“58 doesn’t look a good score right now, if that isn’t stating the obvious.” Scott Styris, who has to be the weak link in the commentary team, has just said this. 58 all out doesn’t tell the whole story. It could have been worse.
Let me tell you how my night unfolded. I had been at a leaving do last night, and had a couple of drinks so was expecting a nice night’s sleep. But I’m a light sleeper and woke up around 1:30 and looked at the phone. Opened up the Cricinfo app and saw we were 12 for 2. Saw that Cook was out, and thought how the fans in the media were going to explain it away (had to be a terrific ball), and that Stoneman was still in (and Root not so he wasn’t batting 4). OK, this happens a lot to England, nothing to see here.
Then the frequent noise from the phone vibrating to signify the comments on the blog kept me awake. I saw Sri’s comment saying 18 for 6, and thought he must be joking. Still lying in bed I couldn’t get back to sleep. At 23 for 8 I got up, went downstairs because history beckoned, and England were now relying on Craig Overton, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to (a) get us above New Zealand’s test cricket record of 26; (b) get over England’s lowest score and (c) try to get it in the region of embarrassment rather than total humiliation.
I may be a major curmudgeon, but Stuart Broad’s attitude really peeved me. He flapped as he does when he thinks he needs to score fast, and played loose. When he edged one to Williamson, who took a blinder, he smiled. Great catch, but why are you smiling? I can’t remember ever smiling when I got out as a club player, so why now? I know, I know. It’s me.
Craig Overton was getting stick on Twitter for ruining everything with his 33. He played good shots without appearing to be as loose, with some selectivity in his shots. He made 55% of our runs coming in at number 9. From my perspective I have to say thank heavens. 30 all out would have really been a scar that this team would have to live with. The partnership took us from 27 for 9 to 58, and was ended with Jimmy Anderson trying to guide a ball over the slips, but instead prodding it to point. It summed up the hapless, hopeless nature of this team.
I’m watching Trevor Bayliss floundering under questions from Ian Ward, absolutely bereft of ideas, solutions, and thoughts. What could he say? Questioned on the “ridiculous” schedule by Ian Ward (I wonder if his Sky bigwigs will have a quiet word with him over that) he basically shrugged his shoulders. “What can you do? Don’t know? I don’t have the answers?” He faced up, I’ll give him that, but I hope this supposedly calm, methodical man threw the tea cups in that dressing room. I’ve just seen all the wickets, and his comment that our feet were like lead summed them up. Nick off, nick off, miss a straight one, nick off, miss a straight one, prod one back to the bowler. What a disaster.
Back to the action, I went back to bed early in the New Zealand innings, but still saw the chance off the first ball. Raval prodded a ball into the offside, and set off. Latham was slowish off the mark, our cover fielder (I think it might have been Malan) picked it up and with a clear view of the stumps, from 8 yards or so, missed. Latham was yards short. It was a missed opportunity, and to get out one of the form players, and getting Kane Williamson in second ball. But on such moments do fortunes pass. England got Raval early, but then struggled. Williamson batted superbly for 91 not out, and although Broad got his 400th test wicket, there was precious little to smile about. England’s test cricket, and especially its away test cricket is in a tail spin.
New Zealand finished the day on 175 for 3, already 117 runs ahead, seven wickets remaining, and a shot England team in their sights. England’s selection of five seam bowlers, if you include Stokes, seems muddled in itself. No-one is pining for the removal of James Vince, but to pick an additional seamer after the statements from the team about Ben Stokes and his ability to bowl is classic England. They are not confident in him being fit to bowl, so he is really in this team now as a batsman, and it puts Root at three, where he doesn’t want to bat (and we can discuss the mentality of this until the cows come home) and Malan one place too high (and please, let’s stop Malan at three in its tracks). Stokes is a bit bigger than the team these days.
Of course the New Zealand bowlers did a great job today. Both of them. Boult got 6 and Southee 4. They bowled full, they gave the ball a chance to swing, they exploited the weaknesses before them, and got their rewards. But as Rob Key said, this wasn’t a 58 all out day, this isn’t some green seaming menace, it was a combination of bowlers on form and batsman being out of it. (Also, a quick point, I thought Key was excellent today on Sky’s coverage. He was clearly fuming, and wasn’t going to let anyone get away with this being explained away by just good bowling, as ECBTV is given to do with its mild criticisms at best. He did it in a measured, pretty calm manner but always showed his frustration and anger.) The New Zealand bowling attack has a reputation that doesn’t always match its results, especially against the “big” teams. Maybe my arrogance is given away there, considering us a “big team”. We’re not. Nowhere near it.
So, what is going on? What’s the reaction here? Being honest, I don’t really care that much, but yet I am angry as hell. A contradiction wrapped up in resignation. England deserve this. Totally deserve to have their test team humiliated. They paper over the cracks at home, and then fall apart away. In an era when the game is global, they seem the ultimate home cooking boys. In an era when the international calendar gives you the opportunity to play on many surfaces, we look all at sea when we cross the Channel. It goes for our Lions team too.
There’s a Doug Stanhope clip on the Grand National where he says “…and they die, horses die, and no-one gives a shit!” I keep thinking of that line when I recall the media reaction to the Ashes. No-one gave a stuff. The same squad with a couple of little changes, is exactly the same. Failure was rewarded. Analysis was for the fools. Any reaction would not be appropriate. The same players would go to New Zealand, which is always seen as a nice, comfortable, popular tour, go out and play themselves back into test nick. You can see this attitude a mile off. “It didn’t matter in the Ashes, it matters less in an after the Lord Mayor’s show tour of just two tests with New Zealand.” The England team should have had a major shake-up, to see if we can find someone with requisite ability and temperament to play for the forseeable future. Instead the only change is to bring back someone on an affray charge for fear of his lawyers suing the ECB for restraint of trade, and we all have to be happy about that (while ignoring several important double standards). There’s a lot of focus on the joke practice matches, and yes, I know the intensity can’t be replicated, but this was as far away from a proper match as you could get, on both occasions. I wouldn’t be too tough on this if it hadn’t been held up as a fig leaf for the less than difficult winter so far. But England and the ECB want it all ways.
So what now? England need to salvage some pride. The game isn’t quite gone, but it needs a miracle to salvage it. It will need England to probably score 500 minimum in the second innings, and that really looks unlikely. What they should be afraid of is the fact that people will stop getting angry, and instead laugh at them. It might, just might get to the worst stage of all, where we pity them. Stocks is usually a good gauge of the way the press are thinking, and their current solution is to sack Bayliss from the test role. While I am not going to die on the hill of keeping him, it’s the players. It’s nearly always the players. Creating a good environment appears to be now an environment of tolerating failure. If Root isn’t hopping mad, then he bloody well should be. If Farbrace isn’t tearing into people, then he bloody well should be. Bayliss looked like he was going to cry when he was being interviewed. He appears a really nice guy. I don’t think it’s time for a nice guy, he needs to make it really clear. Like him, their jobs should be on the line.
Your thoughts, as always, welcome. We’ve been through some crappy England days on this blog, but this one feels worse, for some reason. Not patronising or belittling New Zealand, who were great, but they looked like a team up for test cricket. We looked like a team who frankly, aren’t. That’s a disgrace.