1ST TEST | England again taught simple lessons in Test cricket
Updated: Nov 26, 2019
Ahead of day five, England’s most experienced player in this team told the media that "we don’t just believe we can save this game, we expect to.”
When Stuart Broad said these words, one wonders whether he really meant them. Naturally, he could say little else, certainly nothing negative. Or perhaps this was part of England’s newfound optimism under the newly appointed Head Coach, Chris Silverwood.
In one way, Broad is correct - for 201 overs, he’d watched New Zealand rack up 615 runs, including a maiden test-century for their number eight, Mitchell Santner. There was nothing in this pitch that said England should not have been able to bat through the day to secure a draw.
This was not a wicket which was turning square and New Zealand lost their number one strike bowler in Trent Boult to injury before lunch. This did not stop England finding a way to get themselves out and fall to a damaging defeat by an innings and 65 runs.
Yes, people will say that this is a young and inexperienced batting line-up but again there was a sense of deja-vu about proceedings.
For much of the final day, England managed to negate any threat but every time they appeared to be comfortable, a wicket fell. Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Joe Denly will classify themselves as unfortunate in their dismissals but certainly Root and Stokes could have left the balls that got them out.
Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler will not want to see their dismissals ever again. Pope must have nearly pulled his back out trying to reach an incredibly wide full toss and Buttler watched a yorker hit the base of off stump.
Anyone tuning into this match on the fifth day and had not known what had gone before would have thought, after seeing those two dismissals in particular, this was the final match of a bruising and physically arduous overseas tour. This is however, the first game of two and England are 1-0 down.
The fact is Joe Root and Co have lost another Test match, and have failed to win another Test series. England’s one series win in Test cricket this year will have been against Ireland in a one-off match at Lord’s, a game they were in danger of losing at times.
And while everyone will revel in England’s World Cup win in July, against the same opposition who just taught them how to play Test cricket, it is clear they are a long way off from being the best in the longest format of the game.
Question marks again loom large over Joe Root’s head as captain – his form with the bat is currently painful and his batting average as skipper is worrying at best, and alarming at worst.
The fact that Jofra Archer bowled at about 10 mph below what we know he can do tells us what? That Root cannot get the best out of players perhaps?
However, inevitably the next question is: who do you give it to?
And that is one of the biggest problems.
Buttler is barely scoring enough runs as it is whilst Broad went wicketless in the Test, and if Anderson returns he is far from undroppable should he fail to perform over the next few months. Ben Stokes almost single-handedly saved England's pride in the Ashes and is consistently displaying the grit and mindset severely lacking in his teammates to play Test cricket. Yet, England supporters would be reluctant to see him given the job when he is performing so admirably. The only other candidate is Rory Burns who captained Surrey to the First Division title fifteen months ago but he has played just 13 Test matches for his country.
The options are not plentiful.
Root has been, and probably still is, England’s best batsman in terms of ability but it’s been a while since that last shone through in what has been for him, and his team, a poor twelve months in Tests.
A year ago almost to the day, England beat Sri Lanka 3-0 in the subcontinent. People at the time thought they were onto something, but it was a brief ray of light. The man of the series, Ben Foakes - remember him? - was discarded two Tests later.
England have not necessarily got the team selection wrong here, although as much as I like Sam Curran and Chris Woakes, I am not sure either should make it into the team on away tours where both seem to struggle, especially on flat decks.
But given the result, it does allow England to make changes and to give some of the fringe players a game. It will be disappointing if England exhibit similar problems with little response. In a series relatively low in post-Ashes pressure, with only hardcore nocturnal viewers watching at home, the situation is ripe for trials of the likes of Saqib Mahmood or Matthew Parkinson.
On day one of this game, the consensus was that England had returned to old fashioned Test match cricket but New Zealand showed them they had not. They ground England into the dirt.
One of the most telling stats of all is in their last 24 Test matches, England have posted a score of 400+ on three occasions. New Zealand on the other hand, have achieved the same feat in seven of their last 14 matches.
New Zealand play on flatter decks and England play in tougher conditions against the swinging ball at home, but batsmen, on both sides, should have been licking their lips at the thought of playing on the Mount Maunganui wicket.
One team most definitely did, while the other fancied it for a day and half before attacking instincts got the better of them. Even if England did throw away their chances of winning this game on the second morning (somewhat debatable given they reduced New Zealand to 197-5 at one point), they should still have had enough in the tank to get themselves over the line come the final day.
Silverwood’s reign as England coach can only improve following this result but despite the changes, the same questions are still there. On a flat deck do England have the firepower to bowl teams out? Do they have the discipline to take advantage of easy batting conditions?
This England team keep talking about long-term planning for the next Ashes (which is some way off) – but to beat Australia in their own back yard they will need to find answers to both questions.