The hope of last night that England might bowl very well and give themselves a chance for a remarkable victory was always likely to be a vain one. But it would have been nice if England had made an effort to do something to resist New Zealand in the morning session. Not only would it have been better for the supporters, they might not have found themselves in the rather parlous position that they do now. Instead, England came out without any clear plan and from there the wheels came off very quickly. Not only was there not an attempt to force more wickets, there did not even seem to be a coherent attempt to choke off the runs at first. The field setting was just odd. By the time Monty Panesar had bought the wicket of Doug Brownlie New Zealand were already looking comfortable and the arrival of Brendan McCullum saw them tee off. Not only did the bowlers look helpless and Cook clueless, there did not seem to be any effort made by any of them to do something. They just sat back and seemed to take the view that eventually he would declare. That, far more than the actual result, was the most infuriating aspect of England’s performance. All notion of discipline appeared to collapse and an utter shambles was the result. It was a disgraceful effort and the worst I have seen from England recently.
It may be harsh on Cook, who is still a very new captain, but it is hard to imagine that happening in such an important match under Strauss’s leadership. As bad as things got in the UAE, England never appeared to just give up in the field and in fact did a very good job of keeping it close. Even the following summer as South Africa piled on the runs at the Oval, the worst that could be said was that England did not appear to have a plan, but they kept coming in and at least tried to bowl well enough to keep the runs down. Strauss’s captaincy was not perfect, but he never lost control in the field. Cook will no doubt grow into the role, but right now this is very reminiscent of England’s 0-5 ODI series in India in late 2011. The irrelevance of the pyjama-only tour meant that it did not attract a lot of attention, but Cook had trouble keeping everyone in line then too. With a long double Ashes series coming up, it is something at which Cook and Flower need to look.
England were given 143 overs to bat out the draw, something which they have only managed three times before in their history. (And one of those was the Timeless Test in Durban in 1939.) They have made a decent effort, but Cook and Trott both went to loose shots after getting set. Both batsmen really ought to have gone on after getting set and both played very uncharacteristic shots. It leaves England in an almost impossible position. Ian Bell has batted doggedly for eight runs off an Boycott-esque 89 deliveries, but England do not have a lot of batting left. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are both inexperienced and short of time in the middle. Matt Prior is very good at counterattacking, but England need crease occupation. Stuart Broad is hopelessly short of confidence and throwing his bat at everything. And Steven Finn is already in and out as nightwatchman.
To say that the odds are against England would be a massive understatement. They would need one of their young players to play the sort of innings that Faf du Plessis did for South Africa in Adelaide, but it looks almost vanishingly unlikely. New Zealand will complete a famous and deserved victory tomorrow, probably before tea.