Road to nowhere – NZ v England, 1st Test, day three

Days like these are the ones where the very occasional pang of sympathy extends in the direction of the cricket journalist. After all, what is there to say about three sessions where the bowling lacks penetration, but the batting plods on at a modest pace?

The lack of excitement is grist to the mill of those who laud short form cricket, or indeed go on about the “exciting brand” of Test cricket played by England at various times. And they have something of a point in that being skittled out to a succession of hopeful thrashes outside off stump certainly lends a frisson to the day.

But Test cricket remains the highest form of the game because of the variety it offers, and New Zealand slowly turning the screw on the England team has its own particular beauty – particularly in the way the pressure begins to transfer from one side to the other. There’s plenty of comment about the nature of the pitch, certainly, but we’re barely half way through this match, there’s plenty of time for one side or the other to fold on it, and England are going to be the ones facing the likelihood that they’re going to have to bat long to save the game.

There’s a wider issue here about the ball used, certainly, but it’s far from the first time England have looked toothless away from home when using it, and the tactics of containment adopted early suggests their limited potency is something they are only too well aware about. But irrespective of that, endless praise should be showered on a New Zealand middle order that played with discipline and plenty of skill. BJ Watling has long been one of those players to quietly go about his business without too many mentions of him whenever lists of the best keeper/batsmen around are compiled.

So it was a holding day – one side toiling, the other quietly placing themselves in a position of strength. It’s far too soon to start complaining about the surface, but England now have a job on their hands to get out of this in one piece. An uneventful day in Test is infinitely more important than the quiet middle overs of an ODI, for it directs the pattern for the remainder in a greater way.

Jofra Archer continues to attract comment, partly because his pace is so often believed to be the answer when the rest of the seam attack fails to penetrate. He’s only in his fifth Test, and learning his trade. It is an odd thing where people can be so quick to jump on a young player for failing (in this match) to be the answer to many prayers. Singling him out seems peculiar.

The fourth day should define where this match is going, but while New Zealand are favourites, there’s no reason whatever England should be feeling in particular trouble. But the game is played in the mind, and seeing how they approach things will be indicative of whether any major changes are in process or not.

If that’s not a definitive post, it’s fair comment to point that out. But the wonder of Test cricket is that a match can be a slow burner and explode into life, or it can remain a turgid bore. Either way, we’re yet to find out, and after three days of play, that in itself is to be appreciated.