Not a great plan…
Among the maelstrom of indignation, there’s at least one group of people who must be feeling a quiet debt of gratitude towards the Australian cricketers: The English.
When asked about their recent capitulation for 58 against New Zealand at Eden Park, a confused looking Joe Root replied: “What’s that got to do with Steve Smith?”
They must have been doing cartwheels through the hotel lobby when they read the news that day. Oh boy.
In the time it takes to read a headline, the sound of the carnivorous media pack sharpening their knives became a symphony for the English side. Ahhhh, the soothing tones of someone else being flayed alive.
Luckily for England, the pink-ball massacre may barely rate a mention in the transcripts of cricket history, completely overshadowed by Australia and their well-worn balls.
Which is a shame, because there was much about the Eden Park Test that is worth remembering. And you wouldn’t believe it, but it’s actually about the cricket. Imagine that!
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The English tour of New Zealand has been played in great spirits with some tremendous performances from both sides. The first Test was one of the best Kiwi efforts.
Trent Boult was devastating, collecting six wickets, while Tim Southee grabbed four – and with more swing on display than a busy night at Auckland’s CCK Lounge, the innings was done in just 21 overs. It was tremendous stuff.
The office echoed with incredulous gasps, followed by excited cries of “We’ve got another one! Boult again! And another!” Everyone was pumped. About cricket. New Zealand cricket.
Equally as impressive was the manner in which the home side’s batsmen then seemingly out-willed the touring bowling attack. It was slow going, but every blocked delivery or leave outside-off was like a body shot to the English psyche. The joy and pain of Test cricket.
Kane Williamson was at his methodical best, scoring his 18th Test century, surpassing teammate Ross Taylor and the late Martin Crowe to sit atop the nation’s record books.
Williamson appears so calm and patient at the crease, content to just sit and wait. And wait. And wait. A few clouds drift pass, he occasionally glances at the field setting, apparently not a care in the world.
Then, crack! Dispatched to the fence. Glorious. Start again.
Henry Nicholls continued his development with his second Test century before the first whispered concerns – why were we still batting? Had the New Zealand brains trust left enough time to bowl the English out again?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Even after losing a day to weather, yes. If the first innings was all about the swing twins, the second was Neil Wagner’s irrepressible determination and energy.
Wagner seems to get angrier and more energetic the longer he bowls. After waiting to get another run for the national side, he was not required in the first innings and could only watch the carnage. It seemed fitting then, that alongside Todd Astle, he should be the driving force to close out the match.
I waxed lyrical when the Black Caps won 11 consecutive matches. Then they won a few more. But I knew it might be premature. While I wanted to enjoy the ride, there were still question marks if the success was due to the quality of their performance, or a lack of quality opposition.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out. New Zealand promptly dropped a few games against Pakistan and produced some mixed performances in the T20 series against England and the amateur carpenters. It was disappointing, even with the subsequent ‘*’ next to the Australian win.
England then won an exciting and closely fought ODI series. Both sides played some great cricket, but there were some anxious moments for Kiwi fans, as the Black Caps showed some all-too-familiar signs of fragility – highlighted when the English cruised to the finish line in the decider.
I’m not a huge fan of T20 cricket. It can be entertaining, but I don’t have the same emotional investment I do with ODIs or Test cricket. I’m sure there are plenty who disagree. I suspect they are millennials, accustomed to a diet of immediate gratification to satisfy their painfully short attention spans.
Maybe that is just the way of the future and I am showing my age. Heck, even some of the Australian Test side prefer to hurry things along any way they can.
So, for me, the Tests against England will determine the success of New Zealand’s season. Unlike previous years though, it will be the difference between a good season and a great season.
The first Test performance surpassed expectation. It was an emphatic statement that New Zealand continue to be a team on the rise.
Perhaps most satisfying is the manner in which they achieved their results.
The series between England and New Zealand is a timely reminder that cricket doesn’t need sledging, big send-offs or attempts to gain an advantage at any cost to be exciting.
It can be exciting purely because it’s a great game.