On the eve of England’s first ever Test against Ireland perhaps it was fitting that the pitch, which is almost in the centre of the square at Lord’s, looked emerald green. It will not stay that colour for long since it will be exposed to a mower on Wednesday morning and a heatwave thereafter. Despite its hue England have taken the unusual course of picking two spinners in a bowling-heavy lineup.
Root had no hesitation in naming his side 24 hours before the toss. It includes two debutants: Jason Roy, occasionally of Surrey, and the less familiar Olly Stone, occasionally of Warwickshire. The former has been confined to England duties, the latter has recently been sidelined with a back problem. Both play with pace, which makes them exciting. Meanwhile three others – Jack Leach, Rory Burns and Joe Denly – will play their first Test matches on home soil.
It is unlikely that Lord’s can deliver the same level of excitement as on 14 July when New Zealand were the opponents and the destiny of the World Cup was at stake. Yet there remains a keen sense of anticipation before this four-day Test.
For the Irish this is obviously a landmark game for which 90% of the tickets have been sold over the first three days. They know how to dream, so perhaps when the next visit to Dublin takes place the wifi code in the press box there will have been updated from “Bangalore 2011” (when Ireland defeated England in the World Cup) to “Lord’s 2019”.
For the English players there is also plenty for which to play. The game takes place on the eve of the Ashes series and the side is in a state of considerable flux. So many players are eager to cement a place. At the top of the order Burns, after six Tests and an average of 25, is the old hand. He will now be joined by the debutant Roy with the 33-year-old Denly at No 3 and about to play his third Test.
Over the next fortnight this trio will meet contrasting challenges: the canny seamers of the Lord’s expert Tim Murtagh, who seldom reaches 80mph, will be followed by the pace of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins at Edgbaston. Roy, in particular, will have to learn on the job, rather as Jos Buttler last summer. Yet few begrudge his presence in the team, especially when the alternatives available are considered.
With Buttler and Ben Stokes resting, England have an excess of all-rounders in their side, which may give the Irish bowlers hope. Jonny Bairstow, reunited with his gloves, will bat at five with Moeen Ali at six. The likelihood is that both these players will drop two places come Edgbaston. Among the bowlers Chris Woakes, who has not played a Test for England since the Trent Bridge match last August, will share the new ball with Stuart Broad, another who would like to remind the selectors of his worth. There is no excuse for any England player to be underwhelmed by the prospect of this Test.
The challenge for the Irish team – led by their captain for the past decade, William Porterfield – is not to be overwhelmed by the occasion. But they have plenty of experience in the form of Porterfield, Murtagh and another Middlesex stalwart, Paul Stirling, as well as Gary Wilson and Kevin O’Brien, who tormented England so brilliantly in Bangalore. Meanwhile Boyd Rankin, if selected, becomes the first cricketer since the Nawab of Pataudi in 1946 to play for and against England in Tests. It should not be so difficult for Rankin to enjoy his third Test rather more than his first in Sydney in 2014.
So another historic event at Lord’s is here. It is not quite on the scale of the World Cup final and therefore there is no imperative to have it on free-to-air television. However, in the wake of that final Guy Lavender, MCC’s chief executive, has outlined the benefits of putting the best quality cricket outside the paywall and he has suggested that one Lord’s Test should be free-to-air every summer. This is not a brand new idea. Last year Ali Martin put forward that same suggestion.