England recovery sent spinning by Aussie bombshell at Lord's
AT risk of being dragged off to the Tower, it is reasonable to propose that England did better without the Queen today. Australia, on the other hand, may wish to enlist her immediately as the team mascot and banish any future talk of becoming a republic.
In the presence of Her Majesty, who stayed for an hour after being introduced to the players in front of the Pavilion, England were reduced to 28 for 3 in the second Test. After the Queen and her entourage left, the ensign on the left side of the Pavilion was lowered and England prospered.
Their recovery was marshalled gloriously by Ian Bell who scored a delectable hundred, his 19th in Tests, his third in the Ashes and his second in succession. It was every bit as masterful as its immediate predecessor at Trent Bridge last week.
Perhaps the Queen might have paid a sneak return visit later in the day because suddenly England foundered again, the first day book-ended by another collapse. They had managed to restore their fortunes at 271 for 4 but ended the first day on 289 for 7, brought low by Steve Smith.
If the particular cause was improbable it was also eerily familiar. Smith is a leg-spinner, occasional these days, with bleached blond hair and of stocky countenance. A generation of England batsmen now in the commentary box, sitting alongside their nemesis Shane Warne, would know exactly how their successors felt.
The match is more delicately poised than may be supposed but the tourists will be extremely happy with the way it all turned out. They could not have wished for a more spectacular start or a more propitious finish on a flat pitch that will not wear quickly.
Bell had to begin in the most unpromising circumstances after England, on a wonderfully sun-laden morning with the ground full to bursting, lost three wickets in 10 balls. He never put a foot wrong. His timing was perfect, his shot selection impeccable, his execution sublime.
The first false shot was the last when, on 109 made in slightly more than five hours, he pushed forward to Smith's sixth ball which turned and went low to slip. There it was taken by Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, whose introduction of Smith might, by then, have been born of desperation but looked like a masterstroke.
An over later and Smith had another wicket when Jonny Bairstow haplessly flapped at a low full toss which he returned to the bowler in the air. Before the end Matt Prior had essayed a cut which he edged behind.
If this was hardly excellent, it might have been so much worse for England. Bell shared two important partnerships. The first was of 99 with Jonathan Trott, a union terminated just as it was beginning to look like it might go on forever. The second was of 144 with Bairstow, which was allowed to continue after apparently being ended in an unseemly flurry of crooked bat and splayed stumps.
There was a hint of green in the pitch at the start of the Investec Test, but it was never more than that. Winning the toss and batting was a choice much easier to make than MCC relaxing its rule about wearing jackets in the Pavilion, which created one of the world's great displays of white and blue shirted corpulence.
If there was to be any prospect of the tourists making inroads into their opponents it had to be done early.
Within minutes, the wisdom of two choices was made clear. Darren Lehmann and Clarke, the new combination at the head of the Australian team, were made to seem like geniuses. Perhaps it was not an estimation that quite lasted for the entire day but for that small passage of play it was vital.
After two overs from the Nursery End, Clarke decided that his strike bowler James Pattinson was not cutting the mustard. Rather than hoping he would settle into a rhythm he introduced the less quick but more precise Shane Watson.
This was astute captaincy in many ways, showing a captain who was prepared to take swift, unorthodox action for the good of the team while also cocking a snook at those who would make out that Watson is one of his least favourite characters.
Watson's second ball was probing and swung into Alastair Cook's pads off a good length down the Lord's slope. Cook did not wait to question the lbw verdict as the ball struck him on the crease as he went across his stumps.
In the next over Ryan Harris struck two more blows. Harris, the muscular, injury-prone fast bowler, was one of two changes in the tourists' side, brought in to replace his left-arm counterpart, Mitchell Starc. Usman Khawaja was also chosen ahead of Ed Cowan to bat at No 3.
Harris has two obvious attributes as a fast bowler: he makes the batsman play and he is capable of moving the ball both ways. When Joe Root pushed forward at him it was clear that the ball would have gone on to hit the stumps.
The umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, upheld Harris's appeal. Root, after consultation, opted for a review. The question then to be answered was whether the ball had hit pad or bat first. While it might not do to keep a monarch waiting for such an unconscionable time, the third official, Tony Hill, was determined to avoid controversy. He ruled rightly in favour of pad.
Four balls later, Kevin Pietersen, having squirted a two, was teased outside off stump by a ball that moved away and which he edged. This was big trouble. Australia had the start they craved.
But Trott and Bell brought their side out of it, almost surreptitiously at times. Trott was playing with real command when he surprised all by miscueing a pull high in the air.
Bairstow, a mixture of handsome and ugly strokes, was bowled on 21 playing one of the latter. But Peter Siddle had marginally overstepped and he was reprieved. It felt like a royal pardon and in the light of later events may have been of crucial significance.