All in all a pretty good day for England.
The start was calamitous, though having been put into bat you would expect conditions to be challenging. Lyth on debut simply got a good ball – it’s the peril of being an opening batsman. Ballance too got quite a good one, though he looked more than slightly out of sorts during his short innings. Bell was bowled by a ball that wasn’t far off unplayable. In essence, three of the first four wickets to fall were down to good bowling to greater or lesser degrees.
And then there’s Alastair Cook. Perhaps he doesn’t deserve separate treatment as such today, but the problem is that so many in the media are insistent that all is well and that he’s batting beautifully. He really isn’t. Today he was slicing at the ball – the bat came down from the direction of the slip region on a number of occasions, with drives flying in the air just out of the reach of fielders. Even a rare straight drive was an example of cutting across the ball. OK, conditions this morning were quite difficult, but if the media would accept that he has flaws he is trying to work through, it would be less necessary to continually point out that his technique is a problem. The dismissal itself can be considered “one of those things”, and again excuses have been made, such as him being unlucky. Let’s get this clear here, there is absolutely nothing wrong when the team is under the pump for a player to try and jump on a scoring opportunity. It’s a moderate degree of risk yes, but the alternative is to be terrified into blocking – something England have done far too often in recent years.
Therefore, even given the situation, there’s nothing at all wrong with taking the shot on, he simply didn’t execute it terribly well and lost his wicket. It happens. It always has happened, and it always will happen; players try and score runs, and sometimes get it wrong. All entirely normal, which is why the cries of irresponsibility when other players get out playing shots is so idiotic. It’s no different in degree of irresponsibility whoever it is when they are out attacking, so either accept that or don’t – but don’t be selective about making the excuses when it goes wrong.
Subsequently of course, we saw what happens when it comes off. Root and especially Stokes counterattacked in thrilling style – and that’s rather the point. In doing so, they took a risk. A calculated one, certainly, because it was anything but reckless, but had either been dismissed, the cries of anger would doubtless have been long and loud from those wishing to be wise after the event. It was exactly the right thing to do, and they did it brilliantly, turning the day around and taking England to a good position. Sometimes it will go wrong, but it’s still the right thing to do even then – the alternative we have already seen far too often.
After Root and Stokes came the Buttler and Mooen show. Given all the things so wrong with England cricket at the moment, it’s nice to be able to point to an area where a degree of hope is warranted. The middle order is exciting and with bags of potential. Buttler showed he could bat more than one way and turned a recovery into a position of some degree of strength. Moeen is a hell of a batsman to have coming in at number eight, and if he can be worth his place as the main spinner, then suddenly there is something to build on.
Moeen is simply not going to be a replacement for Graeme Swann, it’s not reasonable to expect that of him. But it needs to be borne in mind that for the previous 35+ years going back to Underwood, a spinner who averaged below 40 for England was regarded as a success. England must not make the same mistake that Australia did in trying to replace Warne and throwing bowlers out when they couldn’t do it. Swann wasn’t in that class, but England do not produce many great spinners. Debating whether Adil Rashid is a better choice is perfectly reasonable, because exactly the same degree of understanding would need to be given to him. There is a need to be realistic here – and assuming either one of them does well enough, then the potential of a number eight who can score runs like Moeen can is extremely attractive. And he’s great to watch too.
New Zealand’s bowlers looked tired towards the end of the day, and given that for a few of them they have come back from the IPL, perhaps it’s not surprising. It certainly hasn’t been a disastrous day for them, this looks a good batting pitch, albeit that conditions have been quite conducive to swing. While England have in the end had quite a good day, it’s somewhat alarming that Stuart Broad in his current batting malaise is now in at nine. The innings could be wrapped up quite quickly.
It’s all set up for an intriguing day’s play tomorrow, with no team at this stage entirely comfortable with where they are, but not entirely unhappy either. Which means it’s been a good day of Test cricket, and a reminder why it is that no matter how much the ECB try and wreck it, sometimes the cricket has its own way and tells a wonderful story.
As ever, comments below as the play unfolds, or if you want to take me to task!