England v New Zealand – 2nd Test Day 1

Well, hello there.

This isn’t going to be a long post, and if Vian wants to add something, he’s more than welcome. We didn’t really get around to discussing who was doing what, when for this test last night in our drink with Maxie from The Full Toss. There seemed more important things to talk about.

So, now that you’ve been told that this is a team we can all fall in love with again, and that even us doubters are being swayed by this lovely team full of vim and vigour, what’s the point of carrying on? We’re not outside anymore, are we?

I’ve been struck by the shallowness of it all. It was one win, right, against a decent team. It came with our backs against a wall, and a number of players doing what they do best, while also two or three of the more senior players didn’t really come to the party. It was an optimistic performance, one that did indeed stir the soul. It was great to watch Stokes play that amazing 101, but as I said last night, much more important in the context of the match was his swashbuckling 92 in the first innings that pulled us out of the mire. Joe Root’s excellence continued and some here remark that he’s almost the leader of the team now, which I can see. Cook’s hundred was a very very good innings, but it’s not about that. It’s about the sub-plots and the intrigue that Cook’s narrative will be formed, no matter how much we are told to love him and that he’s a great guy.

It’s just an incredible state of affairs. The media, and many on social media (and boy, are they not discounting this as a voluble minority in press-land) are whooping it up. As I said about Grenada, when you win a game you didn’t expect to, act like you’ve been there before. I’ve tried to come up with a number of analogies but they all revolve around the female of the species and I’m not going there!

Tomorrow’s test will be a challenge to see how we follow up one excellent performance. Last time we flopped in Barbados. Now we are expected to do this again. Comments below.

No comment from me on Bayliss. James has done something over at The Full Toss which no doubt many of you have read. I’m really sorry but when I hear “he’s an excellent choice” with the ECB, I can’t get “Paul Downton” out of my mind. I’m really rather sad like that.

Have a good one.


England v New Zealand: 1st Test 5th Day – Open Thread

England 389 & 429/6 (Cook 153 not out, Stokes 101, Root 84) lead New Zealand 523 by 295 runs.

England have, it seemed, turned the game around. From a position of weakness two contrasting centuries have put the home team in the position to win this match, if things go our way. Alastair Cook’s epic knock, one that he played on a fairly regular basis a few years ago is the “welcome return to form” that we hoped from for our opening batsman for a while now. He looked better from the start, scored at the pace we are used to from our opener (around 120 runs in a day) and laid the foundation for the others to express themselves.

My main take from the day is that it was a joy to see Ben Stokes and Joe Root play their games and not the game. Too many times when England face difficult situations, they revert in on themselves. They seek to defend their way out of trouble. I sometimes believe it is because they are frightened to get out playing attacking shots. Somehow, in England, it is always worse getting out to a positive shot because you make a mental error, or hit it too well and it carries to outfielders, than having your technique undressed. Always worse to be the talent not “fulfilling themselves” rather than the “grafter” who isn’t good enough to score. So beware all those lauding Ben Stokes today for the way his attacking game turned the match, for many of them were lining him up and calling him all sorts last year. Stokes is going to infuriate me every bit as much as Freddie did with the bat, but you have to get over it. When he clicks, as he has twice now in this match with the bat, he’s going to change a match. He bailed us out in the first innings, and turned it in the second.

Joe Root’s role must not be underestimated either. With Ian Bell falling to the third ball (I was walking the dog at the time), he came in at a time of real danger with a wicket then being the recipe for perhaps a BlackCap win today. With Cook looking solid at the other end, Root got himself in and kept the score ticking over (Cook was actually scoring at a decent pace by his standards) and then he accelerated. He’ll be kicking himself that he never went on to three figures in both innings, but he’s our middle order rock, and while I think 5 is one spot too low for him, it looks like that’s where he will stay.

Before we get on to the main man, I thought I’d say I was disappointed with what I saw from the BlackCaps bowling today. It was a tough morning, but I wasn’t buying the narrative that it was THAT tough. Sure, it was decent enough, but maybe this attack has been a little over-rated, maybe based on ODI form rather than tests. As for the spinner, Craig, I’ve been really disappointed. He appears to have been easily dominated at times. Still, that would be nit-picking.

Now to the main matter of the day. Alastair Cook has made 153 not out. I am not going to churlish, nor am I going to be a hypocrite. I think the way he has been projected, the way he has acted, the way he has been protected and the way he has been canonised has been every bit as big a disaster in its handling and its duration as the KP saga with which he is intertwined. If it is true that he is keeping you know who out of the team for whatever personal reasons he cannot tell us, then the opprobrium I have for him, and others here, is well deserved. That said, you cannot argue with the facts. That was an excellent innings today. An excellent innings. I can sit back and say that without any fear, nor any rancour. I’ve been hard on him for his protected status and I was not wrong that his form at times last year did not mean he should be the automatic choice he was. Those who tell us to do one today are the short-termists, not me.

So, to repeat, that was an excellent knock today, it’s what we need him to do, it does not make him a great leader of men, it did not merit the widespread sychophancy eminating from the press and Sky Sports box for how much his team loves him. As I said, I’m more neutral towards this team than I would like – I can’t help it, sorry – and so I look at these things more dispassionately, and Cook’s knock was one of his best given the context of the match. But I couldn’t cheer it to the rafters. Rather appreciate it for what it was – a very good openers knock – rather than those who oppose KP, who seem to spit blood every time he did anything any good, and disparage him at every turn.

I know others here are more passionately against this team, and I can understand that. I will not condemn that. Because when you see those bastards in their box, no doubt believing this vindicates their tough choices, I get it. But today was a good day to look to the future, with the rock opening and allowing them to express themselves. We’ve shown less fear in this game. That I welcome.

Comments for Day 5 should follow below. Century Watch will follow this test match.

England v New Zealand – 1st Test, Day 3 – Open Thread

New Zealand 303-2 (Williamson 92*, Guptill 70, Latham 59, Taylor 47*) trail England 389 (Root 98, Stokes 92, Buttler 67, Moeen Ali 58 – Boult 4/79, Henry 4/93) by 86 runs with 8 first innings wickets remaining.

Dmitri doing the match update stuff today, so maybe this won’t be to everyone’s tastes!

The events of the past 15 months have seen my attitude to cricket change considerably. I had been a truly passionate supporter of England, and while I always appreciated the great players around the world, I would get to dislike some of them based on the fact that they weren’t from my team. You can’t help who you are. Now, with the nonsense of the past 15 months, with no sign of any meaningful contrition, I watch the matches with a more neutral perspective. This time a couple of years ago the performances this evening of Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson would have driven me mad. Instead I watched as a man struggling with his body, and to some extent his game, in Ross Taylor battle gainfully, fighting hard, grafting. I love that in a player. Then there was the almost too perfect Kane Williamson, looking every part the true class batsman he is. It was almost inevitable he made runs, looking totally in tune with his game, and rarely, if ever, looking threatened. I’m preparing the next instalment of Century Watch for the inevitable… (that’ll curse him). It’s early days, I know, and this will be just two tests, but do you remember how, in the mid 2000s, every time Mohammed Yousuf came to the crease, you knew he’d score runs? I felt like that with Kane today.

A lot of comment both here and on Twitter was focused on the Cook captaincy. It’s a default setting we have, that if things go wrong, it’s our beloved captain who is to blame. We knew what we were getting when we appointed him. Solid opening bat (at the time) with a penchant for run gluts, but also technically based, and vulnerable to flaws. The appointed vice-captain who had the label “not a natural captain” when he deputised for Strauss in Bangladesh. This is not a surprise, and I save my ire for Headingley Day 4 disasters rather than today. Those of us at The Oval in 2012 saw just how a pedstrian, out of sorts, bowling attack can struggle whoever is captain. Even his attempts at tactical changes, such as the leg trap and bowling round the wicket are almost by-the-numbers. I’m at the stage that having a pop at his captaincy isn’t worth it. He’ll have his days (Grenada Day 5 wasn’t just Jimmy Anderson) but he’ll have a lot of bad ones. This wasn’t in the same league as those that actually lose tests.

The match is set up well. England’s score was brilliant considering we were 30-4, and I thought it was more competitive than it looks right now. I was watching the Brisbane test on the flight home on Tuesday and saw how smug we were to have bowled out the Aussies for 280 odd, because it was a flat deck and the tail had put the runs together. We know what happened next. This score looked better because we scored quickly and there was a view that the pitch has something in it. New Zealand batted well, some chances were missed (rare is the game where every chance is taken), and they are pouring it on. Yes, if Wood’s over-stepping hadn’t been caught, the day might have been different, but that’s the game. The perceived weakness in the Black Caps, the supposed flaky opening partnership, put on a really decent platform (admittedly, I was catching up with sleep for most of it – still suffering) and now everyone is worried about McCullum. I’d be more worried about the bloke who is 92 not out and has a big double to his name in the very recent past.

For added reading today, have a laugh at Martin Samuel’s Daily Mail column – this is a football writer (and I despise him for that) trying to justify his varied sport portfolio and he spent yesterday bemoaning people going on and on about you know who, and wrote a whole column, it seemed, on you know who. I’m no fan of Newman, but when you have him and Lawrence Booth on your books, what’s the point of Samuel just showing up and writing this stuff? I’ve not read Selvey, so will go and look at it. I got a whiff of Simon and Smiffy at lunchtime on TMS, and FICJAM was in marvellous condescending form. I also had plenty of fuel to my anti-Lord’s fire with the constant looks at the spectators there today – I’m sorry, if you dress like that for a sporting event, there’s something up – and if you chucked, or allowed, a champagne cork on a football ground in this country you’d be banned for life (first for smuggling it in).

Lastly, from Vian and I, many thanks for the visits and comments. It’s the 22nd of May and this blog has had more hits in a calendar month than any here on BOC, or HDWLIA. This is, of course, down to the new writer, who is now outshining me at every turn 🙂 . I’m going to get The Analyst to write a piece like this on him any day now. Seriously, it’s been brilliant how his style has been received here and I know he’s going down really well. It’ll be his turn tomorrow night/Sunday morning…..

Cheers all, and looking forward to tomorrow’s play.

Comments below.