NZ v England: 2nd Test, Day One

A couple of indications of where England are:

New Zealand chose to put them in on a perfectly good batting surface.

290-8 represents a pleasant surprise.

Of course, it’s about more than that – England wouldn’t have got close to such a score without a breezy batting contribution from Mark Wood, and New Zealand thoroughly justified their decision to bowl by reducing England to 94-5 before the recovery.  It’s one thing to have a weak team – and this is a weak team – but it’s another to give no indication of there being any kind of plan or strategy around making it better.  

Countries that know where they’re going and what they’re trying to achieve bring young players in to blend with the experienced cricketers, the path to the future being laid out.  England don’t even have the excuse of being a team in transition to a newer, brighter future – it’s merely one repeating the same things and hoping for a different outcome.

Thus it is that Mark Stoneman does ok, without threatening to look like a fully fledged Test cricketer, Dawid Malan continues to perform like a competent enough player (he does, at least, show bottle, which is why he’s the best of the new batsmen) but no more, and James Vince looks pretty and then gets out when he’s scored about 20.  This is exactly what should be expected of them, and exactly what they deliver.  It’s not their fault, it’s what they are.

And then we have Alastair Cook, a player who remains immune to criticism on the back of two huge scores in favourable conditions in recent times, and nothing else.  His double century in Melbourne looked exceptionally good, on a slow, low surface, but more than that, his technique appeared in good order.  It suggested that he’d sorted his technical demons to a fair extent, yet here again he looked all over the place, feet stuck in concrete, head miles across to the offside and falling over – which is why the ungainly shot for the ball that bowled him made it look a better delivery than it was.  It’s not that he needs to be dumped, for there’s not the remotest indication that any replacement would be better, it’s that there’s every sense that this is a player coming to the end.

Root looked good, as he always does, before making a basic error, as he so often does.  Sometimes it’s just one of those things that happens in cricket, but it may be that the pressure put on him by a misfiring team is causing those errors.  Or it may be him.  But it’s often the case when a team struggles that the best batsman makes silly mistakes, because concentrating on his own game isn’t sufficient.

Ben Stokes’ return hasn’t been a success.  Who knows, maybe his mind is on other things.

And then we have Jonny Bairstow – one of very few bright spots in this side.  He’s been shunted up and down the order, and been left stranded time and again.  Here he was back at number seven, and again in danger of being left high and dry.  But here’s the point: number seven is an all rounder spot and always has been.  Moving him up because of those behind him reflected a total lack of confidence in anyone staying with him, and his positional change was a symptom, not a cause.  If the tail folds, that is the problem, and would be an issue for anyone left with them.  Broad at 8 these days looks terrifying for all the wrong reasons, a far cry from the days when he looked as good as many a batsman when he came in.

Presumably Mark Wood was selected for his bowling (it’s hard to tell with the England batting order these days) but he was the man to rescue the situation, specifically because instead of just holding up an end and leaving all the work to Bairstow, he went after the bowling, a display of aggression hugely welcome in a side that all too often appears to be trying to passively stave off defeat and stay in the game as long as possible.

If there was a welcome selection, it was that of Jack Leach, an actual, proper spin bowler.  Questions of how good a bloke he is don’t seem to have been the major factor in his inclusion.  Small victories.

New Zealand bowled well, with Boult and particularly Southee deserving their wickets.  It’s hard to believe that Southee is still only 29, he seems to have been around forever.  Yet the New Zealand attack looks to be in their prime, while England’s is long in the tooth. Anderson and Broad have been outstanding bowlers, but with an injury prone Mark Wood, a three man seam attack looks to be a big risk.  They will need a big day tomorrow, or England are going to be up against it yet again, but then the bowlers always seem to need a big day, and always seem to be castigated for failing to rescue the batsmen from their own disaster.  Speaking of which, it remains as notable as always that England’s response to batting calamity is to change the bowlers.

When 290-8 invites a sigh of relief, it says everything about where this team is.  When it’s that sigh rather than an explosion of rage at another struggle, it says more about where the fans are.  And when the ECB aren’t in crisis mode, it says it all about where the English game is.

Day two can make a fool out of any review of the first one, but who would want to bet on it?

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And The Beat(ing) Goes On – 2nd Test Introduction (and Live Blog)

Well hello. Another couple of quiet days in the lead up to the second test of a two match series. Nothing has happened in the cricketing world, everyone is getting along just famously, and there’s nothing to get hot under the collar about. The sniff of county cricket is in the air, there are no problems with the running of the game anywhere in the world, everyone’s now satisfied as the World Cup line-up is finalised, and journalists and administration walk together hand in hand, as the sunlit uplands of England summer 2018 beckons. Drink it in. It’s lovely.

A lot of pieces I write have personal slants thrown in. How I feel, what it means to me, what I see right or wrong. I know that goes down well with some, and not so well with others. I think the personal reactions, rather than what I think goes down well for visits and hits is what this blog was built upon. I am an emotional person and no-one is going to confuse me with stable approaches to this, or to life. I have packed the blog in on a number of occasions, only to come back and write. I had a meltdown in writing after the reaction to Cook’s 244 not out, when I couldn’t believe (or actually could but couldn’t take) the reaction as if this was some amazing feat, not a career saving knock of little importance. I stayed off writing for a couple of months, which is a long time for me, and still wonder if I should continue. Days, or a week, like this actually doesn’t clarify much. I’m going to have to take positions to defend. Defending the way I do can appear aggressive, when I don’t mean it to be. I then analyse what people might think of me, and there becomes a vicious circle or rage and doubt. Writing a blog isn’t good for the soul, and yet it’s something I love. Like a form of self harm for the brain. If watching England was therapeutic, I’ve gone to the wrong clinic. But their incapability isn’t making me angry any more. It’s making me bored. And being bored and writing blogs is not a good mix.

Yes, I’m rambling along, because to write a blog requires the fuel. My fuel is anger at the game. So by rights, coming into this second test after a lamentable display in the first, I should be firing on all cylinders for the second test. But I’m not. How can you be? England’s test team is like an aged pop/rock band looking for a comeback single to kick start their careers again. The lead singer, Root, still has the songwriting talent, but he’s rather forgotten to put the melody with the tune. Stokes is the mad drummer, who might end up getting everyone out of rhythm. Mooen Ali has forgotten to tune up his guitar, Anderson and Broad just sing backing vocals these days, while Stoneman is lobbying for a place as the triangle player. Cook, the keyboard player, is handing over the duties to the pre-programmed inputs, only putting in the big ones when the new album contract is up, but fooling his public that he’s instrumental to the band. Others are hanging around hoping for a deal, and to get on the next stadium tour, but instead resigned to years of singing in the pub with a put together band hoping for stardom. This isn’t exciting, it’s actually quite sad and dispiriting.

Yep, England have that end of the road feeling, and the last gig, in picturesque Hagley Oval is the chance to recreate the old hits, or do a crappy cover version of Every Loser Wins. James Vince may return on bass, as Woakes forgot to turn the amp on last time out. Jack Leach has a new guitar, but he may not be able to take it out of its case. Mark Wood may bring in a new brass section to replace Craig Overton’s tambourine, but there’s plenty chance it won’t fit in with the band concept, and the…. oh just pack it in. There was a joke about rust, which I won’t go near. This analogy is as tortured as the routine Steve Smith was forced to go through this morning.

I doubt New Zealand will make many changes. If any. There are analysts who say that Hagley is not a place for spinners, so that may see Leach left out. Vince coming in is just nonsense, but what can you say any more? This England team are on their last test of the winter, we have a pretty crappy record in last tests, the confidence is shot, the attitude is of survival and despair, the team conveys no swagger (not that that is always a good thing), the bowlers can’t bowl teams out, the batsmen can’t put two decent innings together, the stalwarts are ageing with no replacements, the new guys are struggling, and England is in a mess, with the hope that coming home will cure all ills.

Now, as this game starts at a reasonable hour we might do some live blogging on the site tonight. No promises that it will go on for ever, but please join us if you can for at least the first couple of hours. We enjoyed it during the Ashes, and it’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about.

We’ve spoken a lot about the Australian Ball Tampering Crisis. The events of today have been well chronicled in the comments to Chris’s post below. From a personal standpoint, and referring back to the earlier comments about emotions, I felt gravely uncomfortable that Steve Smith was put through that as some sort of punishment beating on the road to rehabilitation. Your emotions, your mental wellbeing cannot be made better by that. That wasn’t cathartic, it was punishment. On a human level, I felt badly. On a cynical level, I felt sick. There’s no one size fits all for making things better. Smith felt he had to do it. I wish he didn’t feel that way. If Australia felt that was necessary, then I feel for them. That’s not right.

OK, enough of that. We have some international cricket to watch before we go off to the ludicrous, thoroughly clean, never tainted IPL, and the opening game between the Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Cheats, so let’s make the most of it. We’re resigned to the spike in hits dropping off after this, so let’s go out with a bang. Comments below, and the Live blogging will also follow this tired old missive. Maybe there’s a comeback hit for us to enjoy. Maybe.

UPDATE – Might have to put the live blogging on hold tonight. Bit of (well massive) eye strain and migraine-type headache. Looks like a darkened room for me. Night all.

UPDATE – A couple of strong tablets, an inability to sleep, pain gone, I will do some updates on the play.

11:25 – I missed the Cook dismissal live, but in slow motion it looks like a man woefully out of form. Good piece of bowling, but that’s bread and butter for an opener. Getting cleanly castled is never a good look early on. Stoneman looks like he’s batting with a white stick. Good luck James Vince. 8 for 1.

11:30 – REVIEW. Looks high. Is high. Not even an umpire’s call, so a review lost. Vince has played a couple of sweetly timed shots so far. Not really a stroke of luck this, but maybe it’s James Vince’s day.

11:35 – 20 up. Vince and Stoneman both on 9. The sense is that a wicket is imminent, but that may be based on history and general pessimism. Boult completes his over, and it remains 20 for 1. Cook’s scores since start of home West Indies series… 243, 11, 23, 10, 17, 2, 7, 37, 16, 7, 14, 244*, 39, 10, 5, 2, 2. Don’t let him get to 40.

11;40 – Southee over goes for a run and a leg bye and it’s 22 for 1. Meanwhile I have half an eye on the Red Sox trying to cough up a 4 run lead with their dodgy old set up men. 2 runs gone and bases loaded. Stoneman gets two with an iffy looking prod that squirted through point. And the Rays have just gone 5-4 up. 25 for 1.

11:48 – Vince given out caught. Being reviewed. If he’s hit it, Vince is a moron for reviewing. He’s not so he isn’t. Good review, and is this Vince’s day?

11:53 – Vince and Stoneman, without looking secure, have seen off Boult, it looks like. A neat clip through mid wicket for Vince makes it 28 for 1.

11:57 – De Grandhomme with a maiden, doing a passable impression of Nathan Astle with the ball. A man who Bumble once said “if he’s a bowler, my backside is a fire engine”. Or something like that. 28 for 1.

00:01 – Glorious shot down the ground from Vince. Lovely shot, six off the over so far. It’s the frustration with him, isn’t it. He looks like a player. 34 for 1 at drinks, Vince 18, Stoneman 13.

00:06 – Flashy, well, flash by Stoneman nets him three more off Charles de Gaulle, who is bowling in the mid 70s. Stoneman flashes a drive and misses with some swing and movement from the big man. End of the over and it is 38 for 1.

00:10 – REVIEW. Vince nailed in front by Southee. Reviews it. It’s doing a bit, but not sure it’s missing leg stump totally. It’s hitting enough of leg stump and Vince has to go. A promising start undone, and he Vince goes for 18. 38 for 2.

James Vince – LBW Southee 18 – 38 for 2

00:12 – Not sure of the music to accompany a sad faced Vince. Joe Root to the crease now. Off the mark first ball with a clip down to long leg. The replay shows the ball for Vince’s dismissal is just clipping the top of leg. Might be a touch unlucky, because the commentators said it was aided by Vince “falling over”. Whatever, it’s out. 39 for 2.

00:17 – Root adds a single from his second ball as CdG is getting all sorts of movement with his dibbly dobblers, getting me all nostalgic for Gavin Larsen. Bowls a filthy wide one Stoneman can’t put away. 40 for 2.

00:21 – Root sconed, but seems ok. Hit him flush on the badge, it looked, but no harm done. Hopefully. Southee still getting pace and bounce in his 8th over. HELLO SANTIAGO, CHILE, whoever you are! Maiden for Tim and it remains 40 for 2. Hello Coral advert.

00:26 – Stoneman pulls one round the corner for a couple to get his score moving. CdG bowling all sorts of toilet in between the odd decent ball. Stoneman played and missed at another wide one, then keeps out a straight one. Last ball of the over and a delightful late cut down to third man makes it 46 for 2.

00:29 – Root squirts one down to third man for 2 more. Someone drug test Southee as it is 9th over now! 2 more off the fifth ball with another glide down to backward point. 50 up. Trumpeter plays Bullseye them tune. Good grief.

00:33 – Still no sign of Wagner. CdG swinging it. Lovely cut shot from Stoneman off the third ball, and it is 54 for 2. Stoneman on 26. Just the four from that over, and it remains 54 for 2.

00:36 – Here comes Wagner. Root faces his first ball, a juicy half volley he doesn’t put away. Maiden. 54 for 2. Hello Coral again….

00:41 – Stoneman pulls another ball down to deep backward square – on to 27. Root gets to face CdG now. Root cover drives for 3 off wide fourth ball of the over. End of the over 58 for 2. Hello Mark in Brazil!

00:45 – Root plays through the covers off the back foot for a couple and moves on to 11. Classy shot. Next ball he gets on the top of the bounce from Wagner and puts it throug backward point for 4. Short ball next dealt with well. Another short one ends the over, six from it, 64 for 2.

00:49 – Ish Sodhi, who has been on and off the field, and is in good domestic form, starts his spell. He bowled 82 kph the ball before the 79 kph one, so he’s around Adil Rashid pace. Stoneman takes a single off the last ball and it is 65 for 2.

00:54 – Wagner to Stoneman for the first time. Given Auckland, he’s not seeing one in his own half. First four balls short. Wagner comes round the wicket. Meanwhile on Twitter Dennis is going up against Barney Ronay. Should be entertaining. 65 for 2. Thought Stoneman played it well.

00:57 – Sodhi to Root. Probably the penultimate over. Glorious Vince-esque drive for four by Root to make it 69 for 2. Whips the next one through mid-wicket for a single, takes Root for 20, and it’s 70 for 2. ’twas the googly.

00:59 – Last over before lunch. Our danger zone. A maiden full of short pitched boredom means lunch is taken with England at 70 for 2. Root 20, Stoneman 28. Cook pinged over early, Vince off to a promising start before being trapped in front. That’s all for me tonight, and hope you enjoyed it!

Above and Below that Radar

If England showed exquisite timing in being bowled out for 58 the week the Australian ball tampering episode blew up, the ECB must be exceedingly grateful for their own internal issues to pop up now as well.  For while the eyes of the world were focused on Johannesburg and Sydney, there was a second resignation from the ECB Board.  If there was one thing over which The Odious Giles Clarke was entirely correct about in Death of a Gentleman, it was that no one cares about administration – at least not until it reaches FIFA levels of nefariousness.  Thus, there will likely be little attention placed on the carelessness of losing not just one director, but two, in a matter of weeks.

This latest resignation has been painted by the ECB as being of no major consequence, given the reorganisation of the board in May, but it is striking that Richard Thompson of Surrey, someone thought a potential chairman in the future, felt the need to make such a strident point by talking about a lack of leadership and more damningly a lack of transparency in ECB policy.

“I’m saddened to have to stand down while still being a board member. I have been uncomfortable with recent decisions taken without full consultation and as such did not feel able to remain on the board,”

The catalyst appears to have been the payment of £2.5million to Glamorgan as compensation for no longer hosting Test cricket, and how that decision was taken, plus the issue of the ECB’s constitution supposedly being required to ensure all counties are treated equally, but it should also be noted that his county were one of those most vocal in initially opposing the forthcoming T20 franchise tournament.  That particular funding decision was a major reason behind the resignation of Somerset’s Andy Nash, given the awarding of the franchise for the region to Glamorgan on top of the payment for not bidding to host Tests.

The reconstitution of the board in May will remove the counties from direct oversight, something that isn’t in itself a bad thing given the way they have wagged the England dog so successfully for 150 years, but goes far beyond the requirements Sport England placed on them in return for maintaining that affluent relationship.

“I met with the board’s senior independent director and thereafter wrote to him giving detailing reasoning for my resignation. Further, I gave him my permission to share my letter with the full board.

“With two non-executive directors having now taken the ultimate sanction available to them to register their dissatisfaction, I agree with those who say the most appropriate course of action is for an independent external investigation to be set up to consider the matters raised.

“It is in the best interests of the game and the national governing body that the substantial matters raised by the non-executive directors and several counties are considered properly, openly and transparently.

“This is the best way for the game to be able to draw a line under the issues raised, to learn the lessons, unify and move on.”

Where this leaves Colin Graves is an open question; the counties are not exactly in open revolt, but resignations hardly suggests a great deal of confidence in him either.  On the plus side for them all, the board have awarded themselves a salary in future, with the chairman receiving up to £150,000 a year – Graves himself has nobly declined to take it – and for those angling for his job in the future, the appeal in voting it through is rather obvious.  There is no news as yet as to whether election to the board is open to all involved in cricket, but it’s probably just an oversight at this stage.

While the rumblings within the ECB may not be as remotely sexy as those on the other side of the world, it does reinforce the perception of an organisation in a fair degree of chaos, and one that has managed the fairly exceptional achievement of managing to annoy virtually everyone except themselves.

*Update: Barely 2 days after rejecting a review, the ECB have now agreed to one. Arse, meet elbow*

As far as events down under go, so much has been written about it that repeating the same story time and again is beginning to get boring, and not remotely as funny as the whole topic has been up to now.  The 12 month bans for Warner and Smith and 9 for Bancroft are objectively extremely harsh for the crime committed, but entirely expected given the response from the public, and perhaps more notably, the damage to the value of the broadcasting and sponsorship contracts held by Cricket Australia.  It is that damage that is by far the bigger issue in terms of the outrage.

It may not yet be the end of it.  Warner is believed to be incandescent with the verdict, and intending to appeal, and given the punishment, and the likely permanent exclusion from the Australian team, he has little to lose either by that appeal, or indeed by publicly challenging the conclusions in the future.  Inasmuch as this has echoes of the ECB and Pietersen, it is that once a player is hung out to dry, their inclination to remain silent disappears.  Given the exculpation of Darren Lehmann, this could get very interesting, for the narrative of Warner in particular being responsible  and Lehmann knowing nothing about it is something that has invited considerable scepticism.  Equally, the claim that this is the only time it’s happened is rather at odds with the apparently detailed descriptions of how Warner demonstrated the tampering to Bancroft.

Given the storm of outrage when the story first broke, Cricket Australia’s perfect outcome would have been that only the three players at the centre of it were responsible in any way, and everyone else was completely innocent and oblivious.  Imagine everyone’s surprise when the verdict showed that to be the case.  Australia’s bowlers must be remarkably uninterested in the condition of the ball to allow the batsmen to look after it and take no interest in what they’re doing, and the coaching staff amazingly relaxed about what the team are up to at all times.

As a final observation, and indicative of the Catch 22 scenario now in position is the highly amusing punishment dished out as the voluntary community service that’s so voluntary that the three players are compelled to do it.

Once in a while sporting governing bodies surprise.  This is not one of those times, either with Cricket Australia or the ECB.  Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

 

The Eyes of the World

Perhaps the most striking thing from an English perspective is that James Sutherland’s press conference was carried live on all the news channels plus Sky Sports News, meaning that the viewing audience for it will have been far in excess of any actual cricket shown on either BT Sport or Sky Sports. There is a significant irony in that on the one hand it indicates that whatever the problems the game has, there is still the vestige of significant interest in the sport, while on the other it means that for most, their only interaction with cricket is over this issue of ball tampering, and watching a suit talk about it.

The most interesting thing to come out of it was that despite press reports to the contrary (and a rare misstep from Nick Hoult who first broke it) Darren Lehmann remains in post as Australia’s coach.  Of all the expectations for the statement, this was perhaps the most startling.  The suggestion made that only three players were involved in any way is pushing at the envelope of what’s plausible; the idea that the coach had no idea at all is straining credulity, not least because of how swiftly he responded in radioing the 12th man to tell Bancroft he’d been rumbled.  Equally, if indeed he truly wasn’t aware, then why on earth not?  A side (or just three of the side) who cook up a plan of this nature without involving the coach, or indeed any of the coaching staff, is well and truly out of control.  It begs the question of how tenable that position can be even on the grounds of having no authority over the senior players, let alone the likelihood of innocence.

For a board who have spent much of the time since the weekend emphasising how seriously they take this whole affair, it appears curiously as though they’ve still managed to underestimate the anger in Australia about it.  Whether Lehmann staying on is remotely sustainable has to be open to question.  There has been much comment about the team culture that has led to this point, and that has certainly happened on Lehmann’s watch, so Cricket Australia are leaving themselves open to accusations that they aren’t especially bothered by that, despite their protestations to the contrary.

One thing that is certain is that the lawyers have been all over this, hence the delay in announcing the punishments for the players involved.   Smith, Warner and Bancroft have all been sent home, to learn their fate over the next 24 hours.  With significant penalties indicated, it could well be that the rumours of bans for up to a year may be correct.  There’s a disconnect here, for that would far exceed what would seem to be an appropriate response to the crime, but Cricket Australia are facing a meltdown in terms of the public reaction, and will want to make examples of them, and at the same time as absolving everyone else.

Here again there’s a contradiction – to do that at the same time as keeping the coaching staff in place and acquitting them of all guilt – and indeed responsibility – has to smack of scapegoating  since the idea that this was done by three players, and only three players, with no one else aware and no one else in any way subject to censure beggars belief.  Certainly, should the punishment be particularly heavy handed, it may be that we haven’t remotely heard the last of it, for there will be little incentive for them to stay silent and toe the company line.

These remain early days, which is perhaps why an instant response to it is the most honest one, but the failure to be as open in reply as indicated does seem to have stored up trouble for the future.  It’s no clean break, and it leaves far more questions than answers.  Perhaps the ability of any administrative organisation that there is no situation, no matter how bad, that can’t be made worse applies here.  The response of the Australian media will be interesting, and the feeling has to be that they won’t be especially supportive.

A Good Weekend To Bury A Bad Result

Good day to you. It’s test losing day on Being Outside Cricket, and we know what that means. Rancour. Introspection. Anger. Despair. Ambivalence. Wait. Not ambivalence. That never happens here. Imagine what it would be like if this were the Ashes! Instead of that anger, we are probably all still too busy laughing over the other events. No, not Afghanistan winning the World Cup qualifying, or the news Varun Arron is going to play for Leicestershire. But worrying about whether Malcolm Conn is OK. Australia Fair indeed. We’ll come to that.

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Lord Save Me…. Oh, You’ve Got It On Tape?

To England first. Another defeat by an innings away from home, as they came within 20 or so overs of forcing the draw their first innings of 58 didn’t deserve. There were half centuries in the innings for Stoneman, Root, Stokes and Woakes, but none went on to the big century or the 250 ball stay that the situation was going to require. It was certainly a better effort, and survival until later than we probably expected, but it was still very disappointing. England’s record away from home is abominable, and the excuse that no-one is winning really doesn’t wash. India, for example, went to South Africa, lost 2-1, but were competitive all the way. Australia have been pretty competitive in South Africa too (more of that later). We fold like a cheap suit, and it’s not good enough.

But that is the easy bit. Identifying the issue is a bit like identifying why Monday and the horrors of commuting, has to follow Sunday and the relative pleasures of sitting at home watching the Australian media drown in hubris. It just happens (God, that was a bad juxtaposition – Ted Dexter will be after me). Why it happens needs some more deep seated, probably psychological analysis. How has Joe Root stopped getting to 100 in test matches? Why does Stoneman look like a test opener, and then looks so out of his depth? Why does Alastair Cook do “it” so rarely in match saving situations? Why is it just absolutely bleeding obvious that Stokes is worth his place as a batsman alone when he is clearly carrying a back injury? Will Bairstow ever be consistent with the bat while he has wicket-keeping duties? What the bloody hell has happened to Moeen Ali? Is it a measure of our desperation that Dawid Malan’s form is going to be more John Crawley than Graham Thorpe? When will Stuart Broad bowl another one of “those” spells? Would Woakes be in the team if he couldn’t bat? What’s James Vince doing there? What’s Liam Livingstone doing there? What’s Jimmy Anderson really offering these days? Why did Craig Overton have to spoil it all? It’s like an episode of SOAP.

England started the day three down, and didn’t have to wait long to be four down after Malan nicked to Latham at second slip with 10 runs added to the overnight score. Stokes settled in for a decent bat, and Bairstow joined him, which you sensed needed to last well into the second session to give England an earthly. 20 overs of denial, especially from Stokes, followed, but Astle got the England keeper who pulled a long hop to mid-wicket to give the hosts their fifth wicket. England could probably have lost one wicket in the first session, at worst two, but it became three on the stroke of tea when Mooen succumbed, and for all intents and purposes, England had too.

Woakes and Stokes put up a long spell of resistance throughout the second session, and hope started to rise. But this England team have become specialists in hope rising only to be disappointed, and although I’ve not seen it yet, it is the dismissal of Ben Stokes that has the tongues wagging, or keyboard fingers itching, on social media. Another gift wicket, another at the interval, and another hammer blow. He may have made 66, and we are great at having a go at the contributors rather than those who flop, but one wonders just how much more vehement a KP or Ian Bell dismissal in those circumstances might have been treated by the press.

300 for 7 at dinner, England fought gamely for another hour or so, with Woakes completing a half century, but the game was up. When Anderson lofted tamely to end the innings, England had been beaten by an innings.

I know a number of you, including those who don’t comment on here, made/make a bee-line for the site when we lose. They seem to like our sense of anger, our dismay that this is going on, that somehow, if only we’d done things better we might have won. I would normally go off the deep end, usually going at members of the media not giving it to us straight, the ECB pulling the wool over gullible eyes or some other matter that would get the rage machine firing.

Not today.

This England team are now in the laughing at them stage, as I said after the 58. For a team mollycoddled and given all the support staff and encouragement they need, they under-perform mightily. Or do they? Is this, whisper it, our standard for the foreseeable future? Half decent home, half a team away? There is no sense of anger here, because even some of the media cheerleaders have given up, thrown their hands up in the air, and just accepted it. Sure, they’ll give some big and mighty words, but they don’t mean it. That the selection of James Vince did not have them screaming blue murder showed that. A selection to be laughed at, was one to be ignored, by and large. I don’t sense anger from the fans, I don’t sense anger from bloggers and I certainly don’t sense it from Strauss, Harrison and Graves. England writers, one senses, are only conceding test cricket is in trouble because England test cricket is. There is so much to put right, you don’t know where to start. There are so few solutions, one senses it is going to take luck to find them. I don’t think there’s much upside at the moment because batsmen seem incapable of making very big scores on a regular basis, and our bowlers don’t look like bowling teams out overseas. That’s a combination.

But the best thing about this loss is when it happened. It happened on a weekend when our best of enemies decided to have a meltdown. Many hundreds of thousands of words have been written, but if I may, could I be permitted to give you some more…

First, one of the fascinating things was watching the scandal develop. There was the press conference. As soon as Smith announced he was part of the group responsible I tweeted “he has to be sacked as captain”. There were some out there who thought this was because of ball tampering – it wasn’t, it was because he was admitting a conspiracy and you can’t have that. After all, you can’t even text your mates in the opposition these days.

But the Aussie journalists at the ground seemed strangely reticent. Indeed Peter Lalor praised the two for confessing and fronting up. At this time Australians would mostly have been asleep, and I was waiting for the Sydney / Melbourne boys to wake up. Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Courier-Mail all seemed quiet. Then Michael Clarke woke up, tweeted, got dressed and let fly. Fox Australia let them have it with both barrels and the floodgates opened. It didn’t take long for a tsunami of hand-wringing, a flood of self-loathing and some good old scapegoating of the present for past sins and we had ourselves a full blown meltdown. I’ve seen this happen before, and it never gets less dull watching it. By the end of the Aussie day we are seeing mentions of life bans, every Aussie and his/her pet koala having a say, and proportion and perspective abandoned for the immediate future. How could they? How very dare they?

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Him, Or Me. Australia decide…..

The second is something that might strike you odd. I loathe Australia as a cricket team, but I love watching them play. The male equivalent of treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen. You want them to lose, but you want them to lose with them playing hard and keeping the winning team on their toes. It’s why I will always love 2005 over 2011. So I think we need a strong Australia in test cricket, because we need a great rival that over time has been better than us. Their late 90s, early 2000s team had sanctimony by the bucketful, cheating (in its widest sense) down to an art. We, well I, secretly loved them for it. Every action movie has a baddie. The fact is Australia genuinely never saw themselves as the bad guys. They were, it seems, utterly convinced they were the pinnacle not just in achievement, but in attitude and fair play. Every piece this weekend, will nearly every, seems to take this line. There was a running joke between me and my mate Adelaide Exile about Gilchrist’s selective sportsmanship, but now Adam is seen as a paragon of virtue. I’ve seen it suggested that Ricky Ponting come back to instil Aussie values, which I presume including haranguing umpires if he doesn’t agree with decisions, and screaming at visiting coaches (and I love, almost unhealthily, Ricky as a pundit). I think I speak for many when I am amazed they think this way. This isn’t me putting my lot on a pedestal. How the hell can I with our vile governing body, a director who called his former star player a c***, a team for many years hated by match officials every bit as much as this Aussie team is now, it seems. We are laughing at you Australia. Stop it. We know you are upset. Take a deep breath, realise this was stupidity personified, that there is a sporting crime and someone has to pay, make them pay, then rehabilitate, reform if you must and move on. We will, once we’ve stopped laughing.

Third, watching the press and others stick the boot in here is very funny. They should be looking at the way Australia handles this and be ashamed. There’s no sense here of one Cricket Australia. If the organisation doesn’t do something to address this, and presuming it isn’t off the charts, or too soft they will come to some thoughts, the press will crucify them. They will do it to their Australian of the Year, who was exceedingly popular it seems, until he isn’t. The Cricket Australia statements included fans, don’t say they are outside cricket and to fuck off because this has nothing to do with them. They at least provide some recognition. If they care in Australia, they care too much, which is not an awful thing. Here, our press are so terrified about losing access, that they avoid conflict. You know what I’m talking about, I don’t need to draw you a picture.

Me? I’d make sure they never captained their team again – that honour and increase in pay has to be forfeited – but they should all play again if their form permits it. A suspension seems in order, and Bancroft needs to do the time too, but if it is six months they’ll miss just ODIs, T20s and a test in Zimbabwe. They’ll be back for India at home. A real punishment may be to ban them from the IPL by not giving NOCs, but that might bring in m’learned friends.

As I said, we’ve all read a lot. Sydney Morning Herald has been my go to site, and I recommend it to you all.

But as Jo Moore said, this is a good day to bury bad news. England chose the right time to lay a cricketing egg. We await Friday in Christchurch to see if there’s an Easter resurrection, or we prove to be the bunnies we really seemed to show in Auckland. And with that, comment away on the lines above if you feel you want to, and thanks for your contributions over the weekend, whether you agreed with us or not.

Dmitri (Peter)

Rubble, Muddle, Toil and Trouble

England picked a good week to be bowled out for 58.  Whatever the embarrassment of their likely defeat in Auckland, it’s going to be overshadowed by the events at Newlands. Still, at the very least, they can point to their predicament being one of ineptitude rather than nefariousness, which in the current climate is an achievement of sorts. 

The only reason England aren’t already 1-0 down is because of the weather, and it is a reflection of how disastrous their match position was that the loss of nearly two days play still has them likely to lose.  They put up a fairly decent display overall, but by this point of proceedings it requires miracle days to even up the ledger.

Henry Nicholls, batting for the fourth day in a row in this Test, made his highest first class score to take New Zealand to 427-8 at the declaration,  while for England Stuart Broad bowled pretty well, keeping things tight and picking up wickets.  It always seems strange to praise a bowler for keeping things tight, but in the circumstance of trying to keep a deficit down and limit batting time for your own side, it turns all bowlers into negative containing types rather than wicket takers.  Given the pitch was still decent for batting – and after all only two days old in reality – they could have been forgiven for cursing their own batsmen repeatedly for their profligacy as they laboured to create any chance of note. When you’ve been bowled out for 58 in a good surface is not the time to criticise the lack of penetration in the bowling attack, reasonable general point though it might be.

One sided Tests are never particularly interesting, and they only become so when it gets to the meat of the second innings, watching the usually doomed attempts to stave off defeat.  Invariably, teams bat better second time round, equally invariably they still lose.  Thus it was that England certainly made a better fist of things, while at the same time still looking like there was only one outcome.  Cook fell early again to complete a poor Test match – note that much comment once again referred to Root’ s conversion problem rather than Cook’s lack of runs over the last couple of years.  Melbourne still looks like an outlier.

Stoneman and Root set about compiling a partnership, but fell late on, the captain to the last ball of the day one delivery after taking a painful blow on the hand.  Root is clearly deeply frustrated at his habit of not going on to make big scores when well set, but England’s problems are deeper set than one batsman failing to make the most of being in.

Assuming the weather stays fair, seven wickets should be well within New Zealand’s capability, and while it’s always possible that there will be a repeat of Matt Prior’s heroics last time, England neither deserve a draw nor do they give off the impression of a team capable of it.  

Naturally enough, the post play interviews spent as much time talking about the conduct of the Australian team as the match itself.  Stuart Broad was clearly itching to give them both barrels and barely contained his amusement at the predicament in which they find themselves.  He did manage to make a few pertinent points concerning hypocrisy and his own treatment at the hands of the crowd, which is neither here nor there, but at the behest of the Australian coach, which is. He also took the opportunity to imply that it isn’t the first time Australia have altered the state of the ball, couching it in a dig about being surprised that this is supposedly the first time they’ve acted this way by saying he didn’t see why they’d changed a method that had hitherto been working.  Broad is often good value in these circumstances, given that Aussie baiting is something he is unquestionably good at, but it doesn’t mean his words should be taken as being any more objectively true than those of Darren Lehmann. Yet it is also true that footage of Bancroft putting sugar in his pockets during the Ashes emerged overnight – which is something Australia are going to have to get used to as people scour the footage for evidence of previous attempts.

The reaction to the pre-meditated ball tampering has been interesting.  Australian supporters are aghast, ashamed and in shock, which perhaps highlights self perception of the way Australia are meant to play cricket in their eyes.  Outside the country it’s rather different, a deep sense of amusement and schadenfreude at the self-appointed arbiters of cricketing morality caught out deliberately cheating.

For the crime is not the worst that could have been committed, reflected in it being a Level 2 or at most Level 3 offence in the ICC disciplinary code.  One of the peculiarities of cricket remains the mobile moral code that considers some actions to be reprehensible and others part of the game, even when all are intended to gain an illegal advantage or deceive the umpires.  Ball tampering appears to be one of those where self righteous outrage is a common response to something most teams have been guilty of at various times.  Perhaps the greatest outrage is reserved for those who are caught.

There are a few exceptional circumstances to this one.  Many instances of it tend to be in the heat of the moment, rather than as here a deliberate plan concocted by the “leadership group” of the Australian team, the exception being in the legal dubious but impossible to police tactic of enhancing saliva through the sucking of sweets.  In that sense the mea culpa from Smith created more questions than answers.  His refusal to name names as to who was involved is not sustainable; the match referee and ICC will want to know who is to be punished, and a no comment won’t fly.  Equally, it beggars belief that Darren Lehmann wasn’t aware of any of it, the giveaway being the speed with which he radioed the 12th man to inform Bancroft he’d been caught.  Lastly on this particular element it is astounding that apparently not one player or staff member pointed out that this was a terrible idea, either for moral reasons or the simple practicality that being caught was so likely.  David Lloyd’s assertion that Australia are “out of control” is never more strongly supported than by the total absence of anyone with either a moral compass or a well developed sense of self-preservation. Above all else, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the leadership group are severely challenged in the mental department.

Smith is finished as captain, as is Warner as vice captain.  There is absolutely no prospect of them surviving this, the reaction from Australia has been so negative, and so angry, that it is merely a matter of time before both go, the only question being whether Cricket Australia will allow them to resign rather than sacking them.  There is simply no prospect of them remaining that is remotely sustainable – every time Australia gain reverse swing they will be alleged to be cheating, every time they claim a low catch they will again be called cheats, irrespective of the truth.  The stupidity of their actions means that for the next decade this will be thrown at them at every opportunity.  It is a PR catastrophe to which there’s only one response.

James Sutherland held a press conference overnight where he issued the usual platitudes about being aghast at what had happened, but he also made the interesting comment that he’d had cause to speak to Smith before about the behaviour of the team.  In the first instance this suggests either that it was hardly a bollocking or on the other that it was ignored by the team to the extent that they felt ball tampering was a reasonable response to the concerns.  Doubling up on things is an oddly impressive response in a sense.  Either Cricket Australia didn’t care about the stench of hypocrisy emanating from Australian cricket, or the team didn’t care what he thought.  Both reinforce the out of control criticism.

Few international sides are angels, and most have behaved poorly at different times, not least England.  But no others have taken it upon themselves to define how everyone else should behave and claim the moral high ground even when it is a laughable position.  Prior to these particular events, they had complained bitterly about the treatment of the players (and players’ wives) at the hands of the South African crowds.  And fair enough too, it was unedifying – but for the complaint to come from a side whose coach had openly called for Australian crowds to send Stuart Broad home in tears, it was another example of an extraordinarily lacking in self awareness perception as being the good guys, oblivious as to how they were seen elsewhere.

There is no reason to assume that the ball tampering was a regular act – though equally the protestations that this was the first time it had ever happened were greeted with derision given this is the response every time Australia are caught out doing something wrong – but Australia’s behaviour during the Ashes left a lot to be desired, as did the pious manner in which they justified themselves.  This speaks to the heart of the difference between self image and outside observation, and explains precisely the glee with which this has been received outside Australia.  Ball tampering is a relatively minor matter, hypocrisy is not, and it is the hypocrisy that has resonated.  Furthermore, the outrage from the Australian media raises plenty of eyebrows given their unstinting support for every dig and complaint issued from the team.  They have been the propaganda arm of Australian cricket far too often to now react with outrage At the team going one step too far.

At the time of writing, news broke that Smith had been suspended from the fourth Test and fined his match fee.  This is merely the beginning for him.  For the sake of trying to gain a tactical advantage in one Test he has damned himself for the rest of his career as a cheat, and if Any sympathy is to be extended in his direction, it is that one crass decision is going to haunt his career, not because of his guilt, but because of the pre-planned, deliberate nature of the offence.  Any penalties he receives from the ICC or Cricket Australia pale into insignificance compared to the reputational damage to himself.  Some have commented that he deserves some credit for fronting up and accepting his guilt at the press conference, but he spent more time talking about being embarrassed than he did apologising, indicating he still didn’t realise quite what they had done.  Equally, Cameron Bancroft was largely thrown under a bus, making it somewhat apposite that Sutherland then did the same to Smith.

As for Bancroft himself, being a junior player is no excuse whatever.  Everyone knows the rights and wrongs of something like this, and volunteering to be the patsy suggests a complete lack of perspective and intelligence.  It comes back again to being astounding that no one appears to have objected to the plan.

Over the longer term this may well benefit Australia, serving as a correction to their recent overbearing nature.  For everyone else it doesn’t offer the slightest opportunity to jump on to the moral high ground so rapidly vacated.  All teams have been behaving poorly in one manner of another and none of them can claim to be the wronged party on a regular basis.  Equally, and taking into account that this still isn’t the worst crime to have committed on the cricket field, it provides an opportunity for the authorities to clamp down hard on some attitudes and confrontational acts that have been pissing off a lot of people all around the world.  

National teams are not a law unto themselves.  This represents an opportunity to reinforce that point 

More Rain – And Putting The Ban Into Bancroft

All this scratching is making we twitch.

With all due respect to the very limited action available to the hardy souls in Auckland, the story of today is without doubt Australia being hoisted on their own petard. Let’s be charitable here and say let the investigation run its course and it would be premature to rush to judgement. Then remember back less than three months to Channel 9 and its shenanigans over a dubious looking moment with Jimmy Anderson. There was no measured calm, no looking for innocent explanations, no trying to get the facts. They were, quite blatantly, playing the 12th or 13th man for Team Australia, and the media out there duly followed. We see it, we get mad by it and yes, in just a small way, we might even envy their loyalty and support. But it’s not looking to secure justice and fair play.

Yes, I know, I am being hopelessly naive, and yes, I know, I’ve probably crossed a moral line or two playing sport too. But we are going to get nowhere if we start denying the obvious. Let’s wait and see what happens later in the day, but at the very least Bancroft is guilty of misleading the match officials, which is what Burge threw the book at Atherton for. I was at the Oval in 2006 when Pakistan were accused of ball tampering, and all we had to go on was announcement of a 5 run penalty. When we put two and two together, we thought there might be trouble. And trouble there was. This gets to be an emotive subject.

I know we have some Aussies who come on here regularly, and I know we can’t put this on all of them because it would be silly. But I do put it on large swathes of their media that allows, even laughs, at people like Malcolm Conn having a pop at England picking players with perfectly legitimate links to England, while ignoring Usman Khawaja or Andrew Symonds with less tangible birth links (and for the record, absolutely they should be playing for Australia). You can’t chuck this nonsense out and (a) not expect it back and (b) to be bloody ridiculed for it. For years the Australian team, and its dutiful press corps, by and large have been fine and dandy when they are dishing out the stick to the opposition. If it is because you are being beaten, you are crying. If it is because you are in a tough game, it is mental disintegration and what test cricket is about. If you are winning…..it’s Australian spirit, never say die etc. And by and large I really don’t care. But you don’t and never should, get the privilege of defining a line. Yet in this series they are telling us South Africa are crossing it.

(Update – Of course, I forgot Lehmann’s part in all this. Just like some football managers, when his boys do it, it’s fine. When his team does it, it’s within the line. But when an idiot South African fan dispenses it back, it’s off we go. You can’t run with foxes and hunt with the hounds. These things have a tendency to bite you on the arse. Which is why England should keep quiet because we definitely head butt the line too.)

Now Australia are faced with dealing with a really sticky situation with Cameron Bancroft. It does not look good. The press all over the world will be watching. In turn I’ll be watching the Aussie media. On Sky Graeme Smith put Allan Border on the spot about it, and AB, as loyal to the Aussie cause, as gritty and determined as they come, a player I admired (save that Dean Jones macho bullshit nonsense in Madras) was put in a spot. Did he jump to a conclusion and be berated as disloyal, or play it safe. He trod a careful path “it doesn’t look good, and if he’s found guilty he will have to pay the penalty”. Can’t say fairer than that. This is going to run and run. (Update – 2 hours on and Malcolm Conn is silent. Maybe it’s past his bedtime.)

Aside from all the nonsense, this is a cracking series, and this is another good match. A pity the two teams have acted like bloody children. It’s taking away from the spectacle, not adding spice. We know how competitive the two teams are.

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Beautiful Newlands…. Any excuse to get this picture out

A story is breaking that Virat Kohli is going to miss Afghanistan’s first ever test match to play three games of county cricket, probably for Surrey. Sadly for us Londoners the only home game he will play if he does is at Guildford, which although great for a day out, is not so great if there’s going to be a large crowd. Anyone fancy a day at the Ageas Bowl for his first game? I think this speaks much about the game – county cricket still has some attraction otherwise why would Kohli bother; some test matches aren’t quite as important as others; and England helping out an opponent by giving him early match practice is laudable, in my view now. I’ve changed my tune and would rather see a well prepared, in tune India play England than some outfit ill prepared and waiting to go home. I maintain my point. Test cricket really needs Virat Kohli. If he turns his back on it (and I know he sort of his for the Afghan test) then the game might be in trouble. He’s the world’s most important cricketer right now and it’s not even close.

We’ll probably come back to the Colin Graves and Glamorgan story. Again, if the story stands up, you’ll count us shocked. Really shocked.

So to Day 4 at Auckland. England don’t deserve to be saved by the rain and they should at least have to have earned a draw by batting time – a thing we have been dead good at in recent years. The weather forecast appears better tonight. New Zealand should look to add 120-150 quick runs, get up to 350 if they can and stick us in. Some might say they should go earlier and I wouldn’t argue. Then England will need to earn some pride back. It’s by no means acceptable, and that 58 should be remembered for quite a while, but it would be a start. This team has been papering over cracks with its home form. There’s a lot about “no-one wins away” but we aren’t even competitive. That has to change.

Comments on all of this immediate, reactive nonsense below. Comments on the test should also follow.

UPDATE – They have confessed. It was a leadership group decision. Smith as captain has to go. Absolutely no questions asked. Warner as vice-captain cannot take that position up either. At the moment they are protecting Lehmann. That’s not going to work either.

UPDATE @ 10PM UK TIME…

Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since the afternoon. Chris is possibly going to be on tomorrow to give his verdict on Day 4 and some comment on today’s events.

I genuinely believe that Steve Smith is dead in the water. If he survives this, I’d be genuinely shocked. The next in line would be David Warner, but he has to be part of the “leadership group” mentioned in Smith’s mea culpa. It’s not the ball tampering, which is ludicrous and to some extents serious enough. But it’s conspiring to do so, within a structure within the team, and then getting the sap with the fewest caps to carry it out. More will come out about the whys and hows, but this isn’t an international captain, nor a vice-captain showing leadership. Those who think this is purely about ball-tampering are off their minds.

Australia find themselves in a bind purely of their own making. They have been holier than thou in terms of their cricket for a good while, and the mask, however slightly, has slipped. People can abide cheats – players who have pushed the margins of the rules, who have appealed when they know it is not out, who have even pushed the line of acceptable banter – but they generally can’t abide hypocrites. Loads of people have sledged, but why do you think people go at Warner? Because he can throw, but he can’t catch. Smith and the whole “Baggy Green” ethos is in tatters, and he is the one at the helm of his ship. “Oooops, I’ve smashed this one into the iceberg, but I’m just the man to rearrange the deckchairs…”

The issue isn’t for me to say Steve Smith should be sacked – I think he should but that is a call for Cricket Australia. What this is also not about is the technical issue of ball tampering. What is in question is leadership and the way the game is played. Cricketers have cheated since the beginning of the day and always will. Much of it comes from the flow of the game. It isn’t pre-meditated over a lunchtime chat to take something out into the middle and blatantly use it on the ball. Some will say Smith shouldn’t be the one to take the fall. Let us see. Commercial and reputational interests conquer all, and this is not a good look, right or wrong, and they will decide the fate.

It’s been a funny old day….

“Rain” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 2nd Day Review

After what must be considered their worst day of the whole winter (and they have plenty to choose from), the England team probably weren’t hopeful about getting any kind of result from the game. The one thing which might help undeservedly rescue them is the weather, and that was what happened today.

The first session started on time after rain showers earlier in the day, but lasted only 10 overs before the downpour began. New Zealand made steady progress and Williamson completed his 18th Test century, but little else of note happened.

The heavy shower passed fairly quickly, and play restarted just over an hour later. This session coincided with the second new ball for England, and both Anderson and Woakes (with Broad only getting two overs before being pulled) got quite a lot of movement with it. An Anderson inswinger did for Williamson, hitting him plumb in front, and the traditional captain’s DRS review failed to save him. Whilst the swing challenged the other New Zealand batsmen, neither gave up a clear chance and after just 13 overs the rain came down again.

And thus ends what is by far the shortest and easiest match report I’ve ever had to write. The forecast for tomorrow looks even worse than today, which might leave England the faint hope that they can rescue a draw. Meanwhile, with a lead of 171 runs New Zealand must be considering a declaration sooner rather than later.

As always, comments welcome below.

“Duck” – New Zealand v England – 1st Test, 1st Day Review

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Root, Stokes, Bairstow, Ali

“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.

New Zealand v England – 1st Test, Day 1

Your hard working writers have been working bloody hard recently, and so the articles on here are a little thin on the ground. We have always said we won’t post for posting sake, and that we know you understand this. A lot has got my interest recently, and even today there is barely concealed anger over the ICC Qualifiers for the World Cup. We’ve had the tiresome nonsense between two groups of adults acting like children in South Africa. We’ve had the KP retirement and the reaction (and lack of in some quarters). There was the schmozzle in Sri Lanka, there are the frequent laments over county cricket. If the game has nothing to moan about, then it can generate something in a heartbeat. Sadly, despite all these subjects we’ve just been crushed by our day jobs. So sorry, but that’s life. It’s especially tough when we see some of the stuff being put out there at the moment.

But we have some actual cricket tonight. I was going to say proper cricket, but I’m not sold on this pink ball stuff, but according to all and sundry I am supposed to be the one to get into line. This is a sad tour for me. New Zealand are attractive opponents, playing an exciting type of cricket, with some good bowlers, and we will be tested. So let’s just play two test matches, bunged on to the end of an extraordinarily long winter tour, which to the public at large is going to be as an invisible tour, straight out of the HG Wells novel. You can tell how important it is for all and sundry – no-one appears to give a toss that Ben Stokes is playing. It’s an interesting sub-plot rendered meaningless by it being so low key. Stokes is making a comeback in the country of his birth. Such courage, as Andrew Strauss said. Let’s play a game. Let’s see if it’s New Zealand-born Ben Stokes on the scale of South African-born Kevin Pietersen in days of yore.

The first test is being played at the world’s most Mickey Mouse playing area, with some primary school boundaries in play at Eden Park. It’s also being played under lights (you’ve said that already), and it’s a two test series. One wonders if the ECB don’t take this series seriously, why the hell should supporters? As I’ve said many times, England lost an Ashes series 4-0 and no-one really gave a shit. So why should we care about what happens in New Zealand?

We do need to start winning away test matches. It may not be something the ECB cares too much about, but there is a worrying trend of England folding when there are distances to travel. This is a big series for a lot of players coming off an underwhelming Ashes. Stoneman has a place to play for, and even then, I’d be dubious of his test longevity. Malan came out of the Ashes with rep enhanced, but it’s a fragile place to be, and he may end the winter being chucked in at number 3. Joe Root has a number of critics to placate, because he keeps making 50s but not 100s. Moeen Ali had a chastening Ashes, but he’s not allowed one bad series, while some of his teammates survive three or four. Alastair Cook thought about quitting, but then didn’t think about, made one massive knock amid the slim pickings, but he’s not under pressure. Why should he be? Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes also need to recover some of their mojo. Well, not Jimmy. He’s in the sainthood with Alastair. But both could do with good series to bring England a victory, if possible.

New Zealand are going to be formidable, one would think. Neil Wagner is particularly interesting, having run through the West Indies before Christmas. Boult and Southee need no introduction. Kane Williamson is a class act, and the fear is after the ODI series is that we have a red hot Ross Taylor to contend with. It’s got plenty to commend it, this match.

We also have Act Three in the Children’s Party in South Africa. Who will call each other the worst rude word? Who will come up with the unfunniest quip? Who will ask another player out for a fight after play has finished? Which team will be more cheeky to teacher (umpire or match ref)? Which player will actually shut up and play cricket? England as a team are no angels, that I know. But this series has seen some tense cricket, good performances and exciting periods of play. Hell, AB De Villiers has shrugged off his fatigue to be fabulous. They don’t need this needle, and for grown adults to say they do, they should grow up. I can’t say I perform better in work if my manager tells me to fuck off every five minutes, or it gets me going if I threaten HR every now and again. They don’t have the monopoly on tense working environments, so pack it in, you tedious bores.

Comments on both matches below. We’ll try to get day reports up as and when. No promises.