The Lord’s stage was set up in the sunshine, the spectators were back and New Zealand had prepared a possibly exciting final day of the first test with the most enterprising explanations.
The problem was that England was in no mood to go along with it.
It looked like New Zealand gave England a good chance to win when Kane Williamson surprised everyone – including Sky’s Kiwi commentator Simon Doull – by knocking out at 169 for six and setting a goal of 273 in at least 75 overs.
Dom Sibley scored 60 * when the first test between England and New Zealand ended in a draw
The tourists fired English skipper Joe Root, but Sibley’s score meant the game was even over
Rory Burns grabbed Tim Southee in slips when New Zealand claimed their first wicket
But the unexpected chance for Test Cricket to put on a show was wasted when England got into batting practice instead of making any attempts to back up Joe Root’s pre-series claim that he wanted to win all seven Tests this summer.
Instead, the first game of a packed international summer was drawn and there were many who would like to see it hung up and quartered after an anxious last day.
Certainly Roots beefy words sounded hollow as Dom Sibley crept to the most careful and old-fashioned of all unbeaten half centuries.
Sibley was so defensive and frankly boring that there were even a few ironic cheers from the 7,000 fans who enjoyed the chance to be back at the home of cricket when he managed to force Neil Wagner a drive for two.
By this point, Sibley had made 22 of his first 100 balls and England was at least on track to save that tie from a test they could have lost if the rain hadn’t washed out all Friday and New Zealand had to take the race .
New Zealander Ross Taylor shattered England’s bowling on his way to 33 runs with 35 balls
Sibley, with six consecutive single-digit scores behind him, took 21 balls to hit the mark and did little to stop Kyle Jamieson, who started out with five consecutive Virgins.
After that there was at least some degree of acceleration from England before they finished 170 unbowled for three with five overs, Sibley hit 60 out of 207 deliveries, and Root spent some time in the middle making 40 of their own.
But this will be considered a largely forgotten beginning for eight months that Root hopes will end with him lifting the urn on his third attempt as captain.
They certainly have to show much more positive intentions if they want a chance to win the second Test, which starts Thursday at Edgbaston, and then the five against India, before taking on Australia in what is still the biggest series at the Mall.
Ollie Robinson (right) took England’s first wicket of the day, Neil Wagner was caught
It should be said, however, that there were many extenuating circumstances that, while not exactly excusing England’s caution, at least in some ways help to explain it.
Keep in mind that this is a weakened England missing at least four players who would have been auto-selected in Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes. And three who would have had a claim in Sam Curran, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali.
It’s certainly hard to imagine that Williamson would be this adventurous if England had the chance to start their run chase with Stokes and Buttler, as they did in their win over West Indies at Old Trafford last year.
Stuart Broad (center) celebrates his first test wicket in 82 overs by hitting Tom Latham lbw. gets
And it should also be remembered that this is a formidable New Zealand team, only missing from Trent Boult from the top team to earn their place in the Test World Cup final against India later this month ahead of England and Australia.
There was momentum and uneven rebound for New Zealand’s high-class attack, led by Tim Southee to take advantage of what was effectively a Lords Pitch of the fourth day and exploit the lack of experience in the English batting team.
Spin and bounce off the rough for Mitchell Santner too, despite struggling with a finger injury that briefly prompted Williamson to turn to his own part-time offspin.
Southee, excelling at taking six wickets in the first innings, was excellent again on Sunday, finding a place on the pitch bowling for the wicket from the Pavilion end who made the jump at first innings centurion Rory Burns.
Mark Wood (left) picked up Taylor’s wicket, which was England’s third morning at Lord’s
But it was Wagner who got Burns this time – and later Root – just as the left-handed wanted to be more assertive before Southee lured Zak Crawley, a batsman who definitely wanted to be positive, into his second fatal loose drive of the test.
And if they’d all come out as cheap as Crawley and England knocked out by 100, we wouldn’t have been happy with that either.
To be fair, we would have butchered them for their lack of discipline.
The bottom line is that England thought a Sibley opener would be worth more that they want to bring to Australia for extensive training against a world class attack rather than fail again in pursuit of an ambitious goal.
And a tie should still be a valid result in test cricket regardless of the impatience of age.
Rory Burns intercepts Henry Nicholls bowling from Joe Root when New Zealand’s punches stall
The most encouraging aspect of the first part of the final day for England was again the performance of debutant Ollie Robinson, who added a third wicket in Night Watcher Wagner to finish at seven in his first match.
And that, along with his first 42 innings, showed that Robinson is very much at home in Test cricket and deserves more opportunities against India and probably Australia.
Hopefully the ECB will draw a line under his teenage Twitter indiscretions and move on after serving a harsh sentence after its ban on the second test was confirmed last night.