After the first day was washed out, England will probably be left hoping that the third fourth and fifth days will also see nothing but rain. This was probably the worst single day of cricket I have seen from England since 2009; even the debacles in the UAE had more positives than this performance.
I said in my preview that New Zealand could be a dangerous side and although they did show that today, England were simply far too careless. The fact that the spinner Bruce Martin ended up with four wickets on a pitch that wasn’t turning tells the story all too clearly. It’s hard to know exactly where to put the blame for England’s batting performance. They should have had another warmup match, but I don’t think the lack of one is a sufficient explanation. The fact that the entire first day was lost may have also taken a toll on concentration, but that is purely speculative and it certainly did not seem to hurt New Zealand. I worry that in fact England simply thought that there was nothing in the pitch or bowlers to concern them and paid dearly for that thought.
That said, some credit must also go to New Zealand. Neil Wagner in particular bowled very well and as a group they had clear plans in mind and showed very good discipline in bowling to those plans. Brendan McCullum, controversy about being handed the captaincy notwithstanding, did an excellent job. Never could he have hoped that England would so carelessly fall into the traps he set, but he and his bowlers did everything right to set them up. This is not a surprise in itself, but something England did not seem to have recognised.
What was rather more of a surprise was how well New Zealand batted. Certainly England were deflated after being bowled out for such a low total, but there was not a lot expected from Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton and they went about showing just how tame the pitch was. New Zealand have had a lot of problems with their opening combinations in the past, but Rutherford in particular looked very composed and competent on his debut. It’s far too early to say too much about him, but seeing someone finally succeed at the top of the order must give New Zealand supporters a lot of hope.
England bowled fairly well in the evening session, but it took them a bit to get going and with so few runs on the board the bowlers really had little chance. Stuart Broad was probably the pick of the bowlers; he was the most economical and also produced three clear chances. Unfortunately for England, two were dropped (one a sitter) and the other flew through a vacant third slip. It was very much that kind of day for England. Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn also caused problems, but never managed to actually take a wicket or even produce a clear chance.
England were bowled out so fast that the loss of the entire first day now doesn’t make a lot of difference, though it does give England at least a sniff of a chance of a draw. They will probably have to approach the third day as a clean slate and although they are utterly up against it, they will have to get whatever they can out of this innings and then see where they are. They may take some heart that on this ground a year ago South Africa were bowled out for around 230 in the first innings before putting up 450-5 in the third innings. Obviously we saw last summer that England are not as good as South Africa, but it does suggest that the pitch won’t get much worse for batting as the match goes on. (New Zealand also got off to a very good start in their chase in that match, before the weather intervened.) The next three days will be a very interesting test of England’s resilience and whether New Zealand can make the most of a good situation, something with which they have often struggled. The match isn’t over, but England will really have to improve to get anything out of it. And maybe do a rain dance for good measure…