PREVIEW | Exuberant England on cusp of new dawn
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
There are multiple recipes for a successful Test side. Some include world class spinners, others an aggressive seam trio. Some include a combative opening partnership, others an attritional top order. For what it’s worth, England have the ingredients to cook up a success both in this series and moving forwards, but the elements must be carefully combined to bring out their potential.
England begin their two match Test series against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui later tonight. Their first outing since their Ashes stalemate, a new cycle has dawned in English cricket with Trevor Bayliss making way for Chris Silverwood. Of the 16-man squad, 4 have yet to play a Test for their country. Many more have played fewer than 10. But despite their inexperience, these players are capable of kick-starting something special.
First comes the youth. Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope look set to feature in the first Test, while Zak Crawley, Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood will soak up the occasion from the sidelines.
Plainly, selectors Ed Smith and James Taylor are rewarding County Championship success and spotting potential. Sibley was the stand out batter in the Championship last year, averaging 69.98 for Warwickshire and part of the Championship’s best opening partnership.
Out for most of 2019 with a shoulder injury, Pope returned for a handful of games and averaged over 80. He will get a prolonged opportunity in an England shirt, likely down the order unlike his India exploits. Crawley will forgo his place for Kent team mate Joe Denly despite scoring a century in England’s warm up match, but he, Parkinson and Mahmood will be an integral part of England’s plans moving forwards.
Then comes England’s old hand. Stuart Broad’s resplendence was clear to see in the Ashes. The second-highest English wicket taker of all time claimed 29 wickets in the Ashes and kept David Warner on a short lead throughout. Jofra Archer mixed pace with aggression and the Fortnite-playing-paceman adds an alternative option for Joe Root with searing bounce. Sam Curran will likely be preferred to Chris Woakes given the former’s ability to move the ball laterally, and having run drinks on for most of the Ashes, he deserves a chance centre-stage.
Then comes heart throb Jack Leach. The bespectacled left-armer known as much for his batting exploits as for his bowling. His 12 Ashes wickets went under the radar somewhat, averaging an impressive 25.83. In truth, England have lacked a penetrative spinner for a while and Leach will have a chance to prove he is the man.
As for the blockbuster middle order, Jonny Bairstow can probably consider himself unlucky to be dropped given his glovework was tidy in the Ashes and Buttler failed to make a notable impression with the bat in the Ashes, averaging 24. However, Buttler’s inclusion as an aggressive late middle order batsman to take the game away from opposition is justified if a platform is laid before him. Where many names are pencilled in, Ben Stokes’ is aggressively etched in permanent marker. His Edgbaston heroics speak for themselves.
Finally Captain Root, who looks set to move back to four. Whilst his tenure at three would have been more successful if it weren’t for a fallible opening partnership in the Ashes, extra overs on the ball and in the bowlers’ legs will doubtless help England’s best player. His 50 to 100 conversion rate has been notoriously poor recently, but he has an opportunity away from the blinding glare of ICC World Championship against an older ball to spend time at the crease and regain confidence.
So, it all sounds rather grand on paper. But England must contend with a New Zealand side who are yet to shake World Cup misery. Trent Boult and Tim Southee elicit serious movement on their own turf that will test England’s lack of experience. Kane Williamson is the 3rd ranked Test batsman in the world for good reason, and quality is littered throughout the side - BJ Watling, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, the list goes on.
But there are no freaks. No Steve Smith-esque punishers. This is what England must remind themselves. The key to England’s success with bat and ball will be patience. The English batting game plan relies on a strong foundation which enables the pinch hitters to play their part in the latter end of the first new ball’s life. Seldom has finding an established opening partnership been more important; Sibley and Rory Burns must continue do what they have done so well for a few years in the Championship – bat long.
With the ball, Joe Root was criticised at times in the Ashes for being too fickle. Who can blame him when trying manufacture ways to dismiss the best since Bradman? Yet here we have a dry run of an Ashes series still two years away. With a Kookubura ball, the English bowlers must stick to plans and remain strong during inevitable patches of adversity. Archer will lift the tempo during low ebbs, Broad will intermittently return scorching spells, Curran will move the new ball and Leach play his part later in the test, but they must all remember their part within the scripts.
An important winter lies ahead for English cricket. New Zealand followed by South Africa is no easy task, but one that is necessarily testing for the new wave of Test cricketers. A heap of patience, pinch of aggression and touch of flair is required to deliver a performance befitting of the potential in the side. Time will be given to bed in for this new breed, but they have an opportunity to display the hallmarks of a fantastic side.