That Was Bloody Yesterday – Day 2 of the England v New Zealand Test

One of the joys of Test cricket is that you can dip in and out of it as work and other commitments allow. That has certainly been the case for me, as I missed the first four sessions due to seeing some of my family. The upshot of which is that I’ve missed the fall of twenty three wickets (live, at least), and instead witnessed a fairly steady accumulation by New Zealand towards what might already be an unassailable lead.

The day began with the hope of a wagging tail for England fans, which obviously fell apart within minutes. Stuart Broad is a long way from the batsman who recorded a Test century at Lord’s twelve years ago, Foakes has yet to recapture his batting form from a few years ago, and Parkinson must be totally unprepared for facing this New Zealand attack at such short notice. They managed to eke a small lead for the hosts between them, but that was the best anyone could expect.

New Zealand’s second innings begans much as the first did, with a flurry of wickets. Young, Latham and Williamson all fell before the Lunch break, which certainly gave England a chance of winning a Test for the first time in nine matches. However, it’s also important to retain a sense of perspective about things, particularly with regards to the quality (or lack thereoff) of this England team. Only a complete idiot would have suggested that England were clear favourites to win this game at Lunch, even if New Zealand were 38/3 at the time.

Conway gloved a legside delivery to the wicketkeeper just after the Lunch break, but that was where the good news finished for England fans. Mitchell and Blundell went on to score almost two hundred runs and put England very much on the back foot. The ball seemingly died and England’s fast-medium attack (plus the inexperienced Parkinson) were simply unable to trouble the batters.

It bears saying that England bowling reasonably well (for the first few sessions, at least) is not, and should not be, a surprise. At home, there is a plethora of fast-mediums who can trouble virtually any batting lineup in the world. Even when abroad, England would have a perfectly fine Test bowling unit if they could stop injuring their fast bowlers for a few months. The greatest improvement for England in this game has been in terms of their catching. It felt (and, not having CricViz’s database, that’s all I have) like England were dropping about half of the chances which came their way this winter. In the past two days, I’m not sure if they have dropped anything. A lot of this might be down to luck, as the chances have mostly gone to England’s best outfielder in Jonny Bairstow. Even so, it makes a huge difference when England’s bowlers only have to create ten wicket-taking chances rather than fourteen or fifteen.

There has been a lot of vitriol directed towards the MCC regarding their extortionate ticket prices, and not before time. One thing which stood out to me today is the frankly poor condition of the playing field. Leach’s injury seemed to come from his slide causing a divot, which tipped him forward onto his head. Mitchell, Parkinson and Broad have all had similar issues when fielding near the boundary. These kinds of incidents always remind me of Simon Jones’ ruptured knee in Brisbane, and I hate seeing it. Between this and a lot of low bounce on just the second day, it certainly doesn’t look like much of the MCC’s copious finances are spent on maintaining the pitch.

McCullum may well be watching this match and wonder what he has got himself in for. No batting to speak of, a bowling unit gutted by injury (even moreso without Leach), and very little time to turn things round. Although I believe he’s signed a four year contract, it’s hard to see him surviving if he is the first England coach to lose a home Ashes series in twenty-two years. He’s got to at least demonstrate progress in just fourteen months. If he was looking for positives to take, it seems likely that they will bat on the third day. This will mean that they won’t really have to deal with a deteriorating pitch, and will generally face batting-friendly conditions.

Of course, England fans will be all too aware that batting-friendly conditions haven’t helped them in the recent past and probably won’t here.


Rain, rain go away…

If there’s one thing to be said for today’s complete washout, it’s that for once after the first day no one will be expressing certainty about which way the game is going. Indeed it’s fair to say neither team has the upper hand…

What it does mean is that over the next four days there will (should) be 98 overs bowled, which in an ideal world would make up a third of the lost play on day one. In reality of course, the teams will probably fail to get the overs in, and with a longer day involved, ironically there are more overs to lose. That we’re at the point where the absolute certainty that the teams will get away without bowling what is meant to be a minimum stipulation – and with an extra half hour to make up for any delays – remains ridiculous. Those that advocate four day Tests have never managed to answer this particular problem besides saying that the overs stipulation should be enforced. Well, yes. But it won’t be, and the overwhelming evidence for that is because it isn’t.

Equally, the loss of day one turns this into a four day game, with the follow on target reduced to 150 runs. A rare example of good sense in the international game.

Other than that, the forecast for tomorrow is for a cool day with light showers, and a weekend of rather better weather before Monday turns iffy again. The nature of the two batting line ups means that there could still be a result, depending on the surface produced. It has certainly looked green in the previews before today, though Lord’s is rarely a bowlers paradise.

Social media carried its fair share of postings about what the players and media had for lunch, which always seems a peculiar way to promote the ground, given how the plebs are confined to bringing their own or selling a kidney in order to buy a ropey burger and chips. Lord’s is a funny place. Half the time it appears to be the Henley Regatta of cricket, a place to see and be seen for a certain kind of person, rather than a sporting venue.

For sure, some will be lining up to point to it being the same old BOC moaning, but the problem is that the general public always appear to be invited in on sufferance rather than welcomed, except financially – and given the extraordinary prices charged, that financially is clearly a major factor. But it always jars somewhat to see what amounts to a celebration of the right kind of people being in attendance, something that doesn’t happen at any other ground – not even the Oval, which is hardly a bargain basement entry fee. Some things they get spot on, the installation of water fountains is an unqualified good thing, the ability to bring in your own drink equally so. It’s not like everything about it is objectionable by any means, but there’s a feeling about visiting, a nagging dislike that won’t go away.

Perhaps it’s me. Perhaps it’s a reverse snobbery to have a problem with the endless hagiography for the place, for undoubtedly it is a special ground for the players, the most special and iconic. But of all the grounds to go and watch cricket, Lord’s is generally my least favourite. I have friends who strongly disagree, and who love the pomp of a visit there, and as a club player, there’s nothing in your dreams quite so much as the outside prospect of reaching the club or village knockout final played there.

It’s beautiful, it’s historic, and it’s genuinely special. But as a paying spectator? Not for me, Clive. Or Sir Clive more likely.

The Ashes: 2nd Test preview

Brad Haddin won’t be playing in this match for personal reasons – there’s nothing else that need be said about that except to wish him well.  Cricket is just a game.

Few realistically expected England to arrive at Lords 1-0 up, and even fewer to have been so dominant at Cardiff, a venue where Australia were thought to hold all the cards before the game.   Reports indicate that Shane Watson will be jettisoned from the team, and if so it is hard to escape the feeling that it will be the end of his Test career.  It seems exceptionally harsh to do so after one match, given he was downright unlucky in both innings but especially the first.  Selecting Mitchell Marsh for the first Test would have been a perfectly reasonable choice; but having gone with Watson, to then drop him after a single outing carries the whiff of panic about it, both scapegoating him for the team’s failings and effectively an admission it was the wrong call in the first place.

Furthermore, it is hard to see a way back for Watson now, meaning a player who is likely to be somewhat disgruntled is in the squad for the remainder of the series with little chance of selection ever again.  It’s the kind of muddled thinking that we’ve seen all too often from England in recent times.

Peter Nevill will make his debut as ‘keeper for this match, and by all accounts is a batsman/keeper rather than a wicketkeeper/batsman.  Lords has made more than one highly competent wicketkeeper look foolish with the ball moving after the bat, so it will be a tough challenge for him to start his international career there.  Perhaps many England supporters too will hope he has a decent game.

It seems likely that Starc will play, demonstrating that Cricket Australia now operate a Mitchell quota system.  There’s been little said about continuing to bowl him so extensively at Cardiff, but there must be question marks about his fitness over five days.  The enforced retirement of Ryan Harris was clearly a blow, but the ineffectiveness of the seamers has produced ripples of concern about the depth of the Australian bowling stocks.  More than anything, it is a response to the result on a very slow pitch rather than a real problem, Starc, Hazlewood and Johnson remain a major threat.

The same can be said for the batting, and it is striking how a single result can change the perception and the reading of the two sides.  Australia’s batting is now fragile, Warner is having difficulty with the pitches and the swinging ball (as an aside, it is quite impressive how Warner can so consistently say the wrong thing – why on earth would he come out with that?), Chris Rogers’ failure to score a century is reaching crisis proportions, Clarke is all over the place against Broad, Steve Smith’s technique is questionable in English conditions, while for England Cook has become a great captain, Root is the best batsman in the world, Bell is back, Stokes is devastating, Wood is the heir to Simon Jones and so on.

It’s nonsense of course, Australia’s batting isn’t necessarily their strong suit, but little has changed since before the series began except that they played appallingly in one match – more than anything, getting in and getting out is something batsmen view as the ultimate crime, and they did it spectacularly across the board.  What has changed is that they’re under a little more pressure to perform than before, because defeat at Lords and the prospect of the team unravelling comes into view.  The records of the players involved means there is no reason why they shouldn’t come back with a vengeance, and although the Lords surface is likely to be fairly slow again, it’s usually an excellent batting wicket and one they should find to their liking.

For England, it is likely they will name an unchanged side.  Moeen Ali was the big doubt, but Adil Rashid’s endless wait for his debut will continue, as he has been ruled out by injury.  That Moeen was set to miss the match clearly means he isn’t going to be completely fit, and thus his selection is a considerable gamble.  From this distance it’s impossible to know how serious it is, but for a player to be considered unfit to play, and then magically sufficiently fit when his replacement is unavailable hardly seems like good management of resources.  It should also be remembered that if the injury flares up during the game, England will not be entitled to a substitute fielder, and one would imagine Australia will be very aware of that – of course the same applies to Starc.

Although England’s batting performed very well at Cardiff, they have been prone to falling over in recent times, and not always in hostile conditions.  Early wickets were lost in the first Test for not very many, something that they have become rather prone to, and they aren’t always going to recover from that.  Cook had a quiet game with the bat, and despite Root’s heroics, he remains instrumental in drawing the sting from the seamers.

It’s extremely hard to call this game.  It will likely go near the distance, as Lord’s is the epitome of a chairman’s pitch.  Australia have a slight hint of disarray about them, but that will be swiftly put aside if they play well here.  England have the opportunity of opening up some major cracks in the opposition, but they will have to play better than they did at Cardiff to do that.  Should they do so, then all bets are off for the remainder of the series, and the howls of protest from Down Under will be loud and long.

I’ve said before that you don’t know a team is past it until it actually happens, and they often spectacularly implode when it does (viz. England 2013/14), but equally one defeat doesn’t for a second mean we are there yet.  For that reason, this Test is completely pivotal.  An Australian victory sets the expected balance of the world back on its perceived correct axis.  An England victory, and it’s crisis point.  It will be a fascinating five days.