England v Sri Lanka: Matt Prior and Joe Root give hosts the impetus
England v Sri Lanka: Matt Prior and Joe Root keep the hosts ticking over on day one of the first Test
Joe Root claimed his third Test century and Matt Prior struck a typically feisty 50 as England recovered from an early wobble against testing Sri Lankan bowling to end the first day of the 2014 English Test summer on top.
For the home support, the first hour-and-a-half of the day would have seemed all too familiar from the nightmares of the past few months.
The latest cab off the rank to accompany Alastair Cook at the top of the order, Sam Robson never looked at ease on his home turf before prodding behind off the bowling of the pacey Nuwan Pradeep.
He was swiftly followed back to the pavilion by his captain, who chopped onto his stumps off Nuwan Kulesekara; Gary Ballance nudged and niggled before nicking a good ball from Pradeep to the keeper.
But then, from 74-3, familiarity began to breed contentment. One of the major planks of England’s Ashes victory last summer – their player of the year, indeed – was Ian Bell, and it was he who showed his fellow batsmen that the pitch, and the Sri Lankan bowling, held few terrors.
His innings, typically fluent, seemed to be bedding his team in for a significant total before he played around a ball that came down the slope from Shaminda Eranga, but he had opened the door.
Moeen Ali, with a heritage which boasts brother Kadeer and cousin Kabir as fellow first-class cricketers and another brother and cousin playing second XI cricket, then gave it another nudge with a purposeful 48, which included a six off the first ball he faced from left arm spinner Rangana Herath.
The problem, though, with losing early wickets is that the middle order has to push on, and while Bell and Moeen played very nicely, when the latter fell to Herath, England were 209-5. For a team which has not passed 400 since Wellington in March 2013, this was a key moment.
Enter Matt Prior. In the excitement surrounding the emergence of Jos Buttler, and the (entirely justified) concerns about Prior’s form and fitness, perhaps it has been forgotten how many times the Sussex stumper has dug his country out of a hole.
On Thursday, he was at it again. His innings (76 not out overnight, at a strike rate of nearly 75) not only gave his team runs, but restored their impetus.
Joe Root, to an extent in his 15th Test the forgotten man among the new brooms and the old hands, went from strength to strength, and to a vital hundred (his second at Lord’s) in the penultimate over of the day.
Suddenly, and with Chris Jordan, Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett still to come with the bat, England have a platform.
Thought for the day
In the build up to the final Ashes Test of 2009, before Jonathan Trott was plucked from the county ranks and responded with a match-winning and career-launching century, much of the talk around the circuit was that Mark Ramprakash could make a long-awaited return to the England team.
Ramprakash is now, of course, retired, but today provided a good illustration of both sides of the conundrum which his flickering international career presented. Like Bell, he was too good a player to leave out; but sadly, like Robson, he found himself crippled by nerves.
Needless to say, Robson will have a few more opportunities to find his feet in this side, and one hopes, for his sake and for that of his team, that he can come through the nerves and prove himself another Bell. But that is the beauty of Test cricket, which presents a unique challenge even for the most talented – and that is why it remains the finest form of the game.