First, apologies for not writing in some time. I’ve tended to either be too busy to sit down long enough or too uninspired to write anything even vaguely coherent. (That last one may still be the case, we shall see.) Anyway, here follow my belated thoughts on England’s 2-0 series victory against New Zealand.
Despite the scoreline, there was a lot of criticism during the series of England’s approach and I do think that some of it was warranted. In the first Test, the focus was mainly on England’s very slow scoring rate in the first innings. This criticism was completely unwarranted as the rest of the Test showed: it was hard to bat on that wicket and England’s first innings score turned out to be not only the slowest of the match, but also the highest.
More reasonable, however, was the criticism of Cook in the second Test. It was a match in which the first day was entirely lost to rain and one which England thoroughly dominated. But Cook declined to enforce the follow-on despite that and even after deciding to bat again, England showed no signs of wanting to win. They batted very slowly on the third evening and very late into the fourth day, despite rain forecast on day five. To an extent this was vindicated as England did manage to win, albeit with very little time left before the rain set in on the last day. Cook’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was at least reasonable: he wanted the New Zealand left arm bowlers to give Swanny a bit more rough going into the last innings. Given that England’s lead was not actually over two hundred (the lead required to enforce the follow-on was reduced to 150 after the first day was washed out) this is at least understandable, though at the time I was inclined to disagree with it.
But the overall mentality of England after that point was very troubling. The plan was very clearly to try to make the match safe, despite the extreme unlikeliness of New Zealand ever putting up a challenge and the knowledge that more time was likely to be lost to rain. This was made clear not merely by the lateness of the declaration, though Cook did set New Zealand at least 150 more runs than were ever going to be needed, but by the fields set in the fourth innings. With New Zealand chasing over 460 to win, Cook could have been very aggressive; runs were not at all relevant at that stage. But he did not attack until very late in the innings, preferring instead the more defensive fields for most of the fourth day. This was entirely the wrong message to send.
But apart from that, there was a lot about which England could be happy in the series. In particular, Graeme Swann showed that he was back to full fitness and is as potent as ever ahead of the Ashes. Stuart Broad also continued the return to form he started to show in New Zealand. But most of all England will be pleased with Jimmy Anderson. He did not have a great winter (though that is by his rather lofty standards), however he was at his absolute best at Lord’s and got the ball to swing prodigiously. The batting left a bit more to be desired, but a lot of that has to go to the way New Zealand bowled. Their seamers were very good in both matches and got plenty of swing themselves.
Whilst the result was largely expected, it will be disappointing for New Zealand after how well they did at home against England back in March. In the home series they fared quite well with the bat, putting up large scores in both the first and last Tests and comfortably securing a draw in the second. With the ball swinging more in England, however, they looked hopelessly out of their depth. They had one partnership of note, when Broad and Steven Finn lost their line in the first innings at Lord’s. Not only were they troubled by swing, they could not handle Swann turning the ball out of the footholes generated by their own left arm pacemen. Their struggles with the bat were reminiscent of their tour of South Africa and it is something they need to fix very quickly.