Prior to the first match in New Zealand, hopes were high for England’s winter test season overseas.
Popularity in the U.K was flourishing after an exhilarating Ashes series and glorious World Cup triumph. A new head coach, Chris Silverwood, was at the helm, ready to lead the team to success. Young talents Jofra Archer, Dom Sibley, and Ollie Pope were all included in the squad, poised to make their mark.
This glimmer of hope, after the crushing defeat inflicted upon England last Sunday at the Bay Oval, was quickly extinguished.
Patient and effective, New Zealand dismantled England with decisive displays with both bat and ball in hand. Recurring flaws seem to have trailed England for the past 10 years. Apple Crumbles have greater structural integrity than their batting line up. The bowling performance was once again devoid of spark and inspiration, exposed for all to see.
All the more frustratingly, England started the match strongly. Rory Burns and Sibley weathered the early overs, putting on a tenacious fifty run partnership (a feat that England have seldom achieved over the past couple of years). This was subsequently backed up with (somewhat) big scores from Joe Denly, maintaining his form from the Ashes, and the talismanic Ben Stokes, playing another sublime innings of 91 and simultaneously reinforcing his credentials for the BBC Sports Personality Victor.
England closed the first day of play with a fine score of 241-4, but the tail end was easily burnt through by the Kiwi bowling attack on Day 2. Nevertheless, a final score of 353 appeared competitive at the time. However, it could, and probably should, have been more if Joe Root and Sam Curran and not lost their wickets so cheaply.
This promising performance initially continued into the bowling. By the end of the 2nd day, the crucial New Zealand wickets of Taylor and Williamson had fallen, and the hosts were eventually reduced to 127 for 4. England appeared firmly in control.
What followed in response was a masterclass in Test Cricket. A sublime display from the Host’s middle order, in particular, BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner, made England toil in the field for two days of play. Wicketkeeper Watling ended his with 205 runs, enduring a colossal 661 minutes of play and facing an incredible 473 balls.
Patience, guile and skill were wholly absent from England’s bowling attack. The potent pace that had featured throughout the summer was nowhere to be seen. Archer and Stuart Broad were bystanders, unable to maintain any form of pressure on the batsmen.
When New Zealand declared on 615 runs, the game, though in favour of the hosts, was still salvageable. The wicket appeared flat and regular, not yielding swing or bounce for the pace bowler.
England’s spin, Jack Leach, had managed only two wickets throughout the innings. It was entirely feasible that England could bat out a day and a half. Or so we thought.
England’s batting was the very antithesis of New Zealand’s – erratic, volatile and ultimately unsuccessful, it lacked the tenacity and patience displayed by their opponents. Some of the shots played, sweeps, slogs and loose drives, would have been more at home in a fast-paced 20 over match than the 5-day marathon that is test cricket.
As it was, the tourists were embarrassingly bowled out for a paltry 197 runs, 8 less than Watling alone had managed just a day before. Where England’s bowlers were lethargic, their opponents were energised, relentlessly removing whatever resistance was put before them. “New Zealand have just shown England precisely how to play Test cricket” assessed the BBC’s Jonathan Agnew. Indeed, the Kiwis possessed everything England lacked in droves.
There is the possibility of salvaging the 2-test series in Hamilton on the 28th, but this is an eventuality that looks increasingly remote. The prevailing optimism before the tour has dwindled to a flicker of hope. Large questions continue to loom over the head of England captain Joe Root – after a disappointing summer, he again failed to impress, mustering 13 runs between his two innings.
Earlier this year, England showed the world they could play one day cricket. They now need to prove they can do so in the grueling test format. And if they fail to address the glaring faults that continue to plague them, they have a long, long winter ahead.