Having finally concluded my series about my Scottish holiday I now look back at the series between England and New Zealand that concluded yesterday.
MATCH ONE: A NEW ERA DAWNS
The length of England’s injury list in the fast bowling department and well justified concerns about the top order batting made what already seemed a tough ask appear even tougher. However, Matt Potts of Durham, given his call up to fill one of the vacant slots in the pace bowling department had a superb debut, Broad and Anderson both bowled well on their return to the side, and England won impressively.
MATCH TWO: A DRAMATIC TURNAROUND
Prospects didn’t seem too rosy when England put New Zealand in on a flat pitch and the visitors racked up 550 in the first innings. However, England responded in kind, with Ollie Pope, whose presence at number three, where he had never previously batted in FC cricket, was a cause of some disquiet making a big hundred, Joe Root confirming his status as the greatest England batter of the 21st century with 176 and various other players producing runs. NZ managed to set England 299 to win, having looked in trouble at one stage of their second innings. When Root departed early and England were three down still needing well over 200 for the win the prognosis looked grim. Jonny Bairstow, enjoying a remarkable revival to his career in red ball cricket, played a remarkable innings, with Ben Stokes providing his principal support. Bairstow scored the second fastest test century by an England batter ever, beaten only by Gilbert Jessop’s 1902 effort against Australia, also in a fourth innings run chase. The Yorkshireman was 136* when England completed a five wicket win, with keeper Foakes undefeated at the other end in support.
MATCH 3: 55-6 AND THEN…
James Anderson was unable to play this match, meaning that Devonian born Surrey fast bowler and lower middle order batter Jamie Overton got a first test cap. New Zealand tallied 329 in the first innings, Leach the left armspinner answering some increasingly vociferous critics with 5-100. When Jamie Overton walked out to bat the score was 55-6 and NZ were probably contemplating enforcing the follow on. They were to end up in deficit on first innings. Overton on debut was 89* by the end of the second day, and the seventh wicket stand between him and Bairstow was worth 209, England being 264-6. On day three Overton agonisingly failed to complete a debut century, falling on 97. Bairstow went on to 162, the lower order providing some support, and England, all out for 360, led by 31 on first innings. NZ mustered 326 second time round, with Mitchell and Blundell sharing yet another long partnership in the middle order. Leach, remarkably, achieved a second five wicket haul, 5-66 this time, on a pitch that has seldom been kind to spinners in recent times. England thus need 296 to win. Lees was out early on this occasion, Crawley made a very fortuitous 25 before a chance offered to the slip/ gully region (a mode of dismissal he suffers unacceptably often), but Joe Root and Ollie Pope saw England to 183-2 by the end of day four, 113 more needed and eight wickets standing. Pope did not last long on the final morning, but his departure merely signalled more Bairstow fireworks. Bairstow was a little too brilliant on this occasion, depriving his fellow tyke Root of what would have been that worthy’s 28th test century. England won by seven wickets and taken the series 3-0. Leach was named Player of the Match for his bowling effort, while Root just pipped Bairstow to the Player of the Series award.
POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES
The new mindset that Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum has instilled in his charges has been a huge positive. The comeback from the depths of 55-6 in reply to 329 in the third match illustrated the spirit in the camp. Pope finally seems to be reproducing his first class form in the test arena, Bairstow has been a revelation, reigniting a test career that looked done not so long ago. Potts and J Overton have both shown great promise early in their test careers, with Potts in particular seeming destined for great career. Leach has ended any discussion about who England’s no1 test spinner is with his bowling at Headingley (with a tour to Pakistan coming at the end of the summer the question of back up spinners will need looking at, and I have several ideas there which I will explore more fully nearer the time). Although temporarily indisposed (lower back pains which turned out to be an early symptom of Covid) Foakes remains first choice keeper. Lees has played a couple of decent knocks at the top this series, and Pope is looking good at three (and in any case that experiment needs rather more time than one three match series before it can be judged). A new opener is needed to replace Crawley. After 24 test matches Crawley averages 26.68 overall, and much less than that as on opener – in the course of this series Crawley’s average as an opener dipped below that of Mike Brearley, and of course for a lot of Brearley’s career his batting was not the main reason for him having a place in the side. While I can understand that it would have been difficult to call up a replacement opener for the one-off match against India that starts on Friday I am absolutely certain that there should be a new name up top (for me one of Chris Dent or Ben Compton) by the time the series against South Africa gets underway.
Overall this series has been hugely positive for England, and although India are likely to prove tougher opposition England are better placed than one could have imagined when they left the West Indies a few months ago with a record showing one victory in their last 17 test matches.
As always I conclude this post by sharing some of my photos…