This has been every bit a rollercoaster of a test match as the last. First you think England are taking control, then the BlackCaps have fought back, and may even have edged in front. Then,when things seem to be going New Zealand’s way, they lose a wicket or allow the 9th and 10th wickets to score some runs.
The approach after England had battled to parity was typical of the New Zealanders on this tour. They thought that aggression would overcome some of the patent difficulties that they are having in keeping out the England bowlers for any length of time (save the second day at Lord’s). So after the early losses of Latham and Williamson to really good new ball bowling by Stuart Broad, they counter-attacked. I always feel this England side hate a team doing that more than most. Others see it as a sign of desperation and just wait it out knowing in all likelihood the chance will come, while we seem to start following the ball. That positive attitude is becoming a bit of a cliche already in this series, almost as if we are somewhat talking down to the visitors. But McCullum showed early on that he can play the other way, and stick around when the ball isn’t there to hit. The Guptill/Taylor partnership was particularly important in giving the visitors a platform.
Early on England’s batting subsided. We went from 177 for no loss to 250 for 8, when we are told this middle order is rock solid and with no vacancies. I can’t start calling for heads because George Dobell might get upset (boy, am I going to remember that impolite response on Polite Enquiries) but if a middle order batsman has made scores of 11,1,0,0,1, 29 (out in first over of a new day), 12 (out early on a new day) in the run-up to the Ashes, you aren’t entitled to be a tiny bit concerned. No-one is calling for the days of dropping a player at the hint of a bad trot, but nor should this be a cosy club either. Also, it’s not as if we’re the only ones here a bit concerned with the way Gary Ballance is getting out. It was the case with Sam Robson last year, and Trott in the West Indies, in that the manner of dismissals seemed to alarm the journos. Last night’s dismissal of Ballance alarmed me. I fear for what Johnson and Starc might do, as well as Harris, to that hanging back technique. That cockiness was cited by many as a useful line to take to keep the KP fans at bay – “just tell him there’s no vacancy” – and Strauss might have known this wasn’t plausible as a long-term strategy. The form of our middle order is irrelevant (pretty much) in the KP debate. It’s not the location of battle chosen for us.
England nipped out two early wickets, with Latham being followed to Williamson who has looked really out of sorts since he passed 100 at Lord’s. Yes, I know have some Century Watches to catch up on before you ask. Then Taylor and Guptill counter-punched, and when they went in short succession, BJ Watling and Brendon McCullum fought hard again, with Watling confounding received wisdom by outscoring his more renowned partner and going through to a tremendous 100. Watling has been as obdurate and resourceful as his form in his home country indicates. He’s been an absolute star for this team, and he’s not the sort to sell tickets, but to score runs. I’m a big fan.
McCullum was subdued, and having escaped an LBW when he got the merest of gloves on the ball while stone dead, he then copped one of those “Umpire’s Call” decisions that gets poor old D’Arthez steaming. Absolutely steaming. It looked wrong, didn’t it? But then I was a (bad) batsman and I’m not coming at this from a neutral position. Half-way up middle is what I need.
New Zealand finished the day on 338/6 with 435 runs in the day, and Watling still unbeaten. Craig is also looking solid. Alarm bells ringing, and England will have to break their chase record to win this test and the series. Rain may bring the draw into play, but if there are no stoppages, it would take New Zealand batting until mid-afternoon to mean survival would be all that mattered. England haven’t chased down a total over 200 in my memory for quite a few years, so this doesn’t look good.
This New Zealand approach is relentless. They look to score, they take calculated risks, they will come up short, badly short, on bad days. But they are no jokers. I get the feeling some people are patronising them a little, but I’m not. This is compelling entertainment as the visitors try to emulate Australia circa 2001-2004 but on a lot less resource. It’s just fantastic. They may be trend-setters, not anomalies. They just keep scoring runs. They are a team you can fall in love with.
I’ve not read the papers or below the line much this week. I’ve not been motivated much to do this blog either, if truth be told. I’ll do more in a general piece later in the week, time permitting, but I felt no joy at Cook’s breaking of the record, got more and more pissed off with ECB TV, thought that banner shit to celebrate the record was astro-turfing of the most contrived kind (remember when Downton moaned about someone setting 10000 runs in tests as a personal ambition) and yes, I felt the record had come about because the competition had been eliminated and we’d not been told why. They can yawn all they like, but I don’t trust them any more to do their jobs. So when I should have been happy as larry at a great win, I felt more disillusioned that I was being told to forget all that went before and “fall in love with this team again”. No-one tells me how to think, and one blinding moment does not erase the disgrace that the ECB had been up until that test. The same Ben Stokes that was lambasted for his dire form last summer, and the punching of a locker, is now put on some Flintoff pedestal on the back of one, albeit glittering, performance? Cook has been almost back to his best so many time, that I’m working out which one I’m too believe (and it was probably India 2012 if truth be told, and he’s not near that yet), although, yes, I know he’s in better nick than he was last year. But let’s see this against the Aussies, when we’ll really need his runs.
I’m absolutely pig-sick with the way a great, entertaining, fantastic match has been used by those who should know better to say all in the garden is rosy. It ignores how our top and higher middle order is folding like wet cardboard on too many occasions to be comfortable. It cost us Barbados, it cost us a hole to dig out of at Lord’s and it brought the BlackCaps right back in this game. Then we saw it again with the love-in for Cook. The Dauphin has ascended to the Throne at the top of England’s run scorers, and those that are his detractors can go off and kick their cats, according to those who have the game at heart. I was always brought up to be true to my emotions and say what I think. I wouldn’t kick my cat. I don’t have one. Jake is safe too, especially after his recent leg injury! No. I’ll just turn further away from the game, and feel even more bitter about it. Hey, those who don’t agree with me may want that, keeping the game as their own private preserve. They can yawn away to their heart’s content.
OK, Day 4. Sadly I will not be in touch at all with the game tomorrow. I have a very early flight, and unless the office I’m in has wifi that I can access, I’m not going to hear a thing until I return tomorrow night (at 9ish). Don’t feel too sorry for me….New Zealand are in the ascendancy and have England where they want them. It’s a funny old game and all that, and someone might need to make a big hundred (or two or three make large contributions), but history and form indicate a New Zealand victory. England cannot let them get more than 30 more runs, in my view. Even that might be too many. Likely is already.
Also, nice to note, even after how he was treated by the ECB after the 355*, and the opprobrium he has taken, where he’d be quite entitled to tell English cricket to shove it, that KP is playing for Surrey despite having no chance of representing England again.
Hopefully thelegglance will update you tomorrow, and I’ll await his report.