England had a fairly decent day today, but New Zealand remain very much on top in the match. Some of the deficit has been cleared, and both Cook and Bell batted pretty well to recover from yet another poor start. Lyth will have been disappointed with the shot he played to get out, but let’s hope he’s not under any kind of pressure just yet – he has barely played any cricket in the run up to this series – precisely the scenario pointed out when they chose not to give him a debut in the West Indies.
Gary Ballance again looked out of sorts, but it was a very good ball that got him out. Alex Hales on Twitter was quick to point out that a player doesn’t average 56 in first class cricket without being able to play the moving ball. He’s a young player making his way in the game. A bit of patience wouldn’t go amiss – his start in Test cricket has been a good one.
Cook himself looked technically much better, and given the situation that was a very valuable innings. But the work has barely started given the position England find themselves in.
Kane Williamson was the glue holding the Black Caps’ innings together, but he clearly found the going much tougher today. The overhead conditions were cloudy bordering on murky, which is why the eventual lead of 134 will likely prove decisive assuming it remains the same tomorrow. Indeed, given that, and that New Zealand scored 220-8 today, the size of England’s task is a major one.
BJ Watling was the other major run scorer, demonstrating his worth yet again. He seems to go largely under the radar for the commentators, but given a Test average of just shy of 40, it’s rather peculiar that he does so. He’s a proper batsman.
England certainly bowled better today, but given the conditions they ought to be somewhat disappointed. Some of it was down to happenstance, balls flying just out of reach on a number of occasions; some of it was self-inflicted, catches being dropped and some of it was down to once again bowling too short. It’s truly extraordinary to see bowlers with the records the opening pair have go through this on so many occasions before belatedly correcting it. New Zealand consistently are bowling fuller than England are.
Mark Wood took three wickets, none of which were exactly conventional. He won’t greatly care at the moment – his relief at his first Test wicket was evident. Yet he showed some serious signs of promise, his pace was good being consistently around the 90mph mark, he used the crease well to vary his line of attack, and got some late swing. It’s his first game, and basing judgement on that would be foolish in the extreme, but there appears to be something to work with. Add to that a post-play interview that was delightful in demonstrating the clear joy he has from playing and he’s proving an engaging character. And then there’s the imaginary horse…
Ben Stokes at one stage appeared as if he was going to combust. He didn’t bowl badly, and was let down by his fielders, yet he is in the position of bowling too many bad balls but not taking the wickets, hence a fairly poor economy rate. Again, he is still in the infancy of his career, but perhaps the worst thing would be for him to focus on the economy most of all. Bowling dry should be a weapon in the armoury, not the whole arsenal. He’ll have more productive days if he bowls like this.
And then we come to Moeen Ali. Ignored for much of the first day and again today, he popped up when finally called upon with two wickets in three balls. He’s doing little wrong at the moment, scoring runs and taking wickets. Curiously, although he’s a batsman who bowls primarily, it is his bowling that will determine his England career. With the exception of the tour of the West Indies, when he was coming back from injury, thus far he’s doing all that can be asked of him.
Jos Buttler’s two catches deserve a mention. Diving catches always look spectacular, but the first one in particular was special, because it is to his wrong side. Lords does seem to cause wicketkeepers no end of problems, and that will have pleased him, deservedly so.
So another terrific day of Test cricket. Yet whilst England will be pleased with their day, they are two wickets down and quite some way from drawing level. With two days to go, England would have to bat the whole of tomorrow and another session to make the game safe, and that seems like a very big ask. Of course, they will have hopes of winning the game, and to that end a target of 200 would seem to be the absolute minimum. To do that and score a further 260 runs is asking a lot. Getting out of this will be tough, and New Zealand have to date been comfortably the better side.