Well, well. What a difference an hour makes. England were cruising along and making all the talk that New Zealand’s total was a pretty decent one look silly. But this being England, they’re never so vulnerable as when they look to be in a good position. From 177-0 to 253-5 is not a collapse exactly, but it is a reversion from a position of strength to the game being very much in the balance.
Doubtless the main headlines will be about Cook becoming the leading run scorer for England in Tests, and while the unquestioning adoration of England’s skipper from so many media sources has been enough to infuriate many over the last two years, today is certainly a time where he deserves all the plaudits coming his way. And there’s an irony in that – Cook perhaps won’t receive the credit he deserves from some quarters precisely because of an inability for some to ever offer up a word of criticism when it’s warranted. And the reality is that it is unfair, this is a huge feat for him.
Cook the batsman is and always has been a separate issue to Cook the captain. His poor form over a lengthy period tended to cause debate about whether he would ever again be the batsman he had been, not a dismissal of his abilities over his career. But his last two innings have probably removed that doubt for most; he looks very much back to his best.
And to that end, to be approaching 9,000 Test runs at the age of 30 is an outstanding achievement, and it was pleasing to see Cook receive the recognition of that from the crowd – though not at all surprising; if you aren’t going to stand and applaud a player becoming his country’s leading run scorer when will you? Whatever anyone might think of him as captain, he deserved that for a career that has been excellent and is some way from being over. Cook is now in 13th place in the all time run scorers list, and with all above bar Chanderpaul (just) and Sangakkara (not too far off) retired, he’ll be catching and passing many of them. There was an interesting comment on Sky when he achieved the record that it had stood for 20 years, and that Cook’s record would stand for a lot longer. I’m not so sure about that. If Joe Root ends up as good a player as he currently looks, then he might have something to say about it over the next decade.
Adam Lyth of course was the star of this particular day, his maiden century on his home ground repaying the faith of his local supporters. He should now have the Ashes series to try and cement his place as opener on the back of it.
Earlier, England had demonstrated a familiar cluelessness in terms of how to deal with the tail, as Craig, Henry and Boult happily lashed them to all parts, while England refused to attack the stumps in favour of banging the ball in. Is this actually a plan, or do the bowlers do their own thing? It’s not worked for some time now, yet they still do it. Of course, any team can suffer from the lower order batsmen having a bit of a slog, the point is that it happens to England repeatedly. Nasser Hussain, astute as ever, made the point that they should look to how Broad is got out for the template – yes a short ball or two to ruffle them up, but then bowling straight and full.
Broad himself got one of the more peculiar Michelles* of his career, going at 6.34 runs an over. You’d probably take that overall, but when batsmen are derided for recklessness so often, perhaps the same thing could be levelled at Broad on this occasion.
The late flurry of wickets means that England will have to bat exceptionally well against the still new ball in the morning in order to achieve parity. The weather forecast has improved for the next few days, but it looks likely to be cloudy and good conditions for bowling. That doesn’t mean New Zealand can feel confident, the third innings so often falls away dramatically, especially under the pressure of trying to set a target, but their approach on day one appears to have been somewhat vindicated by the present match situation. Weather permitting though, a result looks very likely.
The old cliche about the next session being critical does apply. If England don’t bat at least passably well they will find themselves in considerable trouble. It’s been a hugely entertaining series so far, thank goodness that if New Zealand win there’ll be a decider. Oh hang on…
*Does this really need explaining?