Quick single: taking first strike
The first ball of a Test innings is long anticipated, quickly marked in the book and becomes a gradually reducing data point in the pattern of the innings. Ball two is less special and declines in significance at the same rate. Balls three, four, five and six are each still of note. Soon, though, the individual delivery is part of the greater ebb and flow without a given identity.
The batsman who chooses, or is assigned, to take first ball is the most exposed on the team.
Chris Rogers took strike on Thursday at Lord’s and was straight into action, defending Anderson’s first ball from the crease. The second, leaning forward, he steered to point.
Shortly after tea on Friday, with 10 hours in the field in his legs, Adam Lyth took strike. He also felt bat on ball immediately, dead-batting a short delivery from Starc behind square on the off-side. Lyth lined up the second on off-stump and offered another dead bat at it. But it curved away a little and lifted, drawing the opener’s bat, flicked the outside edge and through to the keeper.
Rogers’ read his third ball as full, stepped forward and drove. The ball swung, intercepting the edge of Rogers’ bat and lifted over the England slips, arms extending, hands grasping, and away for four.
Lyth looked down, recognised the option of staying didn’t exist and slowly moved back along the pitch. Past the umpire and Cook, he slowed again. A review had been called to check for a front-foot no-ball. But that provided no second chance and Lyth, head still down, had the pavilion ahead and a mobile cameraman pointing his device at the batsman’s face, retreating in step with the player, just out of reach should the subject want to take a swipe at the technology with his bat.
After a safe leave, Rogers sees the fifth ball pitched up again outside off-stump. His instinct is better this time and drives the swinging half-volley cleanly through the covers for four.
It took England 295 more balls, conceding another 26 boundaries, to dislodge Rogers. A single ball is all that might have separated opening over Lord’s ducks for Rogers and Lyth. Lyth will bat again in this match, with the chance to close the gap with his opposite number. He will face the first ball of an innings, the most exposed batsman.