England offer hint of Joe Denly’s inclusion in break from rain | Andy Bull

Outfield warm-up suggests Sam Curran may be left out while Australia replace James Pattinson with Josh Hazlewood

Some summer’s day was this. After six hours of rain play was abandoned for the day at 4.15pm. There was not so much as a coin toss, let alone a ball bowled.

There was a brief let-up after lunch, a lull between showers, when everyone got out on the field and pretended they had not seen the forecast for the rest of the afternoon. It lasted just long enough for Chris Jordan to present Jofra Archer with his England cap. Then it started raining again. There was a hint, too, for those watching closely, that England plan to stick with Joe Denly rather than pick Sam Curran, who was fielding at slip while the other bowlers got busy warming up.

Australia confirmed their own team changes. They have brought in Josh Hazlewood for James Pattinson, which means that Mitchell Starc has been rested again. Justin Langer said it was all to do with their bowling strategy. “He hits a great length and he’s usually pretty miserly with his economy rate,” Langer said. “That’s what gives him the edge in this game.”

If Australia have brought in Hazlewood to try to bore out England’s batsmen, England have brought in Archer to try to blast out Australia’s. But then, given Steve Smith’s appetite for batting, they are never going to beat him in a game of patience.

Over at the bookies’ tent at the back of the Nursery Ground they were running a special on whether and when England will be able to get Smith out again, with Archer the 3-1 favourite to take his wicket in the first innings. England had not even confirmed he was playing when they wrote those odds up on the whiteboard. It is a lot to load on to a 24-year-old who is playing his first Test after three years of first-class cricket. But no more, perhaps, than Archer expects of himself. The story goes that he was so sure he would make his debut here that he asked the management to arrange for Jordan to be here too.

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The two of them are best friends. “Apart from receiving my first England cap, this is easily one of my proudest moments,” Jordan told Archer in the huddle. “Every single challenge that’s presented itself to you so far, you’ve found a way of rising to it, and I don’t see Test cricket being any different.

“You’ve had a taste in the shorter formats, been in the World Cup, travelled the world in various leagues and dominated, but I know this is the pinnacle for you. One of the first things you said to me when you came over to England was that you wanted to play Test cricket for England and that time has come. You’ve crossed that line.”

Earlier in the afternoon they ran the highlights of the World Cup final on the big screens and the empty stands echoed with the commentators’ screams and shouts during that wild final over Archer bowled. It was exactly a month ago and it seems both so long ago and yet no time at all.

It is an open secret that the World Cup has taken a lot out of some of the players in this England team, that the turnaround was too quick for the players to be at their best in that first Test at Edgbaston. The management are hoping it will work the other way for Archer, that freshened by a short break he will be coming into this series flush with confidence, in the form of his young life.

The highlights were better than anything else there was to watch. Some of the old hands in the crowd beat an early retreat to St John’s Wood High Street, reckoning, rightly, that the best way to spend the day was to hole up somewhere and have a long lunch. Thousands more milled around the ground, huddled up in the lower tiers, or under umbrellas or the lee of the stands, waiting on announcements over the PA or watching the groundstaff hokey-cokey the covers.

There should be more to see on Thursday, at least. This is a four-day Test now, which means the follow-on has been cut to 150 runs but, as Langer said, it should not make too much difference. “There’s plenty of time,” he said. And plenty of intrigue, too.

Contributor

Andy Bull at Lord’s

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