New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 5 – Inevitability

It only took me around 2 overs last night to realise there was more chance of Colin Graves turning into a forward thinking and pragmatic administrator than there was in seeing some sort of positive of result in the 2nd Test. Some may rue the early missed opportunities on the morning of Day 5 with Ollie Pope putting down what would be a regulation catch for a full time wicketkeeper (which he is not and should never have been put in that position) and then Joe Denly dropping a sitter off Jofra Archer, but in all reality it wouldn’t have mattered. The pitch was the type of pudding that makes those cricket administrators that actually value the Test game have sleepless nights and of course England’s decision not to play a frontline spinner was made to look just as stupid as we all thought it would.

It’s difficult to know what England have got out of such a small Test series, other than another defeat and it drives me mad that we had 5 games of hit and giggle when a 3rd Test would have been far preferable but that’s what we get these days, a load of pointless white ball games to try and make the tours profitable. It’s a sad indictment of the health of the game. The main headline is naturally that England have failed to win a Test series in 2019 for the first time in 20 years. Again this should be a damning indictment on the ECB, as a so called member of the Big 3; however the ECB have made it plainly clear that they simply don’t care about the longer format of the game, they’d rather con fans into attending a white elephant of a competition that will make a small few richer and many more much poorer. In reality this series was simply a carbon copy of the New Zealand tour of 2018 with the hosts dominating a rather feeble touring team who have yet to work out how to take 20 wickets away from home (hint – dropping your frontline spinner isn’t the answer) and a batting unit that is both inexperienced and shorn of confidence. There may have been talk before the series about learning to bat properly in Test’s again instead of playing an aggressive brand of cricket which can be best described as reckless, but in the end the results have been the same. The best batsmen in the world know how to time their innings in Test cricket and know when to attack and when to defend, but unfortunately England don’t have very many of these, hence the need for the coaches to come up with sweeping statements in how they should approach their innings.

If this seems overly gloomy then I apologise, but I do feel as I did with the Ashes which resulted in another defeat, that the glass is half empty with this team rather than half full. Sure, there were positives that can be taken out of this series such as Joe Root finally regaining the hunger and application to make big runs in Test Cricket. Rory Burns has also cemented his spot at the top of the order and is beginning to look like a proper Test opener, even if he does seem prone to the odd brain fart at times. It was also good to see Ollie Pope make some runs in Test cricket as I do believe he has the talent to be one of our best batsmen in the future, though I would naturally prefer it if the selectors didn’t try and make it even harder for him to succeed by giving him the gloves or moving him up the order away from his natural position. C’est plus change! I can’t though buy into the captain’s statements after the Test series mind, with Root commenting after the 2nd consecutive defeat this year:

I feel like we’re a more rounded team for being out here, we got ourselves in a position in that first game where we could have gone on and put them under huge amounts of pressure, made a big first-innings score just like we did this week.

“It could have looked very different. But one thing I’m really proud of is the way we learned the lessons quickly from that.”

I personally don’t buy into being proud of a team that has just lost another series unless you were running the 1980’s West Indian team or the early 2000’s Australian team close. New Zealand are a good side with a decent bowling attack, 1 world class batsman and a couple of other international class batsmen, but certainly not a team I’d be proud to lose against. Sure, Root has got to say the right things on camera, but I’d have preferred him to look at what they didn’t do well and commit to do these better. Indeed, there were a number of weaknesses that this team displayed and areas that they can improve on. We still can’t perform with the Kookaburra ball away from home, with the England quicks (probably excluding Stuart Broad) looking less than potent; Jofra Archer has in particular had a poor tour and I do wonder whether Root’s overuse of him during the Ashes has led to the fact that his pace has been down all series. England also need to decide on a frontline spinner and to stick with him. I have no problem at all with it being Jack Leach as he is a tidy bowler with the ability to keep things tight and pick up the odd wicket. He isn’t going to run through a team at Test level, but then again, I’m not sure whether we have one of those spinners in the English setup, but we simply can’t be picking 5 seamers in future. There has to be questions around Sibley, Buttler and Denly, whilst the former should be given the rest of the winter despite his struggles in this series, Buttler definitely needs some competition as his statistics don’t smack of Test Match batsman (Ed – Pick a bloody reserve wicket keeper for South Africa for the love of god!) and whilst the latter is improving in the Test format of the game, he is 34 and needs to turn these 60’s and 70’s into a big century to fully justify his inclusion above a younger talent.

So, we head to South Africa and whilst their board are doing the best impression of the ECB, the cricket on the field isn’t going to get any easier. In fact, this winter schedule seems to have been designed to break some of our cricketers especially Ben Stokes (who was asked to do his best impression of David Saker’s bowling manual at times last night), so there is a good chance things could get worse rather than better.

Another series and another defeat is not what we wanted or hoped for to start the winter with; however, it could easily be argued that ECB have got exactly what they deserved. It’s not a particularly pleasant feeling for fans of the national team mind.

Feel free to share any thoughts on the series below.

Curating a Better Egg

Barring a collapse from New Zealand of the kind that England have so often managed to conjure up in these circumstances, this match will probably end in a draw, not least because the weather forecast isn’t overly promising.  The hard facts will then be that England have lost a second successive series in New Zealand, albeit with only two Test in each instance the term “series” is barely justified.

The surface in Hamilton is slow to the point of being turgid, and England have demonstrated they can definitely bat on such pitches, so assuming this game to be a benchmark for the future would be unwise to the point of recklessness.  But it is also the case that in both matches England have at least tried to play more like a Test team with the bat, and if that went rather badly wrong in the first match, it was at least an attempt.  As Dr Johnson once said about a dog walking on his hind legs, it’s not that it is done well, but you are surprised to see it done at all.  Perhaps this is a new approach, perhaps it is indicative that England are taking Test match batting more seriously and without the carefree approach that has seen them fall in a heap all too often.  Or perhaps it’s just a very slow pitch with minimal movement that has allowed them to plod to big total.  Whether the glass is half full or half empty probably depends on how many times someone has cursed at the television over recent years when England are playing away from home.

The upside is that Joe Root will unquestionably be better for a long innings and a big hundred.  Sure, conditions for batting were benign, even if upping the tempo was difficult, but Root’s relatively poor run in recent times appeared less down to a technique that couldn’t cope with faster tracks than someone who appeared to have lost his patience to play long form cricket.  To what degree this was down to his pursuit of T20 contracts is a matter for debate, but it certainly can’t have hurt to be reminded of what it felt like to play a long Test innings and make the kind of personal score almost forgotten by English batsmen.

In the same spirit, Ollie Pope’s 75 is also highly welcome, especially so given his additional role this match as emergency wicketkeeper.  He is a player of promise, and at such a young age there is no reason to assume he won’t learn and develop, meaning his occasional extravagant shots can be forgiven at the present time.

The new coaching set up had insisted that England were going to bat properly in Tests and these two matches have at least shown a willingness to try.  That doesn’t mean the first Test collapses aren’t indicative of pre-existing faults, but at such an early stage, perhaps a willingness to give the benefit of the doubt towards the intention is worthwhile.

What it doesn’t fix is England’s ongoing problems using the Kookaburra ball overseas, but then there are many reasons behind it that are unlikely to be fixed in a couple of Tests in New Zealand, even if there was a firm intention to fix them at all, which remains doubtful.

Slow, low pitches provide the least entertaining conditions for watching cricket, and if the setting is stunning, the cricket has not been.  The game can ever surprise, but anything other than a draw after tonight will be a major one.  Test series should never really be just about learning for the future, but neither should it just be a case of looking at outcome and ignoring at least the possibility of progress, however limited that might be.

The problem is invariably a complete lack of faith in the ECB to truly mean any of what is needed to provide a genuine pathway, but if the ECB’s duplicity in talking up Test cricket while acting at every stage to undermine it, at least they’re not alone in that.  Cricket South Africa have provided an object lesson in Dennis Healey’s first law of holes – having removed the accreditation of cricket journalists for the crime of daring to criticise a highly dysfunctional governing body, they have subsequently tried to justify it, apologised for it while justifying it, mentioned that cricket journalists should only be talking about events on the field, and even got in the ECB favourite of thanking the stakeholders.  They haven’t so much backtracked as crabbed sideways before flipping over and waving their legs in the air in a vain attempt to get back upright.  It remains endlessly fascinating how cricket administration is so appallingly inept that it even fails to reach the limbo level low bar of sports administration generally.

With England due to arrive in South Africa in a fortnight, it offers up the enticing prospect of playing against a team whose governing body is even more crassly incompetent than their own, although in their favour they haven’t yet come up with an entirely new but unnecessary playing format.

Still, first things first – England do have a match to win this evening, and unlikely as it may be, the old favourite of a couple of quick wickets making it interesting will certainly apply.

Hey Rainmaker, Come Away From That Man – 2nd Test, Day 3

Dmitri here, as a late stand-in to write today’s little piece. And for once, I promise it will be short!

England started the day in an awkward position, but the theory was/is that England would have the best of the batting conditions on Day 3. With Rory Burns and Joe Root, who had built a decent partnership at Old Trafford back in September against the Aussies, at the crease, it was clear that a lot of responsibility was on their shoulders. They started quite fluently, and Burns reached 50 first as Wagner tested whether he could play the short ball or not (he could, and when he middled it, the ball fairly flew to the boundary). Joe Root was much more circumspect, cutting out some of the more risky shots in his repertoire, but relying more on the the nudges and flicks.

At lunch, and with me flicking back and forth between this and the Iron Bowl (War Eagle!), I decided, after an hour failing to get to sleep, to stay up until Rory Burns made his century, or fail trying. Post-lunch the play was very sedate – good for England to get some time at the crease, play proper test cricket and get a sound base, but not wonderful if you are actually trying to win the game (and I believe that ship sailed once New Zealand passed 300).

The pace slowed, England facing the bowling dry ethic, some funky field settings and some thoughtful, if not penetrating bowling, and had to remain patient. Burns had some release shots, most notably when he seemed a little stuck on 94, when he got a nice wide gift, and then a few balls later he made it to his second ton with a flick off the hips. I said before this test that Rory is a AAAA player in baseball parlance, and I still think he is to a degree. But what he is at the moment is the best opener in England, so he’s certain of his place for a while now.

A brain fart did for him, just as Athers was commenting that this was a time for a big ton, Burns pushed for two, wasn’t the quickest on the first run, and was one frame short for the return. Having survived almost being sawn off by Joe Root earlier (Matt Henry missing the throw in from the outfield), it seemed a particularly careless dismissal. One suspects that this innings will turn out to be more important to Rory than it will be for England.

Joe Root got stuck in, didn’t give it away, accumulated and made a confidence building hundred. While I am most worried about the captaincy’s effect on Joe Root’s average, and production for the team, this doesn’t answer the questions about his ability to lead in the field that are getting louder and louder. This was a vital innings, and to be very fair, Root has tons in his last three overseas tours, so he’s not failing to produce away from home. But again, the innings also was one that didn’t advance the game in any way, and probably betrayed the lack of confidence he might have in this team. It would look a good innings if we were trying to save the series. In terms of winning it, it maybe wasn’t the best policy. For our long term future, it might be the most valuable for the team. Cricket is funny like that.

Root made his slowest century in terms of balls faced (I’m getting a Matthew Hayden at the Oval vibe) but he’s still there, and while he is, England can contemplate getting up to New Zealand’s total. The dimissals of Stokes, who nicked to first slip after a fluent cameo, and Crawley, who might have blown his one chance for a while by nicking off to Wagner for 1, set England back. Ollie Pope came in and stabilised the innings with Root to take England to 269 for 5 – 106 behind but with a chance, if only a slim one – before the remainder of the day was rained off. The forecast isn’t crash hot for the rest of the game either. All pointers are for a second successive 1-0 win for New Zealand in a two test series. This pitch is a slow pudding, and it’s hard to see England bowling New Zealand out with time to chase down a winning total.

Thought for the day(s) – Doesn’t the way Warner has got nearly 500 runs, for once out, in two digs on flat Aussie wickets with the Kookaburra ball speak absolute volumes for the quality of some test cricket. Pakistan will enjoy it in England, if we put up the same conditions as we have in the past few years. It’s mad. Also, Yasir Shah made a test hundred. The game is in a pretty old shape, ain’t it?

Comments on Day 4 below.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 2

It’s an odd experience, writing a match report for a game I’ve barely seen, hurrying to get it finished before I go to work in the morning.

The story of the New Zealand innings seems to have been one of slow, attritional batting against England’s seamers bowling dry. Probably not a bad one to sleep through, now I come to think of it.

Broad did most of the damage, getting rid of the dangerous BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell (not that one). Archer, Curran and Woakes combined to take the last few wickets, dismissing New Zealand for 375.

One thing which truly angers me is that Ben Stokes bowled 11 overs today. Stokes is, after Anderson’s injury and Root’s dramatic loss if form, probably the first name in the team sheet for the Test team. Or at least would be, if England didn’t have such a maverick selector. Therefore, and I know this may sound crazy and nonsensical to Joe Root or anyone in England’s medical team, they should STOP TRYING TO FUCKING INJURE HIM. He has what seems to me to be a large amount of strapping on his leg, and frankly I don’t think I would even risk him fielding. He is the only Test-quality batsman England have right now, and losing that to an avoidable injury would be an absolute disaster.

Of course, the normal thing to do when a bowler is injured would be to lean more on your spinners. Leach’s exclusion from the team always made this unlikely though, and in the end Root and Denly only bowled 6 overs between them. It is a consistent thread through Root’s captaincy, and Cook and Strauss before him, that there’s almost never any inkling of long term considerations in their decisions on the field. They will drive a player into dust in order to increase their chances of winning the game in hand, when that player could make a greater impact through the whole season if they were handled with more care. The most obvious example would be the end of Flower’s tenure as coach, when the whole team virtually imploded, but England and the ECB don’t seem to have learned any lessons in the years since.

England had 18 overs to face at the end of the day, and battled through to the end without conceding…

Just kidding. Obviously, England lost two cheap wickets and will have to bat really well tomorrow to have any chance tomorrow of drawing this series. Sibley fell cheaply again, and (admittedly after only 3 innings) he isn’t impressing so far as a potential England opener. Denly, who seems likely to open in South Africa, didn’t do any better. Oddly, Zak Crawley didn’t come out to bat today. The batsman, who was apparently in contention to open the batting for England in this series, is down at 6 in the batting order. I just can’t understand that decision.

As will surprise no one after seeing only 6 overs if spin were bowled, the day ended 4 overs short. Nothing will happen, of course, but we do like to keep mentioning it.

On a positive note, at least we aren’t Pakistan fans, as they are watching Australia absolutely cream them. Smith and Warner have apparently both beaten some of Don Bradman’s records, and it’s looking like a really one-sided bloodbath over there.

If you have anything to add, especially if you actually watched the game last night and can offer some real insight, feel free to comment below.

New Zealand vs. England, 2nd Test, Day 1 review – Highway to Hell

I’m going to admit that I haven’t even watched a single ball of this Test Match so far. As soon as I saw the sorry excuse for a team that Ed Smith and his merry bunch of idiots had put together, I simply felt that there was no point and decided to watch the NFL. I’m thankful for my choice on reflection.

It’s difficult to know where to start really, although the decision not to bring a back up wicketkeeper in case of injury is probably the most calamitous. Wicketkeepers and decent wicketkeeper batsmen at that, are England’s strongest suit at the moment, hell we could probably field a half decent team of purely wicketkeepers, but you know what, Ed Smith doesn’t abide by sane decisions. He likes to look like a maverick after all. I’m still waiting for Stuart Broad to open the batting in some sort of bizarre cricketing masterstroke by Ed. It’s all good and fun except when your sole wicketkeeper gets injured and you have throw in a young, inexperienced batsman who is trying to navigate his way in Test Cricket behind the stumps. Well bloody done Ed! Also, what does it say to the various other excellent wicketkeepers in the country? Ben Foakes might have had a slight slip in standards with the bat last year, but he is still the best wicketkeeper in the country, so what he has he said or done to offend clever Ed so much? Bairstow although lacking the technique to score big runs in Test cricket right now was out in New Zealand, so why send him back home? The mind just boggles. So, as a result of this tremendous forward planning England had to completely reshuffle the batting unit resulting in players batting out of position again. Incompetence par excellence by the selectors, this was fuck up number 1.

Fuck up number 2 then came when England decided they didn’t need to play a spinner. If you have the West Indian fast bowling attack of the 1980’s, then it might just be forgivable. Unfortunately, England don’t. Jack Leach hasn’t set Test cricket on fire with his bowling (his batting is another matter), but he has been tidy, hasn’t conceded too many runs and chipped in with the odd wicket, so why the hell would we drop him for another military medium pace bowler? Who decision was this? Was it the captain? Was it the coach? Was it Father Christmas? Whoever it was deserves to be made to listen to Simon Hughes podcasts every day for the rest of their life!

That leads to fuck up number 3. Without a spin bowler, England had to bowl first whether they really wanted to deep in the hearts or not. Yes, I believe there was some long grass on the wicket, but the pitches in New Zealand have generally been fairly flat for the last couple of years, certainly not green seamers with wild swing for the quick bowlers. So, having elected to play 5 quick bowlers with no spinner and to bowl first at New Zealand then they needed to have an exceptional day with the ball and to make deep inroads into the New Zealand batting line up. Narrator: ‘They did not’. I haven’t seen any of the game so I’m really not sure how well England bowled or didn’t, but the fact remains that on a day curtailed by rain, New Zealand are only 3 down with Tom Latham scoring a decent century to put the hosts right in the box seat.

So, onto today’s play, England once again will need to make early inroads if they want to make a game of this at all. If New Zealand score 450/500 then it’s quite likely that they will have batted England out of the game, especially with a number of batsmen playing in different positions than they’re used to. Oh, and Ben Stokes is injured too, so things keep getting better and better.

I might watch some of the game tonight, but then I might not. For those that do, feel free to comment or laugh at England’s ineptitude below.

Now I Can’t Protect, A Paid Off Defect – The Second Test Preview

I’ve discovered a new art form. Actually, to be fair, it found me. It comes from the well respected, reserved mouth of the man they call, on here, Lovejoy. I’ll be interspersing this preview (such as this is a preview of a test match) with his bon mots. They are incisive, well thought through, and Betfair needs to be very, very proud.

The aftermath of the first test defeat has been every bit as predictable as the manner of the demise. There’s precious little praise for New Zealand. I plead guilty for not giving them as much praise as they deserved as well. They restricted England, played on their insecurities, batted themselves out of a sticky situation and then took the wickets needed to seal the deal. It was a perfectly executed final three and a half days, and something England should aspire to. I sense most of the England supporting base would have a composite team of the two nations being almost 50/50. At the moment only Stokes would be a certainty from the England team. This…..speaks…..volumes.

“I know Chris “Spoons” Silverwood well, and he’s the right man for the England job”

Ah, nothing spells even-handed thorough analysis than referring to the subject of your article by a nickname and claiming you are mates with them. But the initial reaction in some quarters to a dismal first test has been fascinating. If you are already calling for his head, you are a muppet. Pure and simple (oh dear, I’ve used a Shiny Toy-ism). Of course, we are reminded this week that sport takes a back seat to personal bereavement, and Silverwood will be returning home during this game. It’s something that happens to us all, we can empathise, and send only our best wishes to the coach and his family. A bad result is put into context by these things.

So while we can look at the first test and say Silverwood isn’t off to an auspicious start as coach, and I don’t think anyone is denying that, to snap at his “holistic view” comment from press men who let every bit of nonsense through from past coaches, and threw players under the bus before anyone else, seems a bit, well, premature. Which means, of course, that the laser focus isn’t going to be on “Spoons” but on the other members of the leadership group. Step forward, Joe Root.

“I want to see him enjoy his batting again and play with that cheeky, annoying-little-brother smile that he used to have.”

Now Lovejoy doubted Root’s appointment at the very start for the same reasons. It is true that even the most annoying, horrific individuals say correct things. But this is something that simplifies the issue – and no, I’m not clicking on a Betfair site to read the full horror. Joe Root’s batting malaise is worse than any perceived issues with his captaincy. A tweeter I do like has been saying that most of what is being written about him is rubbish. He’s playing on 250-par wickets in England, and it’s going to be tough to average 40. They are not all like that, and 250 appears to be par when you have crap batting line-ups. It’s a bit chicken and egg. But what we had was a reference point. Pre-captaincy Root was in the Big Four. Now he isn’t. He’s dropped down the batting rankings alarmingly. He is getting out in ways we never really saw. It may be a law of averages, better bowling, iffier wickets, but it’s also of bad messages. Never wanting to bat at 3, then us being told he is fine with it. The obsession with his conversion rate.

Root gives off some peculiar vibes. He appears to want to play all forms, where in T20 he’s now a dinosaur, and even feels like an anachronism in ODI matches where his real worth seems to be if he can bale us out after a dodgy start. He is still very worthy of a place in that team, but he always was, and always should be a test player.

The captaincy is a red herring at this point. Is it bringing him down? Why should it? He was fine for a couple of years, added some decent scores if not always getting to hundred, and only now we seem to think it is the captaincy doing it. Is it bad form, a permanent decline, perhaps a skewed early career on more docile wickets, or is it the whole international grind rather than captaincy doing it?

As a captain he’s no more than passable, from this untrained eye. He’s got a duff team, a mad scientific experiment by Ed Smith most of the time, but his use of Jofra Archer is frightening. He has a fast bowling asset and he’s running him into the ground. That concerns me. We drift in the field, we don’t seem to have inspiration, and we get on the end of some life-altering performances far too often. No-one seemed to care when Cook was captain, but we should now Root is?

Must Do Better is my simple assessment of England’s performance in the first Test. They need to put some fizz back into their game.

Magnificent. Imagine the number of tests you need to have played to come up with the simple assessment that England will need to play better. The main problem was the lack of fizz, that indeterminate article missing from all great performances. Does Lovejoy mean he wants to see England play with more attacking abandon, or like the stubborn test batting team they attempted to be for a day and an hour before they reverted to type? Does he mean abandoning the bowling dry tactics that saw Stuart Broad throw down medium pacers most of the time? What does he mean? I have no idea at all.

So do we fight last week’s battle, or do we start afresh and play a different way. England will not face Trent Boult or Colin de Grandhomme, so it’s a different bowling attack confronting them. Coming into the team are Daryl Mitchell, an all rounder and nothing whatsoever to do with the Worcestershire opener who appears in the Power List. Looking at his stats, he’s never taken a first class five wicket haul, so he’s got to be fancying his chances here. Look how we played Mitchell Marsh at The Oval just a short two months ago. Cricinfo believes Matt Henry will be preferred to Lockie Ferguson, which as replacement stocks go, isn’t too bad at all. It’s good to be prepared with some international ready talent should injuries happen. Especially if you have a board where the international team should be going forward with all thoughts and bases covered.

Like having a proper reserve keeper available should your frontline one go down. Hey, maybe you might cover the gap with someone who made a hundred on his test debut and is widely recognised as one of, if not the, best technicians in the country. But that’s just too vanilla thinking, and instead if Jos Buttler doesn’t make it, Ollie Pope will keep wicket in a test match – not sure he’s done it in a county championship fixture yet. It’s as dense as mercury, and sorry, it can mean only one thing. We genuinely think this test series isn’t important and is a warm up for other matters. Someone should take a damn good hard look at themselves. Ollie Pope is paper covering over a gaping crack. I thought the days of parachuting in someone nowhere near the test team in the role intended had gone years ago. I remember Tony Pigott in 1983, at Christchurch. That went well. They hoped they could get away with it, and now Pope, who copped some criticism for his shot selection in dismissal last time out now has something else piled on top of him. Let’s hope things work out.

The wicket is tempting England to drop their spinner. I wonder when that has ever gone wrong? There’s a chance Zak Crawley (Phoenix) will make his debut if Jos doesn’t make a recovery from his back spasm, in which case heaven only knows where he’ll bat (6?). There is a chance of Chris Woakes playing, there is all sorts of jumbled up thinking going on. Or is there?

George Dobell writes this (bold parts – my emphasis):

While Pope is a relatively inexperienced keeper, England dismissed the idea of calling-up a last-minute replacement; Ben Cox of Worcestershire, for example, who is currently playing Grade cricket in Adelaide. Not only would it have proved tricky to get someone to New Zealand in time, it would have been asking a lot of them to acclimatise to the conditions and the unique team environment. It might also have undermined the position of Pope who was selected as reserve keeper in the original tour party.

“We knew that this was a possibility when we selected the squad,” Root said. “I’m quite happy that Popey’s got the capability of doing a good job for us.”

George! What is this twaddle? Unique team environment? That sounds good that you can’t bring anyone in from outside because they can’t fit in immediately. Great message that sends. What’s different about it that makes it so difficult to acclimatise, given we gave Sibley a debut last time out, brought Pope back in, have a new coach etc. etc. This is the reddest of red flags. What a pile of nonsense.

Undermined Pope. That’s funny. Pope is undermining himself with his batting. He’s a prodigious talent and at county level looks the utter part. But his test career, whether in his best batting position or not, has played expansively and has an early question over his shot selection. What better way to not undermine him is to play him in a position he will not be selected for in future. Do we really want this to ruin his batting potential when we have a perfectly good, temperamentally sound, debut test centurion who would fit nicely into this team if we weren’t so damn obsessed with Jos Buttler (or YJB) becoming our version of Adam Gilchrist.

And Popey? Oh dear.

The test starts tonight, and who knows what it will bring? But this appears not to be England’s finest hour and the mood music, despite New Zealand being without two key players, is not good. But if we have the attitude Lovejoy has, we are in trouble:

With all due respect, New Zealand are not as talented, batting-wise, as some of the England boys. But they ground England into the dirt. BJ Watling’s way of batting will never dominate a game in the same that Steve Smith or Joe Root could. His method is to hang around for a long time and he did it beautifully. He showed the English batsmen how to do it.

We are literally falling over ourselves for people with talent who can bat for nearly two days for double hundreds. We’ve had that talent on tap. The moron.

Comments, should you wish, below. Happy Thanksgiving. Anyone fancy some turkey. I’ve got enough!

Title contains lyric from Welcome to the Terrordome by Public Enemy – of course.

Once Again, Cast Unto The Dark, To The Coldest Night, And The Misery’s Dawn

In case you are wondering, the song lyric above is from a cheerful ditty by Royksopp called “Woods of Desolation” from the album “The Inevitable End”. No prizes why that album title popped into my head. Because there was nothing more inevitable than England losing this test match overnight, dark and cold in the November early hours, and dawn bringing misery as I looked at the phone.* (See note at the end for a Dmitri Mess Up confession)

Well, misery for those that care enough. Judging by the reactions I’ve seen, the number that care are dwindling in number. There’s something to learn there, you know, ECB. When it comes to future series, you won’t even have the TMS diehards to wax lyrical, because that’s been flogged off for most overseas tours to Talk Sport. Yes, I know that’s not the ECB’s fault. It is pretty much the only thing about this debacle that isn’t. The alarms are going off, the word salad emanating from those in high office gets more irritating, and while Rome wasn’t built in a day, these are players getting paid more to produce less. It’s not lost on me. I hope it isn’t on you.

But it’s not new. It feels inevitable.

Stop me where you’ve heard this before. Inadequate first innings by England. Bowl themselves back into the game, then let the opposition off the hook and allow a relatively unheralded player to make their first test double / career best, sometimes accompanied by a lower order bat making a ton, and the bowling attack look toothless. Then, when faced with saving a game, falling apart at the seams at the first hint of pressure. This could have been any number of tests – the ingredients are there. Bridgetown, Antigua, Perth, Sydney, most of the last tour of India. It’s the same old same old. Jason Holder, Karun Nair, Mitchell Marsh – we’ve been here before.

A couple of years ago, and I don’t forget these things as you may notice, I once berated England winning a test match and was called out for it – at home against Pakistan. We could have done it better, I said. I was told that I was being too negative, and knew sod all. The crux of my criticism was that no-one makes big hundreds any more. While Jos Buttler making a flowery sixty was all well and good, the lack of big hundreds was frightening. How many scores of 150+ in the recent past? Bueller? Bueller? Where have been the first innings hundreds taking the game by the scruff of the neck? Where have been the massive innings on flat decks – because contrary to the opinions being expressed, there have been a number of flat decks. If we’re happy to potter along looking forward to winning matches on relative green tops at home, with a Dukes ball and an overcast sky, then great. If you want to be world number one, and these guys say they want to, then act like it.

Here England faced a flat deck and a bowling attack not quite on it first up. This is the new era. The Silverwood era. We were going to change from the apparent simple approach of Trevor Bayliss – he of the give it a red hot go mate, while I have a kip in the changing room – which was pretty much the simplistic message conveyed by our media about him when it came to tests. Bayliss was employed as the limited over cricket savant, limited savvy when the overs weren’t. The test job as an additional throw-in to keep him occupied when not planning the triumph of 2019.

But that’s changed now. Ashley said so. Now Chris Silverwood is in charge and we are going to play like test batsmen, give test cricket priority while the board tries to launch cricket’s version of El Dorado (look it up). No longer the give it large, give it high, devil-may-care approach of Bayliss. No. This is Yorkie world, and a price needs to be paid for your wicket. An opener being 75 not out at the end of a full day’s play would be lauded, not lambasted. A batsman making a 300 ball ton, not called Sir, would not be pilloried as dull, but heralded as a test batsman to relish. Long passages of play with little scoreboard movement will be recognised as proper test cricket, not aggressive, in your face play. Hell, even our feed was drinking the Kool Aid on Day 1, thinking this is something more like it. 241 for 4. Denly showing grit and determination. Stokes sticking at it. Burns and Sibley playing like proper openers. Love it. We’re in. This is TEST CRICKET, baby. It’s common sense. While at the back of my mind my thought was, couldn’t we have been 280 or 290 for 5? But it was better than 200 all out, or other worse initiations to recent series, so better to be on the safe side.

Then it went wrong. After a docile hour on Day 2, with Pope and Stokes starting to put the foot down, there looked minimum 400 and a bit more in the offing. But no, I shouldn’t have let those thoughts in my head. Leopards don’t change their spots. England collapse, more news later. Past performance is a useful guide to future results, and so the wheels came off.  That four wicket flop in the morning session on Day 2 ultimately cost England the match – we just didn’t know it then. While we were being told Ollie Pope is head and shoulders above anything else in county cricket, so was Mark Ramprakash! Ben Stokes looked imperious, until he didn’t. Sam Curran got nailed first up. Jofra made an application to bat at 11, not 9.

Shit shots, decent bowling, the rot infusing this scientific experiment of a cricket team as surely as if they’d been an old bark dowsed in stagnant water for days on end. This was a wicket for someone to go big. Really big. 91 is not really big. New Zealand bowled well, but not amazingly. England seemed to revert to their modus operandi of tours past, and posted 350. Hell, even yours truly tried to convince himself that 350 was an OK score that kept England in the game. I’m a fool.

As England took five wickets before the New Zealand score had reached 200 (with Taylor and Williamson out), and yet still managed to concede 600 runs, you have to ask why. It was a good pitch, but once again this bowling attack travels about as well as English wine. Make your own jokes. I saw some of this insipid performance, and at times it was hopeless. Commentators love a bit of this, and they went to town. While I don’t necessarily equate hands on hips, or crouching on kness as a pointer to not taking wickets (the New Zealand commentators can talk some real old toss at times, and they took turns to show fielders with hands on hips or crouching to prove the point), it is fair to say that Root’s captaincy is far more Cook-esque than Shiny Toy-esque and that’s not a compliment. It doesn’t have the showmanship or vivacity of others, and can look as thought the key word is drift. But that’s not all that alarms about Root’s captaincy. We’ll get on to his handling of Jofra later.

I’ve made a point of tracking Root the batsman’s average as he took over the captaincy. From an average comfortably in the 50s, and being a cut above any middle order bat in my cricket watching lifetime, he’s now just a couple of basis point ticks above Kevin Pietersen’s 47.27, which, as we recall didn’t make him a great player, just a player of great innings. It’s hard to remember Joe’s last great innings. I’ll take it back to Joburg 2015, and you can shout out any other (Cardiff 2015? Edgbaston 2015?). It’s also giving the lie to the nonsense of the conversion rates – sure I want to see big tons, but I also want to see Root make 70s and 80s if he isn’t. I don’t want to see him get out to crap shots, or worrying early technical lapses. He is so much better than that.

Around Root are bits and pieces, not quite good enough test batsmen. For all his verve and sense of occasions, Stokes still averages 36 in 58 tests. It’s not exactly stellar. Burns looks like the best of a duff opening bunch, what the US would call a AAAA player in baseball – too good for the minors, not good enough for the majors – while Sibley looked what he is, in my view – ungainly and bound to be found out by the good bowlers. Denly’s mental fortitude and sheer application is to be applauded, and rewarded. He should be the last of the top order to be dropped, but he’s not a long-term answer. Ollie Pope, sitting at six, is a talent, but he’s not going to get away with being loose at this level. Buttler hiding at seven is a waste, but then he’s not a test bat on his own merit, so not sure where he should be. 33.5 in 37 tests, with one century (in a losing cause, where hope there was none) isn’t anything to write home about, but makes you an almost automatic selection in this team. They are already talking about bringing Moeen Ali back for South Africa, as if the poor man hasn’t suffered enough.

The bowling was lack lustre. Broad was bowling within himself in the mid 70s most of the time. Archer was borderline accused of being a lazy child by Simon Doull in particular, an interesting, and not altogether wholesome opinion, for a man who bowled more overs than any of the other pace bowlers. He is supposed to be a shock bowler, not a stock bowler. It isn’t going to be any surprise in three years time when the 90mph spells will be the thing of joyous memory, and Archer will be bowling mid to low 80s, has had a stress fracture or a knee injury, and find his character further impugned. It’s the way we play, I’m afraid. Joe Root looks as well suited to handle him as I am to author the book “Looking on the Bright Side”.

Curran looked OK, but the experts think he bowls too slow, and they seem to like Woakes more, so there is that. I’m still convinced he’s a tweener – not a good enough bat, not a good enough bowler, but just about tempting enough to play. He does remind me of the early days of Ben Hollioake – the potential is so alluring. Jack Leach did little to convince he is the future runner through batting line-ups that his stats in county cricket indicate. This looked a light bowling attack and it proved so. I have no idea what they will do in Hamilton.

As always I concentrate too much on England and not on the excellent play of the hosts. My Kiwi colleague has been waiting to hear my views on the game, in the way I wanted to hear Charlton fans talk about their latest loss in their cup final to my team. To downplay the New Zealand performance would be wrong. It is always great to win from positions of difficulty and 197 for 5 chasing 350 required it. When needed Watling, de Grandhomme and Santner played magnificently, honing in their natural game (and in CdG’s and Santner’s case, giving the lie to the adaptability argument/defence we continually hear to excuse our performance) and then pounding home the advantage.

BJ Watling has been a bloody good cricketer over the years, sticking in there with his more heralded team-mates. It was he who accompanied McCullum for much of the time to get New Zealand’s first test triple hundred. He accompanied Kane Williamson in a partnership of 365 against Sri Lanka as well. He’s no stranger to batting long. Or batting well against England. His century in the Headingley test of 2015 was pivotal in the series levelling win. Here he had a game plan, stuck to it, made the most of being dropped, made England pay, and, by all accounts, kept wicket very tidily too. He’s no superstar like Jos, nor a firebrand like YJB. He just averages 40.8 in tests, and is rated as a good keeper. Our two average in the mid 30s, and aren’t being confused with the greats behind the wickets either. Sometimes, you need to doff your cap. Sometimes you have to ask who is overpaid, and who doesn’t get enough respect.

Mitchell Santner joined Watling for another mammoth partnership against England and all hope ebbed away. 600 out of 200 for 5. Vive la revolution. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Santner has that in him, he’s a dangerous limited over batsman. It was his first hundred in tests, and one suspects it might not be his last. The New Zealanders took England to school, and not enough lessons were learned. Our successful rearguards of lore are now in the distant rear view mirror.

I’ve not seen the highlights of England’s demise. Reading the tweets, the reports, the comments and some of the online clips is enough. It doesn’t need watching. Just as you’d seen all the Police Academy films when you’d seen the first one, so this tired old retread, with several different cast members isn’t really dragging you to watch it. Therein lies the rub. If we aren’t watching it, or bothered, then who should be? Would we really miss the Barmy Army and their self-serving rendition of Jerusalem? Would we miss the post-match comments about learning lessons, and good play being let down by bad? Would we miss Chris Silverwood talking about holistic approaches? Would we miss Mike Selvey having a go at this management-speak while in the past he’d given the Flower and Moores piffle a free pass?

On to Hamilton for the next test. You may remember around a decade ago us collapsing in a glorious heap in the fourth innings there. It happened to a team stacked with the players that would lead us to world domination. It can also happen, but a lot more frequently to a team stacked with also rans. Until proven otherwise, and in the absence of miracles baling us out (not a long-term plan), this team is a bunch of also rans, and no holistic paradigm shifts, no straight talking, no taking the positives, no learning of lessons can persuade me from the belief that this is a team, and a future, in almost terminal decline. I hope to heavens I am not wrong.

Which brings me to Joe Root as England captain. Accompanying his diminishing average, are dismissals a top batsman should not be encountering. He should not be giving it away to distracted strokes. He should be averaging over 50 and he isn’t. This is the criminal damage we are inflicting. He should not be bowling Archer as a workhorse, but as a man to bowl short, quick spells. He should not be the languid, almost invisible presence he portrays when he is in the field. I didn’t think we’d go back to the Cook style, but we are. It’s worrying. He shouldn’t have long to turn this around, but we live in the ECB world of TINA. His runs are more valuable than his leadership. There are no guarantees that relinquishing the captaincy will increase the output. It didn’t really with Cook. But the trend is alarming.

The second test starts on Thursday night, UK time. May optimism be on the agenda, and may we actually see an England player pass 150 sometime before this winter is out.

“The warmth of a thousand suns, drawn away
And fade before my eyes
The Inevitable End, I always knew would be
The truth you could always see.”

Could be the mantra for English cricket, and the first test at the Bay Oval.

* The funny thing is, I got confused. Royksopp has a great album called the Inevitable End, but these lyrics aren’t from that album. They are from a band called The Inevitable End and a song called Woods of Desolation. I’ve since listened to the song, and have no idea where these lyrics are in it. Oh well. You get the message.

Game Over – NZ v England, 1st Test, Day 4

Denly, Root, Stokes. Those three batsmen are basically all that stands between England and a crushing defeat characterised by poor batting on a pitch which is frankly every bit as dead as Melbourne in 2017. There is absolutely no reason that this Test should not have been a bore draw, except for England’s ineptitude in the middle.

The New Zealand innings, which lasted for just over two sessions last night, was pretty much a repeat of day 3. Watling and Santner batted through most of the day, with England’s bowlers causing few if any problems. The scoring accelerated after Lunch, with the two batsmen pushing New Zealand’s first innings lead beyond 250 until the hosts declared just after Tea. England’s bowling was flat, but so was the pitch and it doesn’t really seem fair to ascribe any blame to them when virtually every wicket which has fallen has been to a collossal mistake by the batsmen.

Which brings us to England’s innings. They needed to bat out 118 overs in order to save the game. Historically, that is seen as a very tough task. On a dead pitch where New Zealand’s numbers six and eight have just shared a partnership lasting 83.2 overs however, a solid batting lineup should at the very least fancy their chances. Burns and Sibley saw out the first hour from Boult and Southee, and then left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner came on.

Sibley was the first wicket to fall, edging a forward defensive prod to a ball which was about a yard wide of the stumps and spinning away. Four overs later, with England just three overs away from the end of the day, Burns top-edged a slog sweep which went almost straight up in the air before being caught at square leg by de Grandhomme. The only blameless wicket was right at the end, when nightwatchman Jack Leach was wrongly given out caught behind. A specialist batsman would almost certainly have immediately reviewed the decision, even if they thought there was a possibility they had in fact hit it. Leach, probably aware that the outcry for wasting a review in the England camp would almost certainly outweigh the potential congratulations if it was successful, chose instead to walk off.

Mitchell Santner has never taken more than three wickets in an innings, but seems poised to exceed that by at least a couple more tonight. I think it is remarkable how many mediocre (as Colin Graves might say) spinners excel when playing against England. Of the 24 spin bowlers (a number which includes quite a few part-timers) to have played against them in the last two years, seven made their career Test best bowling figures. New Zealand’s Santner and Astle; Chase in the West Indies; Sandakan, Pushpakumara and Dananjaya in Sri Lanka; Vihari in India. None of these are world-class bowlers who other teams seem to have trouble facing, and yet they run through England like a vindaloo through an incontinent grandpa. This is a consistent, clearly identifiable flaw in England’s Test batting which needs addressing.

There was an interesting conversation on Sky during the Lunch break, following an interview between Wardy and Ashley Giles about the changes the ECB has made recently in coaching and developing England players. In just two minutes, Key absolutely destroys the ECB’s National Cricket Performance Centre as a worthwhile endeavour.

Nick Knight: What about Loughborough? What about the Lions pathway? Ashley [Giles] spoke a little about it there. You’ve been through both those pathways. Have they worked over a period of time? The ECB have invested a lot of money and time in those pathways. Are players now more developed, having come through that pathway than they were before it existed?

Rob Key: There’s two different things there. Loughborough, I’ve always seen as a bit of a waste of money because I see Loughborough as a bit of a glorified indoor school. Where it’s the hub in the middle of Loughborough University. There’s an indoor net facility, a few other things, gyms, all of that type of stuff that I’ve spent many an hour in. Generally, Loughborough itself hasn’t really done anything to help cricketers. But what has, as Ashley Giles spoke there, which is a big difference, which I’m all for, is if someone wants to practice against spin. You’re not going to learn to play spin at Loughborough, but you will do if you get shipped out to Mumbai and you go and practice playing spin out there for three or four weeks. And then you want to play fast ones, they help people go to Australia. So then you can just send the players all around, it’s like a finishing school or it’s meant to be a finishing school, the Lions programme. Like he said, Ben Foulkes going out and playing in Sri Lanka. The Lions tours that they go on are absolutely vital, and they’re really good. The academy trip or the Lions trip I went on, we spent six months in Australia facing Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison, Chris Tremlett, Alex Tudor. Forget about coaches, you can’t not improve in that sort of environment. But that wouldn’t have been any good just being at Loughborough, in the middle of winter in an  indoor school.

So I have no idea how much money gets ploughed into Loughborough, there’s nothing against the coaches there or anything else. I just don’t see the point in having an expensive facility that pretty much every county has. Probably not as nice, put it that way, but every county has its own indoor school. But the Lions programme I think is actually very good. It gives the opportunity to players that you don’t get in counties, especially in the winter. So they have a whole pathway system where they have Daniel Vettori doing a bit with the spinners out in the UAE and places like that. So that I think is really vital. Loughborough itself… It was a pain having to go up there. Bowlers don’t want to bowl in an indoor school. So you’re going up there, you’re not doing any cricket. You just do fitness testing. That seems like an expensive thing to have for that.

Ashley Giles clearly thinks the problems at Loughborough lie with the staff, as major personnel chances have occurred since he took charge. I agree with Key on this. The core issue is in the concept itself, not its execution. No indoor net, no matter how sophisticated, can replicate the experience of playing overseas. Nor can it simulate an innings which spans more than a few overs. Fitness, whilst obviously important, in no way requires or justifies a multi-million pound annual investment in a specialist facility. County cricketers are, as far as I can tell, as fit as any international players. The main problems with England’s Test team in recent years have been lack of concentration and focus by the batsmen, and frequent spells of ineffectiveness from the bowling attack when overseas. Loughborough can’t and won’t do anything to clear either of these hurdles.

If you want to comment on the game, or anything else, feel free to do so below. Because, unlike Chris/thelegglance, I will never block comments on my posts.

“And Liberty She Pirouette” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 3rd Day Open Thread

Well this game is very nicely poised. There is something for everyone in this game. There’s defensive and attacking batting, moments of calm serenity when nothing much happens, followed by a crescendo of wickets falling, because, well, this is England we are talking about after all. There’s fast bowling, medium paced bowling, spin bowling. There are great catches, and massive errors. Debutants mixed with experience. Players making their way, against players nearing the end, fighting against the dying of the light. The venue looks brilliant, a festival approach to test cricket in a market that while it still clearly loves the format, wants to bring it to the people in a slightly different way – taking it from the impersonal multi-sport stadium to the park like atmosphere at Hagley and Bay Oval.

In short, it makes you glow for test cricket. Hell, I even like the graphics bug at the bottom which my colleagues feel is too obtrusive. It looks quite classy, if you ask me. Surely you don’t need to be middle-aged to love this? Surely there’s something here for every cricket lover. You get to watch Kane Williamson, a modern great, against Jofra Archer, a phenom who will either hold England together, or flame out. You get to admire the sheer struggle and effort that Joe Denly is applying to his test career. You get to watch Tim Southee, with Lockie Ferguson breathing down his neck, rip out our lower middle order and bring England to heel, just when it looked like the game was being ground down.

There is, as always, a problem. Life. That’s the issue isn’t it. It’s not because I don’t want to devote the time to the game, to watch more of the action, but it’s because I can’t. Boiler issues, work issues, lawyer meetings (they go on for longer than a cricket match and are much less exciting) and an airport run this morning means I’m not going to be able to give you the match report. I watched the first hour last night. I watched as the commentators built up Ollie Pope, only to be made look a little silly when he flashed at a wide one and nicked off. There was Ben Stokes, playing shots of amazing authority, getting out when a hundred beckoned. Sam Curran, in because we presume he can bat, getting out for a golden. Jofra showing he’s no clue as a test batsman. Then Leach and Buttler restoring some honour and taking the score to something that means there is a game on. 350 doesn’t daunt great teams, but it certainly keeps those just below top level on their toes that errors mean danger, and Raval and Taylor will look at their dismissals and think, that’s giving it away (and yes, I know, we’ve gone on about attacking shots not working being more tut tutted than having your defensive technique defenestrated). Raval, from the highlights, tried to hit out against Leach and barely succeeded, so it appeared he wanted to keep trying until he failed.

With the wicket of Williamson towards the end of play, England hold the advantage. New Zealand are 200 behind but without their two major run producers (Williamson and Taylor – Latham has also had some good form in the past twelve months), but there is plenty of batting to come and that lead is by no means safe. It does appear that the Black Caps should not bat England out of the game, but that there is a good game to be had. It was also funny that Sam Curran got the wicket with a surprise short ball at “only 126 kph”. David Lloyd appears not to be a fan.

I’ll get to watch a bit tonight, so hopefully I might even be able to live blog some of it (absolutely no promises).

Since I last wrote a fair bit has happened. Three of us had an interesting evening with Nick Hoult and Izzy Westbury on Tuesday, in which I spoke more bollocks about blogging than usual. It was certainly interesting to be in the minority of one in not being amazed by Ian Smith’s commentary at the end of the World Cup Final (too screamy for me), while still liking Smith’s overall work. We had the T20 series, and Shiny Toy Vaughan overlooking the Malan hundred, and calling me a muppet for alluding to his management loyalties (the point being if Vince had scored Malan’s ton, he’d be singing from the rooftops).

It was lovely to see, and yet he’s not blocked me. Wonder why we call him Shiny Toy?

David Warner has proven his brilliance on flat decks against a ball that is softer than England’s lower middle order. Simon Hughes kept his job despite a faux pas that spoke volumes about his sheer lack of self-awareness, and for many to jump on someone for a mistake that wasn’t malevolent, but dumb.

India are dominating, playing a day night test, seeing Agarwal make a double hundred, making Shaw feel even worse for his doping violation. Each batsman has appeared to fill their boots against Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, India are almost certainly in the WTC final already, and this day night test might work well, and thus we’ll see more of them, and India might even believe they created them!

We also have a T20 competition starting in South Africa where all the game’s greats are in action and as far as I am aware, no-one really seems to care, except the TV networks who love this stuff. Oh and Harry Gurney has decided this competition is too long and is playing in the T10 jamboree in the Middle East. Liam Livingstone has withdrawn his name from the IPL auction, which had literally millions of Indian cricket fans in tears at the news, to concentrate on something else. Which is about as relevant as me withdrawing from my bid to become Prime Minister. No more politics than that.

So Day 3 beckons. I hope you are following it, enjoying it, and loving it for what it is. A good game of cricket, in a lovely location, with plenty of meaning without it being World Test Championship. It’s the start of the Silverwood era, there are players not established, and players with something to prove. It’s well poised. It’s good sport. It’s fun.

Comments below…..

New Zealand vs. England, 1st Test, Day 2 – Open Thread

It’s always frustrating when work and other bits get in the way of watching cricket, but that’s where we are currently. Due to a rather nasty sickness bug, I only managed to watch the first half hour of the match and haven’t seen the highlights yet and no doubt the other editors are in similar positions.

241-4 at the end of a full days play is a very unusual score for this England side, we’re more used to them either scoring at 4 runs an over or being blown away for under a 100, but from the sounds of it, the English batting unit used their nouse on a good, but slow pitch. Whether this is the sign of things to come I’m not too sure, but as someone who loves Test Match cricket, then I have no problems with the top order being slightly attritional and taking the shine off the ball whilst putting miles into the bowlers legs. This used to be the hallmark of Test Match batting after all.

The key question is whether they can now go on and make some big runs on Day 2 to put some real pressure on the New Zealand batting line up. Stokes looks like he has continued his rich vein of form with the bat, despite offering a couple of chances late on to a tiring Kiwi fielding unit, whilst Pope is there alongside him hoping he can make a statement about his role in the England Test side for the foreseeable future.

If England survive the first hour relatively unscathed then 450 should be a minimum, though from past experience, this can be a very big if with this England team.

As ever, please leave any thoughts and comments on the day’s play below: