New Zealand 246-3 (Conway 136*, Nicholls 46*; Robinson 2-50)
There had been much talk about England’s inexperienced line-up in the build-up to the first Test but it was the newest of New Zealand’s recruits who stole the show on the first day at Lord’s.
Devon Conway, preferred to Will Young and Tom Blundell to share opening duties with Tom Latham, a fellow left-hander, showed great composure on debut, making a fluent start, battling through an awkward afternoon session and finally blossoming in the evening to become the 12th New Zealander to score a hundred on his first Test outing.
Conway, born and raised in the Johannesburg, is so new to the New Zealand set-up that he has only just gained residency, but he slotted so seamlessly into this determined side, which will contest the World Test Championship final in 17 days’ time, it was as if he had worn the first Black Cap he was awarded shortly before the start of play for many more of his 29 years.
England, for their own part, could point to a promising debut for seamer Ollie Robinson while James Bracey performed tidily behind the stumps but despite opting for pretty much the strongest attack they could have fielded – Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad both made the final XI with Mark Wood there to ensure they were not too one-paced – tired in the last session and allowed NZ to gain an upper hand that had been in the balance in the afternoon.
Conway will face more difficult conditions at the start of a Test match – the sun was high in the sky by the 11am start, a starburst overhead from a beautiful hue of blue – but rarely a more experienced opening attack as England’s old-timers – 307caps between them – looked in vain for the kind of movement they have so often found on gloomier days at the home of cricket.
The Wellington cricketer had to wait three overs to face his first ball, as Latham manoeuvred the ball around for singles, but soon was into his stride with lovely angled drives that were little more than well-timed pushes. If there was ray of hope for England’s bowlers it was that every now and then he revealed an encouraging gap between bat and pad that might have brought his downfall on days when there was more significant swing, but he survived a couple of inside edges to progress relatively serenely.
Robinson was brought on at the Pavilion end for his first over – the 10th of the morning – and overstepped almost Mohammed Amir-like first ball but broke through with the final ball of his fourth over when Latham played for a little more deviation than there was down the ground’s famous slope and edged on to his stumps.
It was the first moment of joy for the 7,000 at Lord’s, a quarter of what might be expected on a normal first day’s Test cricket of the summer. But there was no more of it for England supporters before lunch as a circumspect Kane Williamson dug in and Conway recorded 43 of his side’s 85 for one at the interval. In his first spell Wood struggled with his line and the only time he discomforted New Zealand was when he twice dug one of his 90mph rockets in short to Conway, who rode the blows to his body before later deciding the pull shot was a more positive – and less dangerous – response.
New Zealand’s progress, however, was impeded by the wicket of Williamson in the first over of the resumption. The New Zealand skipper, who had taken first use of this surface after winning the toss, has rightly been lauded for the soft hands that allow him to play so late and straight but they were a little too gentle this time as he dropped a relatively harmless delivery from Anderson down on to his off stump.
Ross Taylor, a bunny for Broad having been dismissed by him ten times in Test matches, was given a long sighting of the Nottinghamshire paceman as England gambled on there being an 11th, and he persisted in driving unsuccessfully at the outswinger with the freedom of a man who knows that, at 37, and after a fabulous career, his Test days are relatively numbered. To prove the point he regularly pushed across his front pad to anything straighter, knowing that while the odds were that he would soon fall lbw, he had got so many runs with the approach down the years that he wasn’t going to change now. Ultimately, he was to depart in such fashion but it was to Robinson, who trapped him emphatically in front with one that seemed to gather pace off the pitch and shot through.
Some observers suggested they could see something of Josh Hazelwood in Robinson but I was reminded more of Mike Hendrick, England’s fast medium bowler of the Seventies, the similarly laconic run up and rhythmic unfurling hardly hinting at the potential damage contained with the moving deliveries of which he is capable; one ball seamed back a foot and nearly cut Taylor in half and any swing that he did find against Williamson in the overs before lunch was backed up by excellent accuracy. Hendrick, who represented Derbyshire for many years, never achieved a five-wicket haul in Test cricket in spite of threatening to bowl teams out when the conditions suited him but it seems unlikely that Robinson will suffer the same fate if he gets more helpful surfaces and skies.
Conway could have easily lost his way at this point, being deprived of the two most experienced Kiwi batsmen early in the session, but he kept his head down and wasn’t worried that crease occupation became his chief pre-occupation. Henry Nicholls was almost rendered strokeless by good rotations of his attack by Joe Root, the tourists adding only 58 in a second session of intense Test cricket, neither side quite able to quite claim the upper hand.
Robinson switched to the Nursery End straight after tea and was unlucky when, having posted Zak Crawley at leg slip as he charged at Conway from round the wicket, the angled delivery brought the required leg glance but it was just too fine of the diving England No3 and went for four.
That seemed to give Conway the impetus to pick up the pace and he hit 41 in the first 50 minutes after the interval as his domination of the fourth-wicket stand with Nicholls became more pronounced. He sped through his eighties and barely stopped to recognise he was in the nervous nineties as he showed assurance and confidence to chance the most flamboyant of flicks to leg off Robinson to reach three figures. He had gone to a debut 50 from 91 balls in the 35th over with a lovely drive through extra off Broad and now to a debut hundred from 162 balls in the 61st.
What’s more, he showed no sign of being satisfied and but for a top-edged hook off Wood that just cleared the grasping fingertips of Bracey, no sign of giving it away.
By the close, he had reached the highest score by a debutant in Tests at Lord’s – beating another left-hander with a slightly higher profile, Sourav Ganguly, who hit 131 in 1996. He may not go on to hold the elevated positions that Ganguly has ascended to in the cricket firmament but, after the absence of crowds at Test cricket for 15 months, those at Lord’s will surely remember an innings of little grandiosity but great timing, composure and concentration.
He had hit 16 fours by the time the close came, the stand had advanced to 132 and Nicholls was poised to complete an 11th Test fifty, having occupied the crease for 146 balls.
England will need early wickets in the morning but do not expect this pair to give them those without one hell of a fight.