It was only thanks to the last day heroics of Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Monty Panesar that England avoided losing a first series in New Zealand in nearly thirty years. England did not have a good series overall and in some respects never seemed to really get going. They started the series disastrously by succumbing to 162 all out on a very flat pitch and although they then batted very well to save that Test, they were helped by losing four sessions to the rain. They did play well in the second Test, but could not take their only chance to force a result before the rains set in.
England’s batting, although being what saved them on the last day, really let them down in this series. None of the pitches were in any way minefields and there was no excuse at all for being bowled out so cheaply in Dunedin. They can at least point to some swing in Auckland, but there was still not enough to justify the ensuing collapse. New Zealand bowled well throughout the series, but it was not until the last Test that they actually looked threatening on their own merits. England simply batted very poorly in one innings and fairly poorly in another and in a three Test series that is going to be problematic. The lack of preparation may have been partly to blame; there was only one first-class match ahead of the series and when Jonny Bairstow had to come in for the third Test he did so having not played a first-class match since the second Test in India.
But whilst that may explain some of the team performance and that of some of the players, it does not explain all of it and it is hard to escape the notion that England were simply not up for it. The way the team behaved in the field when they were behind in the third Test was a disgrace and even though they came back to show a lot of heart and fight on the last day it spoke volumes about their attitude. This is something on which Alastair Cook will need to work as captain; it has happened before when he was leading the ODI side and it is hard to imagine that it would have happened under Strauss. It is still early in his captaincy and I think he will improve, but he needs to do so quickly and this is a further suggestion that Strauss retired too soon.
England’s bowling was better than the batting, but not by as much as England would have liked. In addition to the poor attitude displayed in the final Test, they struggled throughout to make the ball swing as much as they would have liked and in the last Test they were actually outbowled by New Zealand’s seamers. The pitches were generally flat and the Kookaburra ball does not swing as much as the Dukes one does, but they also bowled consistently too short and this was exposed in Auckland. It was a very lacklustre performance overall.
For all of England’s faults, however, New Zealand played quite well. Brendan McCullum, controversy about his appointment aside, led them very well and was comfortably the better of the two captains. The seamers bowled consistently well on generally unhelpful pitches (though it was not until the third Test that they really excelled in the manner that I had been expecting) and the team not only fought hard with the bat in the second Test, they batted very well in the first and last Tests to put themselves into dominant positions twice. I was keen before the series to see how their new openers would get on and although Peter Fulton looked scrappy at the start he finished the series with back-to-back centuries. Forming consistently large partnerships will still take some work, but this does look like the best opening pair that New Zealand have had in some time. They certainly deserved the share of the spoils that they got and probably deserved to win the series. Without question they deserve to be ranked higher than eighth (which was true before the series began too) and the fact that this result has not moved them up the table shows just how poor the ICC rankings can be.
Although I don’t like the back-to-back series in general, in this case it will be very interesting to see if New Zealand can continue to play well in the return leg in May. It is fair to expect that England will be better and that New Zealand will be faced with a much tougher task. It should tell us a lot about whether this New Zealand team can play more consistently well and challenge teams away from home. For England, it will be vital to put in a strong show ahead of the Ashes.