More haste, less speed would aid England's top order

If you steered your car into a tree and emerged unscathed, you wouldn't congratulate yourself on your driving.

And if you crashed your ship into a rock and swam to safety, you wouldn't congratulate yourself on your sailing.

So England, despite largely getting away with their errors on day one at Lord's, should not allow it to mask their continuing top-order frailty.

The fact is, had Shaminda Eranga not put down a relatively straightforward chance offered by Jonny Bairstow on 11, England would have been 102 for 5 and in serious trouble. Better sides will take such chances and England will know that, if they are to reach No. 1 in the Test rankings, they will have to play better sides in conditions that suit them.

England's problem is that such top order failures are the norm rather than the exception. In 21 of their last 34 Test innings, England have lost their third wicket before reaching 75 and, in several memorable cases, they have been the beneficiaries of dropped chances for allowing them back into the game. The example of Joe Root, dropped on 0 before making a match-defining century in the Ashes Test at Cardiff is an especially pertinent example, though Moeen Ali, dropped on 36 before making 155 in the most recent Test, is another example.

They have shuffled their side and provided opportunities for several candidates. But England remain reliant upon their middle-order bailing them out time after time and question marks over at least two of the top five remain.

Where once Test batsmen would have reacted to a surface like this - grindingly slow - with application and patience, the modern England side seem to know only one way to react to adversity: with aggression. But, on a slow pitch and in conditions offering just enough lateral movement to encourage bowlers, such a tactic is akin to driving as fast as possible to get through fog.

Perhaps that is a bit harsh. Alastair Cook produced a fine innings to keep his side from imploding, but while his skills are now seen as somewhat outdated, many of the younger players appear reluctant to accumulate in such fashion. Instead of learning from the example of the top run-scorer in England's Test history, they seem to want to do everything quicker.

None of this should detract from Sri Lanka's performance. Dealt a poor hand by losing the toss in such circumstances, they played that hand with admirable sense and skill. Realising, at least after the first hour, that they had little chance of blowing England away on such a surface, they instead resolved to play upon England's lack of patience. So Alex Hales, having gone 22 balls without scoring, was seduced into attempting a hideous slog-sweep off the second delivery he faced from the spin of Rangana Herath and edged to slip.

Sensing that Nick Compton might be tentative - even his nearest and dearest will understand that this game represents a final chance at this level - he was invited to drive at one outside off stump. The resultant stroke - half-hearted, with slow feet and tight hands - brought only an edge. He goes into the second innings a man on death row hoping for a pardon from a Texan governor.

Cook and Joe Root both paid the price for playing across straight balls - a sign, arguably, of impatience - while James Vince missed one that came in a fraction on the Lord's slope. These are early days, but this has been an unconvincing start to Vince's Test career. He has yet to counter the allegation that he is an unusually elegant destroyer of mediocre bowling, but unproven against better. That County Championship average of 28.57 last year continues to beg questions. As does the gulf of 20 runs between his average in Division One (about 30) and Division Two (about 50).

Moeen Ali was dismissed to a defensive prod - the result of a fine bit of bowling - but had earlier survived a lavish backfoot waft at a back-of-a-length delivery from Suranga Lakmal on 12 that spoke volumes for the approach of this England side. They are fun to watch, for sure, but they also have a reckless streak that will keep opponents interested.

But Bairstow, wonderfully confident at present, rescued England. There will be days when the thick edges that flew through gully or slip - he survived such moments on 38 and 68 - might go to hand and days when the leg-before decision that he survived on 56 will go the other way. But such is the conviction with which he is currently playing his strokes that those edges fly hard and, such is the speed that he scores - and runs between the wickets - that any failure to take a chance off him will soon be punished.

Whether pitches like this give Test cricket the best chance of surviving in the modern age is debatable. Slow, low and promoting discipline and patience above all other skills it was the sort of surface that, a couple of decade ago, might have been acceptable. But now, in the age of T20, falling attendances and, it would seem, lowering attention spans, it was the sort of surface that benefits neither batsman nor bowlers. The sort of surface that may well hasten Test cricket's decline.

Test cricket has changed. There hasn't been a match that lasted five days in England since New Zealand played at Lord's a year ago. And there hasn't been a draw in England since India found themselves confronted with a pudding of a surface at Trent Bridge almost two years ago. What once seemed normal now seems out of time. And while players cannot be blamed for reacting to such circumstances with attritional cricket - they have to adapt to the conditions they are given - the authorities that stage these matches can be blamed for providing such surfaces.

Some will point to the full house - despite the continuing redevelopment work in the Warner Stand, the attendance on the first day here was only 3,000 fewer than the attendance from four days in Durham - and the close-of-play scorecard and claim there is nothing to worry about. Others will claim that, in Test cricket at least, there is still room for this sort of pitch and the old-fashioned cricket it tends to encourage. And perhaps they are right: plenty of modern cricket is aimed at a young audience; maybe there is still a place in the game for "a purist's" pitch.

But the number of "purists" is dropping. At almost every venue around the world, the number of people prepared to sit through hours of attrition in the knowledge that it will eventually build into a compelling encounter is dropping. Those who were entertained are those who are already converted and that may well not be a sustainable demographic. Test cricket needs to attract a new audience; Test cricket has to do a bit better than this.