There are a number of ways spectators can make their approach to Lord's this week. They can get off the Jubilee line at St John's Wood and walk down Wellington Road, past the hospital bearing the same name, and enter through the North Gates. If the weather is nice, patrons could alight the tube one stop earlier, at Baker Street, and enjoy a longer walk, past or through Regent's Park, one of London's finest, perhaps up to the East or Grace Gates. From the south, Edgware Road tube is the most convenient stop, a leisurely 20 minute walk through trendy Lisson Grove to the ground.
Whichever way they come, the presence of around eight thousand spectators inside Lord's each day this week for the first Test between England and New Zealand will be a truly wonderful sight. It will be the first time England have played in front of spectators at home since the final Ashes Test in September 2019. This match is actually the first time England have played at Lord's since the second match of that series against Australia, nearly two years ago. As a result of playing every game at the bio-secure bubbles of the Ageas Bowl and Emirates Old Trafford last summer, it was the first time since 1970 that England did not play a Test at Lord's.
Given the various protocols that needed to be observed, the lack of crowds and the two-venue system was a necessary evil to get cricket on and keep everyone safe. But the international cricket that took place last season was a soulless experience for all concerned. Playing without crowds was better than nothing, of course, but there was something missing, that interaction between the deeds on the field and those watching from the stands that elevates sport to a higher plane, full of energy and suspense and emotion.
Think of that scene when Ben Stokes hit the winning runs in the third Ashes Test at Headingley two summers ago, the crowd behind him jumping to their feet in unbridled joy after an hour and a half cheering every single run and Australian misstep. That noise, that colour, those scenes made the occasion what it was. That is what we have missed over the past year. The contrast when James Anderson took his 600th wicket last summer at the Ageas Bowl in front of thousands of empty seats, with a few cheers from his teammates on the pavilion balcony drowned out by the silence, could not have been starker.
To add to the excitement of this game, New Zealand are the visitors, the second ranked Test team in the world. They have not toured England since 2015 but these matches, added to the calendar to help the ECB recover some of their COVID-related losses, see them at the top of their game with the one of the finest fast-bowling attacks in the world and certainly the best New Zealand have ever produced. For Kane Williamson's men, the two Tests also provides perfect preparation for the World Test Championship final against India later this month.
England are missing their IPL players, who have been rested from this game, and Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer, who are both injured. Nevertheless, they remain formidable opponents at home, particularly with James Anderson and Stuart Broad in their ranks. While too much has been made of Chris Silverwood's comments about using this summer to plan for the Ashes – he also said the Tests against New Zealand and India are significant series in their own right – there will be opportunity for the likes of James Bracey, Dan Lawrence and maybe Ollie Robinson to lay their credentials on the table.
They will do so in an England team playing in front of spectators for the first time since the summer of 2019. The stands might only be 25% full for this game but it will feel like normality is returning, slowly but surely. Long may that road to normality continue.
When: Wednesday June 2, 2021. 11:00am Local Time
Where: Lord's, Marylebone
What to expect: The weeks of wet, overcast weather that heralded the start of the English summer in bleak fashion have gone – for now – and the days leading up to the game have been sunny and warm. That may mean the pitch is better for batting than it otherwise might have been but as is generally the case at Lord's, there should be some assistance for the fast-bowlers.
Without the all-round talents of Ben Stokes to balance their side, England are set to play just four frontline bowlers in this game with Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence and debutant James Bracey making up the middle order. Who two of those four bowlers will be is the question given that James Anderson and Stuart Broad are certain to take the new ball. It appears that either Ollie Robinson or Craig Overton will occupy the number eight spot while the other position is down to whether England want to play the spin of Jack Leach. If not, Mark Wood is a likely starter.
Possible XI: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root, Ollie Pope, Dan Lawrence, James Bracey, Craig Overton/Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood/Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
New Zealand also still have to decide on the balance of their team and whether to play four frontline fast-bowlers, as they have done in recent times, or pick three and Mitchell Santner's left-arm spin. If Santner does not play, Matt Henry is likely to deputise for Trent Boult who is spending some time at home with his family. The other decision for the tourists is whether Colin De Grandhomme or Daryl Mitchell occupy the all-rounder's spot at number seven.
Possible XI:Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling, Colin De Grandhomme/Daryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner/Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner