England 2-0 New Zealand

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.

Lord’s, day three: England 180-6

It was finally England’s day at Lord’s and it was so close to being decisively England’s day. England at one point led by 184 runs with eight wickets in hand, but finished it effectively 205-6 and need Ian Bell to bat well with the tail tomorrow.

Right up to the last half an hour, however, everything had been going England’s way. England started the day by getting Brendan McCullum in the first over and from there the Kiwis collapsed as dramatically as England had done the previous day. New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 52 runs and their last seven for exactly sixty going back to the dismissal of Dean Brownlie last night. As would be expected with those figures, England did bowl better. Stuart Broad in particular was consistently the right length and not coincidentally was consistently threatening. It was he who got the wicket of McCullum, admittedly to an ill-advised swipe outside off. The bowling figures would suggest that Steven Finn also improved dramatically, but his was more a case of it being better to be lucky than good. He was still too short; a pitch map late in the innings showed no balls pitched full of a length. Broad was comfortably the better bowler of the two, but Finn managed to mop up the tail.

The standout performer with the ball was James Anderson, however. He got a much-deserved bit of luck when Kane Williamson strangled one down leg, but picked up his five-fer with an unplayable delivery to Bruce Martin. He finished with staggering figures of 24-11-47-5. His eleven maidens were four more than the rest of the attack managed combined. He now has 303 Test wickets and has a chance to go past Fred Trueman when he bowls in the second innings.

England very nearly managed to bat New Zealand out of the game in the evening session. There was a wobble before tea when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton were both out with the score on 36, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root batted superbly the blunt the New Zealand attack and build the lead. In a match where only Ross Taylor had looked comfortable for the first two and a half days, it was a fantastic performance. It was so close to putting New Zealand out of the match, though it may yet prove to have been enough.

Tim Southee deserves a lot of credit for continuing to bowl testing deliveries even when his cause seemed lost. He did for New Zealand much what Anderson did for England. But England will be a touch concerned with how softly the four wickets went down before stumps. Root was a bit lazy with a defensive shot and edged the ball onto the stumps, then Bairstow got into a bit of a tangle trying to play an admittedly good delivery. Matt Prior continued a shocking game by tamely pulling a ball straight to square leg and Trott’s resistance was ended when he tried to drive a ball that was spinning back into him. In every case the New Zealanders bowled well, but England were just a bit too casual.

England’s lead is at 205 at stumps, so they are still in a good position. Batting has seldom been easy in this match and the ball is turning and bouncing very sharply already. Anderson and Broad can reasonably expect the ball to continue swing in the fourth innings and Swann will be able to turn it out of the footholes created by the New Zealand left-armers. Williamson showed that the turn from there is very sharp and there is some bounce to go with it. England are 27 runs away from setting New Zealand the highest score of the match to win and certainly anything more than 250 will be very tricky. But New Zealand do have an opening now and the match is far from over. The key tomorrow morning will probably be Ian Bell. He was ill for most of today and he will have to bat with the tail tomorrow. He needs to get some runs as England cannot expect much from the tailenders.

Lord’s, day two: New Zealand 153-4

New Zealand are probably on top after two days of play at Lord’s, but today was highlighted by Jimmy Anderson taking his 300th Test wicket, only the fourth English bowler to do so. He was far and away the standout performer for England today; England needed something big after being bowled out cheaply and Anderson came up with a wicket in the first over of the innings. He bowled beautifully throughout the day and not only got his 300th, but he then got the vital wicket of Ross Taylor as he was threatening to take the game away from England. Anderson could have even had a fourth, as Matt Prior dropped a fairly simple chance.

At the start of the day, New Zealand once again bowled very well to England. Although Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow batted well for the first hour of the day, the first wicket triggered a dramatic collapse. It was actually not a good delivery; Tim Southee pushed a ball down the leg side to Root, but the batsmen could only get a nick through to the keeper. This was about the time the second new ball started to swing as well and Matt Prior got a borderline unplayable delivery from Southee next ball for a golden duck. From there the lower order stood very little chance; Southee and Neil Wagner had the ball swinging around corners and none of the bowlers made it into double figures. England were bowled out for 232 just after lunch; even in what looks like a low-scoring match it is almost certainly under par.

England needed to bowl well in response and although New Zealand showed quite clearly how to bowl, only Anderson seemed to be watching. He bowled very well, but the other two seamers did not. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that Steven Finn bowled only one good ball in the entire day. Finn is so tall that he can pitch the ball on a good or even a full length and still get enough bounce to trouble the batsmen. But he spent nearly the entire day today bowling short and in general wide and he was mercilessly punished by Taylor. Stuart Broad was little better, though he did improve as the day wore on and had more threatening spells. But his length was also wrong for most of the day and went for far too many runs.

Taylor did bat very well for his 66 and deserves a lot of credit for it, but the way Finn and Broad to him was utterly dire and it has put New Zealand in a far better position than they might or should have been. Finn especially needs to learn from the one wicket that he took today. It was the one of, if not the only ball that he properly pitched up and he trapped Dean Brownlie lbw. He has the continue to bowl full for the rest of the Test and apply pressure, if he does not improve then Tim Bresnan has to come into the side for the second Test.

Although New Zealand are on top, England should not panic just yet. Anderson bowled so well that they are still very much in the match. In fact, New Zealand are almost in the exact same position as England were at the start of the day; England’s fourth wicket fell on 157, New Zealand’s fell on 147. New Zealand will still likely get a first innings lead, England can hardly expect the Kiwi lower order to collapse as dramatically as England’s did, but New Zealand also need a first innings lead. There is already a lot of turn and bounce for Graeme Swann and New Zealand will have to bat last. If England can keep New Zealand to a lead of under fifty, and that is a big ‘if’, they will still be in a decent position. To do that, they will need Broad and Finn to bowl a lot better tomorrow than they did today.

Lord’s, day one: England 160-4

The Test summer has finally started! New Zealand are probably on top after a very interesting day of cricket. Neither side really dominated and the day was primarily one of attrition; New Zealand were not overly threatening for most of it, but it was very hard for England to score runs and New Zealand took wickets at important moments twice.

England’s slow scoring (exactly two an over) did prompt some criticism, but there was very little that they could do given the conditions. The pitch was flat, but on the slow side and the outfield was very slow making scoring difficult. New Zealand bowled well for the most part; they were only directly threatening for about an hour after lunch, but they were seldom wayward and generally put the batsmen under pressure. The ball swung for the first half of the day and England had to focus on seeing off the worst of the conditions; they could not try to increase the scoring rate without taking undue risks. Scoring at three an over was simply not feasible today and given that fact, England’s approach was very good. They worked hard to keep wickets in hand and to try to set themselves up for the rest of the Test. The conditions were actually not dissimilar to those England encountered on the first day in Dunedin a few months ago; there England did not reign themselves in and their subsequent collapse almost cost them the Test. They showed today that they learnt from that and have given themselves a chance to put up a decent score tomorrow.

The crucial moment of the day was when Jonathan Trott was out just before tea. It was a wicket against the run of play; England had done very well to get through a difficult period after lunch with only two wickets gone and Trott and Ian Bell were settling in and starting to score runs more freely. But an excellent delivery from Trent Boult forced Trott to play before taking the edge which was very well caught by a diving third slip. This forced England back onto the defensive with the new batsman coming in just before the tea interval and they then had to spend the better part of another hour consolidating again. Without that wicket, England would have had a chance to start dominating proceedings in the evening session and would have likely been on top at stumps and possibly in a very strong position.

The wicket of Ian Bell was also an important one, but unlike Trott it was a gift to New Zealand. Bell had worked very hard after coming in just after lunch in difficult conditions and by what would prove to be the penultimate over before stumps (actually the 79th in the day) he had ground out 31 off 133 deliveries. But he lost his patience and hung his bat rather tamely at a ball well wide of off stump. There was no need at all to play at it and it turned the game from being slightly in England’s favour to being more strongly in New Zealand’s favour. It was easily the most frustrating moment of the day as Bell threw away a session and a half of very good work.

Tomorrow should also be an interesting day. The second new ball will be due immediately and England have a new batsman at the crease in Jonny Bairstow. England also have two very inexperienced batsmen at the crease, though Joe Root has been in excellent form for Yorkshire and the Lions so far. They will need to consolidate more in the morning and must stick together and put on a decent partnership. Matt Prior is the next man in and if he can come to with wicket with England in a decent position then he can start to transfer the pressure over to New Zealand. It is hard to know how Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad will fare, but they will attack as well and it is important that England are in a position of comfort when they do so. The pitch itself looks like one on which a decent score is possible, but the overhead conditions may yet turn the match into a low scoring affair so it is hard to say what sort of score England need to be competitive. It is highly unlikely that anything under 325 will do, however, and that is still some way off.

England v New Zealand preview

The 2013 Test summer begins this Thursday when England play the first of two Tests against the visiting Kiwis. England are looking to show put their poor performance in New Zealand behind them and go into the Ashes on a high. It should be a good series, however, New Zealand showed in that series two months ago that they are a good team and if they can continue to perform consistently they will remain tough to beat.

There were few surprises in the twelve man squad England named for the first Test; Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan are both back from injury and they are replacing Monty Panesar and Chris Woakes. Other than that, England are unchanged from the team that played in Auckland at the end of March. The only question for Thursday is whether Bresnan or Steven Finn will play, but Finn is the likely candidate. He didn’t overwhelm anyone in New Zealand, but he did manage a six-wicket haul in the final Test and with Bresnan having only just returned from his elbow surgery I would be surprised if England decided to leave Finn out. The only reason why they might is if they wanted to get a look at Bresnan ahead of the Ashes, but I expect they would wait until the second Test to do any tinkering and even then only if England won at Lord’s. This another case where a third Test would do very nicely, but the ECB have only seen fit to schedule two. If Bresnan does not play, then hopefully England will send him up to Edgbaston to take part in Yorkshire’s Championship match there as he really needs to play one way or another.

The lack of any spare batsman in the squad confirmed that England would be playing both Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow in the middle order. They both made good scores for the Lions against New Zealand and Root has had an incredible start to the domestic season, so it’s a reasonable choice though it does seem like one which was made some time ago and is more fortunate than clever. Bairstow certainly and to a lesser extent Root will be under a bit of pressure during the series as one of them will miss out when Kevin Pietersen returns from injury. This has been no bad thing for Root in the past, but England will hope that it does not affect Bairstow as they do badly need the middle order to perform better than they did in New Zealand.

New Zealand don’t have very many selection questions either. There is certainly no pressing need to change the batting after the job they did against England in New Zealand. The bowlers were also generally successful and in fact Daniel Vettori has been left out of the squad after the job Bruce Martin did in the three Tests in March. Neil Wagner also had an excellent series, but his place in the XI is not quite so secure. Wagner was only in the side after Doug Bracewell injured his foot and although he kept his place throughout that series, it isn’t clear whether or not Bracewell will return to the side now. Wagner had the better figures of the two when both played at Derbyshire, but that was not against a strong batting lineup and Bracewell was selected for the match against the Lions as part of what looked like a full-strength New Zealand side. I don’t know as much about the New Zealand selectors, but I suspect it will be Bracewell for the first Test.

That New Zealand have the dilemma of Wagner v Bracewell is something of a luxury as both will be part of an attack that can certainly make life difficult for the England batsmen. But even without Pietersen, I think England will put on a better batting display than they did during most of the New Zealand series. All of the top order have been it at least decent if not very good form early in the season and all have had a decent amount of time in the middle. Because of the early season conditions favouring the bowlers I don’t expect too many really big team scores, but they should be less reliant on Alastair Cook this time and be better able to put up competitive totals.

England will also hope that their batsmen will not need to score as many runs this time. England’s seam attack did not seem to really ‘click’ in New Zealand, though part of that was that they didn’t get a lot of help from the pitch or conditions, and they need to do better in this series. England are at least back up to full strength and like New Zealand have the luxury of leaving out a very good bowler. Stuart Broad and James Anderson both had successful runs for their respective county sides as well, though Finn was less impressive. The New Zealand batsmen have been a bit hit-or-miss in the tour matches as well. That does not necessarily mean a lot, but some of them have had very little time in the middle now and may be vulnerable in the first Test. Getting both of the openers cheaply will be important for England; if they can do that they should be able to bowl New Zealand out cheaply at least in the first Test.

It is very unfortunate that the series is only two Tests; it will make it very hard to get much out of it and one bad innings early on could be the difference. It will also make it harder for England to really assess the players ahead of the Ashes later this summer. Ultimately if England play as well as we know they can, they should prevail. But that was also true in New Zealand and England were quite fortunate to escape with a share of that trophy. The series is short enough that there is a decent chance for New Zealand to get at least a draw, if not an unlikely win, but I think England probably will win the series as long as the weather does not interfere too much. Certainly if they don’t it will sound alarm bells ahead of the Ashes. It should be a fairly hard-fought series and New Zealand should have at least periods where they are on top, but I think England will win 1-0.

Lancashire v Essex preview

Lancashire have their third home match in four games this week as they play Essex at Old Trafford starting on Tuesday. Both teams got their first win of the season last week and both in fairly dramatic fashion, so both will be looking to continue their momentum.

Lancashire will have two enforced changes from the attack that managed to defend 154 at Colwyn Bay last week. Jimmy Anderson will return to England duty ahead of next week’s first Test against New Zealand and Simon Kerrigan will be with the England Lions as they play a New Zealand XI starting on the ninth. I expect Wayne White will return to the side after he made a good start to his Lancashire career against Worcestershire and Stephen Parry looks likely to replace Kerrigan. Although this is an obviously weaker attack, it is still one capable of taking wickets. The main spearheads of Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg will still be present and White certainly poses an attacking threat. Those three will be backed up by Parry, who has generally been playing in the shorter forms, and Luke Procter whose bowling has been getting more incisive. Although it has been a bit difficult to take wickets at Old Trafford so far this season, I don’t think this attack will struggle any more than the others have done.

Lancashire’s top six should be unchanged; although they had a poor match at Colwyn Bay, they have been very good in the other two matches and twice put Lancashire into winning positions. Lancashire bat very deep, as Hogg showed at Colwyn Bay, but the upper and middle order have generally done well enough that this has not been needed. Ashwell Prince and Simon Katich in particular have been excellent. The only criticism that could be levelled is that they have not scored particularly quickly. Whilst there is no one who would prefer a quick 200 all out to a slow 450-7, it has hampered Lancashire’s ability to get batting bonus points and meant that when it has rained there has not been enough time left to force a result. Getting runs on the board is paramount, but if Lancashire can do it a little bit quicker in this match they will be better off than they have been.

Lancashire will be disappointed to see that Alastair Cook will be bolstering the Essex ranks. The visitors’ batting has been suspect at times this year, but having Cook at the top of the order will relieve a lot of the pressure on the middle order and Graham Napier has shown in each of their last two matches that they can recover from a pretty dire position. But at the same time that means that they have been in dire positions a lot and the Lancashire bowlers will be eying up the Essex middle order very keenly. There are a lot of single figure scores there and a lot of very quick collapses in the last couple of matches. The key for Lancashire will not only be to get into that position of strength, but to actually finish Essex off from there.

Lancashire may have to fight the weather again as well as Essex. The forecast for the first day is excellent; there is very little chance of rain and the temperature is supposed to get all the way up to 20°C. From there, however, there is a distinct chance of rain on the second and third days and it is supposed to get much colder as well. Lancashire’s best chance to win is probably to bat first, then try to score a bit quicker than they have done and get a good total on the board before spending the rest of the match trying to put the Essex batsmen under pressure. It is a tough ask, as it always is when overs are lost due to weather, and they have to get through Alastair Cook. But if they can get past Cook and Napier then the rest of Essex’s batting is flimsy enough that Lancs should have a very good chance to win even with the rain.

It’s very close, but I think Lancashire will win with a draw being the next most likely outcome. That’s not to rule out Essex who did well to bowl a solid Hampshire batting order out fairly cheaply last week, but much like when Lancashire played Kent I think a lot more will have to go Essex’s way for them to get into a winning position then it would for Lancs to do the same.

New Zealand unfortunately are the Ashes warmup

Mike Hesson, the New Zealand coach, said earlier this week that he did not want the upcoming England v New Zealand series to be just a warmup for the Ashes. This is understandable on many levels. I doubt anyone would want their team to be the ‘other’ tourist no matter what the occasion and especially now New Zealand have a very good reason to think they deserve more. They so very nearly beat England in New Zealand two months ago and deserved more than the 0-0 draw that they got. In any other circumstances that would make the return trip a mouth-watering series.

But these are not normal circumstances. I hate that New Zealand have been given a paltry two-Test series in an Ashes year, but they have. And that means that, fair or not, they are the Ashes warmup. There is simply no way that a two Test series against New Zealand, even a New Zealand side who have played very well, is going to match the hype and expectation of a five-Test Ashes series. It’s not a slight on the skill of the New Zealand team; I don’t think the England team are taking the series against New Zealand lightly and certainly as a fan I know I am not, but I still think of this as an Ashes summer and Australia as the main opponents. The series against New Zealand should make for a very good appetiser and a very interesting appetiser, but it is an appetiser nonetheless. The only way a series, any series, ahead of the Ashes will be anything but an appetiser is if the ECB and Cricket Australia finally succeed in staging an Ashes series every year.

Hopefully the New Zealand team to take some umbrage at that; I would love to see them fired up and trying to prove a point. But there is no point trying to deny it or wish it away.

Lancashire won by 14 runs

Lancashire finally have their first win of the 2013 and secured it in dramatic fashion at Colwyn Bay. The win moves Lancashire up to third in the second division table, behind Northamptonshire who have had an excellent start to the season and Hampshire who have had the better of the bonus points.

It was in some ways the worst match Lancashire have played this year; certainly the batting failed to match the standard set in the opening two matches at Old Trafford. Lancashire dominated those two matches, but were never firm favourites at any stage of the match. It was at best very close right up until the last wicket fell and twice Glamorgan looked to be cruising to victory. The first time was when Simon Katich was given out to leave Lancashire effectively 45-7 in their second innings and the second was when Glamorgan were 94-2, needing just sixty more to win.

There were several heroes for the Red Rose in coming from the dead to win the match, but the biggest plaudits have to go Glen Chapple. He actually had not had a great start to the season. In the first two matches and the first innings of this one he had taken only 5-203. But he always seems to come up with something big when we need him; in this case he brought himself on with the cause seemingly lost and took three wickets, including both well set batsmen, to set Lancashire on the way to victory. He bowled for the remainder of the innings and then also broke a mini-partnership that was tilting the match back in Glamorgan’s favour. It was a staggering effort.

Although it was Chapple who made the breakthroughs and gave Lancashire a chance it was Simon Kerrigan who finished off Glamorgan with a five wicket haul and nine in the match. It was reminiscent of some of the performances he had in 2011 and in particular the last-gasp win against Hampshire. Kyle Hogg only bowled one over of the run chase, but he was instrumental in giving Lancashire a chance as he scored 47 in the second innings to make the total just large enough to defend.

Ideally this win will serve as a bit of a kick start to Lancashire’s season; now that they have a win and a bit of belief they need to consistently bowl sides out cheaply and start winning matches like the first two where they really did outplay the opposition. This match was not only the first in which they bowled out the opposition twice, it was the first in which they had even come close. Admittedly the rain had intervened in the other two, but this was still the best bowling performance of the year. What will also give Lancashire some heart was that it was not all done on the back of James Anderson and that there was enough time left that even if it had rained it would not have ruined the match. In the meantime they have a few days to enjoy the high of a remarkable win!

New Zealand Test squad and EPS revealed

Amidst all the build up to the start of the County Championship next week, there have also been the first reminders that the International summer starts in less than a month with New Zealand arriving at the beginning of May for their two Test series. Although it is the norm for the five Ashes Tests to be preceded by a two Test series, it is somewhat disappointing after the excitement of the New Zealand leg of the series for the return affair to be so short. Given that there were only six Tests in the summer last year, an eighth Test this year would have been quite welcome in place of the three ODIs that will be utterly lost in the Champions Trophy.

Scheduling disappointments aside, both the New Zealand touring squad and the England Performance Squad for the full summer were announced this week. There were few surprises in the fifteen named by New Zealand. The XI who played all three Tests in New Zealand were obvious inclusions and they are joined by Doug Bracewell, Martin Guptill, Mark Gillespie and Tom Latham. It is not a great shock given that Bracewell and Guptill both missed out due to injury and Latham and Gillespie were both on the fringes of the side before the start of the series. The interesting omission is that of Daniel Vettori who missed the series in New Zealand with an injury, but is back fit for the tour of England. There was a lot of discussion about whether he would regain his place, but his to even make the squad as a reserve spinner answers that question quite definitively. The squad might also be a bit short of cover in the middle order; Guptill is primarily an opener and Latham at least seems to be treated as an opener. Over the course of only two Tests, however, there is not a lot of need for depth in the squad, especially after the performance at home has clarified a lot of selection problems.

Even though England’s squad was the more general England Performance Squad, there was an important omission. James Taylor continues to make a strong case for being the unluckiest man in England. He has done absolutely nothing wrong, yet Eoin Morgan and his first class average in the thirties was preferred for the squad in India and England took a smaller than usual squad to New Zealand. Now Taylor, despite being one of the only bright spots in a disastrous Lions tour to Australia, appears to be completely forgot behind Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Neither of them really impressed in New Zealand and there is no reason why Taylor should not still be in the picture.

The aforementioned Morgan did get a place in the EPS, presumably for his continued selection in the pyjama forms. He should not be even mentioned in contention for a Test place, however. Not only does he have nothing at the first class level to recommend him, he has chosen to play in the IPL instead of trying to improve his first-class record. If nothing else, that should tell the England selectors quite clearly where his priorities lie. The same is true for Samit Patel, who was dropped for the last Test in India despite being selected as a specialist for the subcontinent.

It looks like it will be down to Root and Bairstow still and I would like to see them each get one Test. Neither have made a decisive case yet (all the more reason to give Taylor a go, but never mind) and unless one of them does so in the first few matches of the County Championship or with the Lions there seems no reason to give one the advantage over the other.

On the bowling side, Tim Bresnan might get a chance to take the third seamer role back from Steven Finn, though the latter’s six-fer in the last Test will have made that harder. And although Monty Panesar looked under some threat for his place as Graeme Swann’s understudy after a poor performance in New Zealand, the only other spinner named in the EPS is Danny Briggs. Whilst it is not out of the question that he could get a Test cap in May, he has been primarily around England’s pyjama sides. That the two Lions spinners, Simon Kerrigan and Scott Borthwick, have been omitted suggests that Panesar is safe.

New Zealand 0-0 England player marks

England barely managed to avoid a series defeat in New Zealand for the first time in 29 years by clinging on to a draw in the last Test. Whilst it was not a good result for England, it was a good series with New Zealand making a mockery of their number eight ranking. One of the notable aspects of the series was that New Zealand named an unchanged side in all three Tests and England were only prevented from doing the same by an injury to Kevin Pietersen. My full series review has already gone up and my marks out of ten for the 23 players to contest the series are as follows:

New Zealand
Hamish Rutherford – 6
Rutherford started the series and his career with a brilliant knock of 171 that put New Zealand in charge of the Dunedin Test. After that, however, he was restricted to just 75 runs in his next four innings. He has still made sure that New Zealand have a coherent opening partnership for the near future.

Peter Fulton – 7
Fulton had a broadly similar series as Rutherford, but in reverse. he scraped by with the bat at the start of the series before scoring a pair of centuries in the last Test, the second coming with New Zealand having been reduced to 8-3. It was certainly a successful return to the side overall.

Kane Williamson – 5
It was a consistently decent series for Williamson, but little more. In five innings he made four scores over twenty and just one over sixty (and none over one hundred). His unbeaten 55 at the Basin Reserve was instrumental in New Zealand saving that Test and he formed a good partnership with Fulton on the first day at Eden Park, but he never played a really decisive innings. He did, despite some questions about his action, finish at the top of the series bowling averages with six wickets for ninety runs.

Ross Taylor – 2
After playing very well in 2012, Taylor struggled badly on his return to the side after the captaincy fallout. The 41* he made batting for the rain at Wellington was important, but his other four innings were quite poor.

Dean Brownlie – 3
Brownlie only got three innings in the series and although he did not have any truly low scores he never made more than 36. He always looked vaguely out of his depth and not quite ‘in’. His dismissal was part of a larger collapse all three times.

Brendan McCullum* – 9
It was a very good series for McCullum, his second as captain, the only thing lacking was a win. With the bat he came to his team’s rescue twice, either stopping or slowing down a collapse and then he took England’s bowling apart on the penultimate day of the series. He showed good attacking intent with his field settings and was comfortably the best captain of the two. He might rue not enforcing the follow-on in the last Test, however.

BJ Watling† – 4
It was not a terrible series for Watling, he did everything asked of him behind the stumps and occasionally made some useful runs down the order. His best innings came at Wellington where he made 60 as New Zealand very nearly saved the follow-on. He did not have a standout series either, however.

Tim Southee – 3
Although he was coming off a very good winter, Southee struggled in this series, taking only six wickets in the three Tests at a cost of over fifty apiece. Five of those six wickets came in the last Test, the only time he looked at all threatening.

Bruce Martin – 4
Martin was rather fortunate to take four wickets in the first innings of the series as England were very charitable. He bowled better in the rest of the series, but his returns actually dropped off and the fact that he took no wickets in the last Test was costly.

Neil Wagner – 7
Wagner was the surprise of the series for New Zealand. He was not even supposed to play, but got a chance after Doug Bracewell cut his foot before the first Test. Wagner responded with 4-42 in the first innings of the series and finished the series as the leading wicket taker on both sides with twelve.

Trent Boult – 8
Although Wagner was the surprise of the series, Boult probably made the biggest impact. He took eleven wickets at less than thirty, but six of those were in the first innings at Eden Park where he swung the ball both ways and was the main reason England were bowled out for only 204.

England
Alastair Cook* – 3
It was a disappointing series for the England captain. Not only was a 0-0 far from the desired result, he left a lot to be desired with his handling of the team and his form suffered, at least by his lofty standards. He did play an excellent hundred to help ensure a draw at Dunedin, but his other four innings yielded just 74 runs.

Nick Compton – 7
Compton came into the series with questions, albeit rather ridiculous ones, over his place in the side and he got off to a dreadful start with a four-ball duck. But he followed that up with excellent back-to-back centuries and has secured his place for the first Ashes Test.

Jonathan Trott – 8
Trott was one of the few England batsmen to have a very good series in New Zealand. He tried to hold the innings together in Dunedin as he top-scored with 45, before scoring 52 and 121 in his next two innings. He fell off a bit in the third Test, wasting a review in the first innings and throwing his wicket away in the second. Some of his critics might also be surprised to note that he finished the series with the best strike rate of any member of England’s top six. Surprisingly, he also topped England’s bowling averages with one wicket for 27.

Kevin Pietersen – 3
It was a lacklustre series for Pietersen. He was troubled by a knee injury throughout and was forced to miss the last Test. He only managed 85 runs in three innings in the first two, though the 73 he made in Wellington was one of his better innings.

Ian Bell – 4
On paper it was not a great series for Bell; he managed only 158 runs at an average of 38. He was definitely short of his best overall, but those figures do not do justice to the effort he put in to help England save the Test and the series at Auckland. He scored ‘only’ 75 runs, but off a mammoth 271 deliveries before finally succumbing to a loose shot on the stroke of tea.

Joe Root – 2
Root was built up by the media before the series and so was probably always going to fall short in some way. But 88 runs in five innings was much more dramatic than anyone would have expected. Not only is he not about to replace Compton at the top of the order, his own place at six is not secure.

Matt Prior† – 10
England could not possibly have asked any more from Prior than what he delivered. He went past fifty three times in five innings, including his match saving 110* at Auckland. He also made sure that England got a decent score after wobbling in Wellington and throughout the series did his usual sterling job with the gloves.

Stuart Broad – 7
After a very poor and injury-hampered series in India, Broad came back very well in this series with eleven wickets, the best by an England bowler, including 6-51 as England made New Zealand follow-on in Wellington. After looking miserable with the bat for his first three innings, he also played a stunning innings of six off 77 deliveries as England barely hung on in Auckland.

Steven Finn – 5
Finn struggled through much of the series as he appeared to have trouble adjusting to his new run up and was noticeably down on pace. He finally managed to find a troubling length in Auckland and took six wickets in the first innings as England tried to keep New Zealand to a reasonable score. His main contribution was actually with the bat as he scored a fifty as nightwatchman in the first Test.

James Anderson – 4
Especially by Anderson’s lofty standards, this was a poor series. He struggled to get the ball to consistently swing and like most of the seamers bowled consistently too short. He still ended up with ten wickets, but in generally uninspiring fashion.

Monty Panesar – 3
Panesar only played in this series because Swann was ruled out at the last second with his chronic elbow injury. He will be remembered in this series for his contribution with the bat. He and Prior saw out the last few overs in Auckland and his struggle to make his ground after a tight single may be the iconic image of that Test. It should not disguise the fact that he did next to nothing with the ball, however, and may find himself down the pecking order come the summer.

Jonny Bairstow – 0
Bairstow may be the most unfortunate man on the tour. He came into the last Test as Pietersen’s replacement having not played in the only warmup and thus having not played any first-class cricket since being in the same situation in the second Test in India. He can hardly be faulted for making only nine runs in two innings.