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.

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.

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.

India win by an innings and 115 runs

India put their most recent losing run behind them in fairly emphatic style inside four days against the Kiwis. I didn’t get to see all of the Test due to the time zone, but there were a few aspects that stood out:

– New Zealand were shoddy. This is something I’ve seen from them quite a few times, of course, and I think it is probably the biggest thing keeping them from becoming an average side. They have very little application with the bat and although their bowling was good their fielding was not. They have the talent, I think, to get better results than they do. But they just don’t seem to put in the work to get there.

– Ravichandran Ashwin is a decent bowler. It’s not wise to read too much into a result on an Indian wicket against a team seemingly determined to get a day off and his failures in Australia cannot be forgot. But one can only beat the opposition that is presented and Ashwin got very good turn and bounce. He still has a lot to prove, but it is a red flag for England in three months.

– Speaking of England, they may be slightly encouraged by the amount of swing and seam the New Zealand bowlers got. Boult and Bracewell in particular were getting a lot of movement in the air on the first morning and given the similarity of England’s attack it will be very interesting to see if the conditions in November are still conductive to swing.

– Virender Sehwag is an idiot. We knew that already, of course, but it goes to a new level when one does not even manage to bully on a flat track. He made a decent 47 and off of only 41 balls, but offered two clear chances and a few edges through the slips in that time. He didn’t take the hint though and got out trying to cut a ball that was too close to his body. He then went off rehearsing the shot, seemingly under the impression that it was the execution which had let him down as opposed to the shot selection. There is almost no other way to describe it apart from ‘stupid’.

– The DRS must be made universal. For all the arguments over the influence the DRS has had over umpires and whether it is correctly applied to close decisions, there is little doubt that it has achieved it’s stated goal of getting rid of the howler. At least when it is used. It was not used in this Test, of course, because the BCCI don’t like it. And so, after a year of discussing marginal cases and whether it was a good thing with front foot lbws we got to see the return of the howler. New Zealand were hit the worst by it, with two absolutely terrible decisions going against them. Guptill and McCullum both were given out lbw, the first to a ball that was comfortably spinning away and going over the stumps and the second to a massive inside edge. There is little chance that the result was affected, but it is still quite troubling and not the least because of what it says about the elite panel of Umpires. They do, of course, get more decisions right than they do wrong as well as getting more decisions right than most people would. But that is not really good enough at Test level and especially without some sort of backup in place. Right now, the only two really trustworthy umpires are Aleem Dar and Simon Taufel and unfortunately even they make errors and in any case they cannot be at every Test. Which means that some sort of review system is an absolute necessity.

The final Test is on Friday in Bangalore and it is hard to see any other result than another Indian victory. Even with quite a bit of rain, New Zealand did not come close to saving this Test and collapsed from 92-1 at lunch on day four to 164 all out before stumps. They have a huge amount of work to do and have the disadvantage of only playing a two Test series so they just don’t have the time. Though even if there were four Tests, I expect they would struggle.

New Zealand v Zimbabwe preview

It’s another one-off Test between these two, following the one in Zimbabwe a few months ago. The Kiwis wont that one, and on form they should certainly do the double next week. There are still a lot holes in their side though, and the historic victory over a weak Australia should not disguise that.

The Kiwis well make at least two, probably three, changes to the side that won at Hobart. Jesse Ryder and Reece Young have been left out of the squad, the former due to the calf injury that he sustained in Zimbabwe. Young might feel a bit hard done by; he has been dropped for his batting after some very solid glovework. I think the selectors can justify the decision though, their top order never really fired in Australia and some insurance down the order (in addition to Vettori). BJ Watling and Kruger van Wyk are the two possible replacements and are both playing in the current warmup match. Watling looks like the front runner at the moment, being run out for 84 as opposed to van Wyk’s nick behind for five. The other likely change for the Kiwis is Vettori’s presumed return after being injured for the Hobart Test. As well as New Zealand bowled there I cannot see them not bringing Vettori back in place of one of the seamers. Trent Boult originally came into the side in place of Vettori, so he is most likely to miss out. That said, he arguably out-bowled Southee at Hobart and this pitch is likely to be similar. It will be interesting to see what the selectors do before the Test.

Zimbabwe very nearly beat New Zealand last time these two sides met, but I think they’ll have a lot more trouble in the less batting friendly conditions. They have not played in properly foreign conditions in several years now and I don’t think one warmup match will be enough for them. They might be able to knock the Kiwis over cheaply in one of the innings, but I don’t think their batsmen will adjust quickly enough. They also have the disadvantage of not having played since that match against New Zealand at the beginning of November.

I think the match will be a low scoring affair, but a good innings by the Kiwis (probably anchored by a Vettori ton) will be enough to give them a relatively comfortable win. I think the margin of victory will be about 150 runs.