Those who braved the rain enjoyed a fairly remarkable day’s play on the first day of this second and sadly final Test of the “series”.
With poor weather both this morning, and likely over the next few days, it seems that New Zealand decided that to try and force the win they need to square the series, and in so doing, have scored at 4.6 runs an over across the day. In so doing, and making just shy of 300 in the 65 overs possible, they have well and truly got themselves in the game. It might not be an imposing score, but at first sight it doesn’t look a bad one. There was certainly movement available, both off the pitch and in the air, particularly when there was cloud cover.
Which makes it rather hard to come to a firm conclusion about where the game sits. It’s certainly moved along quickly, and if there is further time lost, as seems probable, the shot making approach could have bought them anything up to half a day. Of course, if England in reply rack up a big total, then New Zealand will find themselves in trouble, but as a gamble in order to try and force a victory from the off, it’s hugely impressive and fairly brave.
Latham might have been the anchor around which the others played their shots, but he was hardly becalmed either. Ronchi on debut played a scintillating knock and was on track for the fastest debut century in Test history. Doubtless he will receive criticism for getting out the way he did – caught on the boundary off a bouncer when three men were out – but that was how he played his whole innings. Just as so often, focusing on the dismissal not the runs is one of those things that is somewhat peculiar. 88 off 175 balls with a prod to first slip would certainly have only attracted praise.
At the start of the day Anderson wasted little time in getting the 400th Test wicket of his career, and swiftly added scalp number 401. With New Zealand 2-2, then end result represents something of a recovery, because in the early stages he looked as lethal as he so often does when the ball is swinging. He’s been a wonderful bowler for England over the years, and so many of the debates about his “greatness” or otherwise seem spurious. Not many bowlers reach 400 wickets, because both consistency and longevity are required. It’s quite an achievement, and he’s an exceptionally skilled bowler. Assuming he remains injury free, he could well reach 500 and go beyond that. Anderson is the best England seam bowler in a generation, and in itself that’s deserving of note; I sometimes think Anderson suffers from the Tim Henman Critic Syndrome, whereby Henman was slated because he only got to number 4 in the world and only got to the semi-finals a few times at Wimbledon.
And what of England’s approach in the morning? The New Zealand tail is hardly the strongest, so it seems probable there will be a few wild slashes and the innings will be closed in short order. Will England adopt the same attacking approach as in the first Test, or will the fact that they are 1-0 up, poor weather is around and time will be lost from the game lead to a more cautious approach? It might be instructive to see whether the first Test was a glorious fluke of circumstance or if England do intend to try and play this way.
The forecast tomorrow is quite good, and overhead conditions do make a huge difference. It should be fascinating.