|New Zealand 246-3: Conway 136*, Nicholls 46*, Robinson 2-50|
|England: Yet to bat|
England’s first day of international action this summer was dominated by an assured century on Test debut by New Zealand’s Devon Conway at Lord’s.
As England played in front of a home crowd for the first time in almost two years, left-hander Conway made a chanceless unbeaten 136.
He shared an unbroken partnership of 132 with Henry Nicholls, who ended the day on 46 as the determined Black Caps reached 246-3.
A four-man England pace attack, without omitted spinner Jack Leach, stuck to their task, but were largely blunted on a flat, slowish pitch.
Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson, also winning his first cap, was naggingly accurate to pick up two wickets.
Mark Wood bowled with high pace throughout, while veterans James Anderson and Stuart Broad had spells of tormenting New Zealand.
However, thanks mainly to Conway, England already know they are likely to have to bat very well in order to get back into the contest.
Fans make welcome return
The coronavirus pandemic meant England’s summer of 2020 was locked inside a bio-secure bubble, with home fans not seen since the final Ashes Test of 2019.
The return of about 6,500 spectators gave Lord’s a comforting feeling of familiarity. People trickled in from St John’s Wood underground station, ticket touts loitered and champagne corks were popped on to the outfield.
The absence of the injured Ben Stokes, along with rested pair Sam Curran and Chris Woakes meant England had a decision to make when it came to balancing their side, with Leach the one squeezed out.
How his omission affected the action is debatable given how well Conway played.
However, England needed captain Joe Root to bowl 12 overs of his off-spin, the pitch has shown signs of turn and a negative result will lead to questions for the hosts over their team selection.
Cool Conway makes his mark
Although they have not won a Test series in England for 22 years, New Zealand were always likely to be stiff opposition – they will meet India in the World Test Championship final after this two-match series.
On their first match at Lord’s since the agony of losing the 2019 World Cup final, they were led by the classy Conway, a 29-year-old born in South Africa.
After several years playing club cricket in the UK – he once played in the same Taunton Deane side as Leach – he qualified to play for New Zealand last year and has a phenomenal record in limited-overs internationals.
He immediately looked at home at this level, with flowing cover drives a feature of his innings. There was a period of discomfort against some short bowling from Wood, while an edge fell short of third slip on 45 and another was tickled past leg slip on 77, but neither could be classed as a chance.
Conway reached three figures with a flourishing whip off the pads, the tourists celebrating with gleeful noise from the away balcony.
All around him, the New Zealand batters were patient and determined, none more so than Nicholls, who left the ball with great care.
By the end, Conway had moved to the highest score made at Lord’s by a Test debutant.
England forced to work hard
This is the first home Test since 2012 that England have not chosen a specialist spinner, and losing the toss meant their four fast bowlers were faced with the prospect of a day’s hard graft.
They did not shirk from their task and, while Anderson and Broad were typically threatening, it was Robinson and Wood who were particularly impressive.
Using the attributes that has made him prolific in county cricket – accuracy, bounce and seam movement – Robinson had Tom Latham play on to his stumps and trapped a skittish Ross Taylor palpably lbw.
After a first spell in which he averaged in excess of 93mph, Wood charged in all day and deserved better than to end wicketless.
James Bracey, keeping wicket on debut in the absence of Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes, was tidy to the point his glovework was barely noticed.
That his appeal for a stumping off Root against Nicholls was England’s biggest source of excitement in the evening session says much about how rare opportunities had become.