have occasionally appeared reluctant to give him the really long spells from which he would surely benefit. This is even more surprising given how insipid much of England's seam bowling was, especially on the last day. Harmison bowled well at times in the first innings (and is Harmison, after all), so he can be allowed some latitude, but Plunkett was disappointing. All that can be said about him is that the raw material in terms of physique, action and temperament appears to be there (as well as the odd excellent delivery), but he's probably suffering through having to 'grow up' as a bowler in Test rather than county cricket. Let's hope for better.

Finally, I'm happy to acknowledge that Geraint Jones kept very well. But he still didn't get any significant runs, and his understandable lack of confidence conspired with the Pakistan attack and Inzamam's field placings to reduce England's momentum on the fourth afternoon, just when they needed somebody to increase it. However, the longer he stays in the side the more certain it is that he won't be dropped. With the number of injuries that have afflicted England over the last year this feels increasingly like a period of transition, and, as Jones is now one of the more experienced members of the side, the selectors are less and less likely to want to replace him before (or in) Australia.

On the Pakistan side, Mohammad Yousuf, for so long someone you took for granted in their middle order, was neat, tidy and majestically classy. Amazing what a change of religion, name and shaving habits, as well as a huge stack of runs, can do for you.

Inzamam never changes. I first saw him bat live when he made a superb 148 on the first day at Lord's ten years ago, and he simply has more time to play than virtually anybody else I've ever seen. One day he might actually fail to reach fifty against England.

Also, although his figures show how difficult he found bowling at Lord's, I was quietly impressed by Umar Gul. There wasn't a huge amount going on at the business end of the pitch, but I love the smoothness and rhythm of his approach and have a feeling that more may be heard of him, providing he can retain his place in the Pakistan attack once Shoaib, Naved-ul-Hasan and Mohammad Asif are fit.

All in all it was a game with a slightly old-fashioned tempo, but it was no less enjoyable for that. Mind you, I'm not sure whether the bloke who spent some (but not much) of his time sitting next to me on the first day would agree. Turned up at 11.30. Sat down. Watched the cricket for five minutes. Checked his Blackberry. Watched the cricket for ten minutes and applauded a few Andrew Strauss fours before quipping that 'They'll have 200 by lunch at this rate'. Checked his Blackberry. Disappeared for two hours. Came back, watched about twenty minutes' cricket and left.

There's no pleasing some people.

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