A single day’s play and the mood music sort of changes. After an eventful first test where key moments, and catching/fielding, went the way of the home team, today England did that thing that statisticians and analysts might call “regressing to the mean”. That is they dropped catches, didn’t appear to bowl the right lengths, didn’t hit the stumps on run out attempts, didn’t use reviews wisely, so that at the end of the day New Zealand cashed in and are in a very strong position. This on a pitch that, although good for batting, isn’t without a little bounce which I would imagine Kyle Jamieson in particular is going to really look forward to.
I would be lying to you if I said I watched all of the play. I have a dog to walk and a house to maintain while my wife is away, so that is (a) how I missed all the wickets that fell (two, I confess, while napping on the sofa – if you have read my non-league football stuff you will know that three grounds have tried to charge me OAP rates so I am getting on) and (b) this partial report on today is being written at 11 pm at (tautologous) night. By now you may well have seen the highlights, or read the other reports, so go knock yourself out, they probably watched it all!
There seemed to be a feeling that things were going England’s way when Kane Williamson pulled out with covid. Now no-one seems hugely bothered with this and New Zealand are not packing their bags to leave, the main concern (other than his health) was that this might weaken the visitors and perhaps emblematic of a change in fortune for England. The visitors brought in Henry Nicholls who might have played instead of Mitchell in the 1st test, and made Tom Latham captain. Matt Henry came in for Patel and de Grandhomme was replaced by another Bracewell (Michael – making his debut). England are unchanged from the team that started at Lord’s, with Leach back to fitness. England won the toss and chose to field. New Zealand would have done the same. I’ve never been a fan of that defence of a decision.
New Zealand got off to a solid start, running excepted, and the runs began to flow. After an hour of watching England get some bounce, but not a huge amount of threat against Tom Latham and Will Young, my dog indicated I had better leave right now (an evergreen joke that one), and while I had a strong desire to stay, showing jealousy for those who might be able to still watch, I left, and said to the TV, England, don’t let me down. [enough, enough Will Young].
England got two wickets in two balls just before lunch, but then Conway and Nicholls stopped the bleeding, with Conway in particular cruising along at a fair old clip. Again, one got two in four or so overs, with Stokes and Anderson repeating the wicket takers. By then England had already dropped Nicholls, with Nasser on comms in forgiving mood. At 169 for 4, and a debutant due in next, and a perceived long tail, England appeared slightly in front, but that would be the last success. Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell reprised their Lord’s partnership and finished the day unbeaten on 81 and 67 respectively, and an unbroken partnership of 149.
Chris said to me, when I commented that the piece didn’t exactly write itself today, that it was a normal day’s test cricket, and we’ve been used to 200 plays 170 and such like. There is a point to that, and a lot of my thoughts, as they are, go to similar days, and it has a first day of 2004 at Trent Bridge feel when after the end of Day 1, New Zealand were well on top. They had made 295 for 4, but England struck back and won the game (a 4th innings century of great class by Graham Thorpe – and we all wish him well). Games can turn around, and series can turn around. Lord’s Day 3 was a great example of that too. But there needs to be early wickets with the new ball, and some consideration of what it takes to get those dismissals, because the bowling and plans seemed pretty confused in the absence of much swing. Potts finding out how tough test cricket can be, Leach expected to perform miracles on a Day 1 pitch, Broad going at a fair old rate.
Finally, and I need to get off to bed, test cricket is a huge leveller. The only thing England didn’t catch at Lord’s was covid, today they really missed chances, most notably Joe Root spilling a simple chance to dismiss Mitchell when he had only 3. I can’t comment on a wobble or not, because, frankly, I didn’t notice it, but it is really, really interesting how the commentators started to make excuses for a dolly drop. I am not asking them to berate Root. I was a crap crap slip fielder, it is hard. One wonders if this were Pope, Foakes or Crawley missing an easy chance whether the world would be so forgiving. Root knows, he doesn’t need molly-coddling, but it’s just symptomatic sometimes of how the game works. I shouldn’t let it bother me, but I wouldn’t write a blog if I could just turn the other cheek. Other chances went down, a bit harder, but England will live to rue them should they end up on the wrong end of this.
That’s the fear. England are going to face, in all likelihood, a minimum 400. This will mean someone, or more than someONE, hanging about and batting England into the game. That’s not been their strong point. Day 2 is going to be very interesting.
Post Script – Mark Taylor, who I absolutely loved in the comms box last time, was clearly a special appointment and was today subbed in by Darren Gough. I was pleasantly surprised, to be honest, as he came across as a thinking observer with several really good points throughout the day. There was a bit more “bantz” than at Lord’s between the others, maybe because the day wasn’t quite as gripping, but I think there has been a decided change in tone in the Sky team, and I may be in a minority, but I like it. They need to keep that up, in my view. There was one funny part where Gough thought a pint of beer at the test was around £5, and the Sky producer put the prices up and showed they were £6.80. Gough then said he wouldn’t know, as he doesn’t remember the last time he had to buy one in the ground. A serious point to note is, of course, most of the pundit and former player class have absolutely no clue what punters have to pay for stuff. Gough isn’t alone in this, and I’m not having a go. Someone on twitter thought I was being anti-northerner and anti-working class pointing this out, which just shows, now 8 years since this blog went fairly mad, that there is still capability for a Twitter person to shock and sadden me with stupidity. Me? Anti-working class. He’s never met me, obvs.
Comments on anything you want, and I have no idea who is doing Day 2, below.