Hello everyone and hope you are well. It’s been a while now, and that’s been on purpose. I really, really, haven’t been bothered with England’s test cricket, because, frankly, I’m not so sure the ECB were either. They are still on probation in my eyes, but given I have some time off, a desire to try and get writing again, and there is a test being played today so I thought I would give it a go.
Chris said a lot of the things that I would have if I could have been in a position to do so. With Harrison no longer in the hot seat, with a new captaincy, a new MD, a new coach, a new strategy and an attempt to get some first class cricket into players’ legs and arms, there is a real sense of change. Whether it is truly a “new era” when the opening bowling attack is on the brink of retirement, and there is just one new face (two now that Leach is injured) in the team is open to question, but in a world where my sporting options are closing rapidly, and my mental health is as fragile as it has ever been, a drowning man might well clutch at a serpent. I’ve seen more false dawns than a Tony Orlando tribute band. I am determined not to get fooled again. You get my point.
I have been to a couple of days county cricket this year – Surrey v Hampshire and Surrey v Somerset – and enjoyed them immensely. Ollie Pope showed why he is the temptation he is – scoring a wonderful hundred, albeit after a scratchy start – against Hampshire. But watching him, I said to my mates that the problem is the one shot he really hasn’t mastered; the leave. Today, as I write this, that seemed a bit prophetic, nicking off again. But let us get to that later.
England started the game with a spinner, Leach, and a new seamer, Matty Potts, who, I have to say sounds like something you get in a garden centre and not a test cricketer. I also confess I had absolutely on idea who he was or what he did. I soon did. The early sorties with the ball after New Zealand decided to bat were just like old times. Anderson claiming Young via a super catch by Jonny Bairstow, and then Latham the same way, albeit after a richochet off YJB’s chest. Conway then went to Broad, caught low and more straightforwardly by YJB. Potts came into test cricket, bowled an excellent line, and with his 5th delivery induced a nick from Kane Williamson which Ben Foakes took well. New Zealand were 12 for 4. The only thing not to go right was poor Jack Leach diving to save a boundary and smashing his head on the outfield. HIs concussion has ruled him out of the match, and Matt Parkinson will now replace him to bowl in the second innings (and bat, of course).
The pre-lunch session continued England’s way, with Potts getting Mitchell to play on at 27 for 5 and then Blundell got in a mess and was bowled by Potts as well. Post-lunch the visitors tried to counter attack, but wickets kept falling, although not without a few runs being scored. Jamieson and Southee hit the ball down Potts’ throat at fine leg off Anderson, Potts nailed Patel LBW, and Stokes got Boult to chip to Pope and the innings was over at 132.
What the hell did this tell us? Were New Zealand coming in cold (a couple of them certainly), was the bowling that good, is this a sea-change in approach? The answer is probably reasonably simple. The best England bowlers, probably with bees in their bonnet, bowled well in helpful conditions with a bit of movement and a ball they quite like. We shouldn’t be too down on this, because you play the conditions and that is something that England haven’t done that well recently. I am not convinced by one swallow making a summer, and while Potts showed considerable promise, the speed gun was low 80s at best, and he just seems another in that production line which causes England and its media folk such angst. We remember, at least I do, bowlers like Ed Giddins, Richard Johnson and even Anthony McGrath nicking early season wickets in test cricket. To counter that, so did Jimmy Anderson early in his career.
England began well, with the 25 minutes before tea navigated reasonably without alarm (except some eccentric running between the wickets). Post tea Zak Crawley showed why he is another we can file under “enigma”. He played some dashing shots, had the scoreboard spinning, but Mark Taylor was predicting the demise well in advance (and may I say, how super it was to have him commentating as a neutral (i.e. not Channel 9) because he treated the audience as an adult). Sure enough, he flashed at a Jamieson delivery outside off stump and departed for 43. Ollie Pope replaced him at 3, feeling like a square peg in a round hole, and once again, he started scratchily, and once again, playing for England, he nicked off and departed for a low score – again to Jamieson. 75 for 2 isn’t massive riches, but it is a platform.
Joe Root came out, possibly unburdened by carrying more passengers than the Star Alliance, to a warm round of applause. I don’t think anyone would confuse Joe with the great captains in test history, but his performances and scoring weight are something to envy in the bubble era (Australia aside). His first innings back in the ranks started with a boundary but didn’t last long. Colin de Grandhomme, a younger Darren Stevens, got Root to glide his bread and butter ((c) Cricinfo) shot to Tim Southee who pouched it in the slip cordon. Suddenly the worries began to set in. Alex Lees, who I have to say from my eyes has little future as a test opener (and I would love to be wrong) was always going to be vulnerable to an LBW shout with the starting position he had, and Southee eventually pinned him for 25, and England looked precarious at 96 for 4. Even more precarious when Stokes inside nicked a delivery from Southee and the score went to 98 for 5. Those deriding Crawley should maybe consider his 43 as get busy living rather than get busy dying.
Oh dear, oh dear. England were turning the strong position into something a lot more vulnerable. This got a lot lot worse as Jonny Bairstow dragged on. Matty Potts had a real taste of test cricket – a wonder start, and England bowler pulling up with an injury and then a second ball duck – to make it 100 for 7 and 8 for 5 in 28 balls. The bleeding stopped and England finished on 116-7. 17 wickets on the 1st day – reminiscent of the Ashes 2005. I think there the similarities really end.
I hope to write a bit more over the period of this test, but it is a strain at the moment with time not my friend, and mentality even less so. But I want to give them another chance to prove that ECB and England are serious. It has to be without Harrison, that was a deal-breaker for me. I will certainly give Key and McCullum (and Mott?) some chance to make some changes and to see where they can take us. It isn’t the same pool of tired drivel that we have picked from before, but there is also my feeling that they can’t take the public for granted much longer. Maybe it’s the person wanting to believe the bane of their life, that they probably love too much, has changed and won’t let them down, but you really know that they will.
Those of you who may know my other blog, Seven and Seven Eighths II, will see where this position comes from. I fell out of love with football, and a former home and away fan, season ticket holder, record everything diehard, felt like a lost soul. I then went to a non-league fixture in Devon, at Bideford, and then another, at Holsworthy and felt a little stirring in my soul. I then became a follower of Phoenix Sports in Crayford, and I am now a massive fan, and have got under its skin and it under mine. It has renewed my faith in a sport that wants me to give other things a go. Please read some of my pieces on them if you can. It has been a massive plus to my mental wellbeing, even if Phoenix ended up being relegated. They’ll dust themselves down, pick themselves up and go again. It is sport at its purest. You’ll also find the kind of joy and resonance that I felt from cricket.
So the first day is over. A chaotic, ridiculous day of test cricket. We fell miles short of the number of overs due to be bowled (11 on cricinfo, 12 on Sky), there looks a real chance that full refunds will need to be made for Day 4 and possibly some for Day 3 given the advanced stage of the game. The talk about respecting punters, price debates and so on are just talk. Nothing is really going to change. They have expensive boondoggles to pay for, and the players aren’t going to be sympathetic to austerity measures when Harrison and cronies trousered the bonus they did. I can’t tell you how much damage that man did to the game in my eyes, and I’ll go into that more if I find the time.
What we still have is what we know. We have a flawed, possibly fatally flawed, England team, and they have ceded a position of strength in the game. I may not want to change the world, but unlike MacColl and Bragg, I do want to see a new England. I might have a long time to wait.