First of all, heartiest congratulations to the Black Caps squad for winning this series in England.
I say squad rather than team because there were significant personnel changes from the first to second Tests, yet both XIs played aggressive, attractive cricket. The Black Caps dominated the two Tests and thoroughly deserved their series win.
Where does this leave New Zealand heading into the World Test Championship final?
Clearly they’re in a strong position in most facets of the game. They have some tough choices to make when it comes to team selection. They have a strong top five, with Kane Williamson to come back into the line-up and Will Young likely to be the unlucky player to miss out.
Simon Doull, the ex-Test bowler, felt the Black Caps had to play a spinner, so that would likely be Ajaz Patel. They then have to choose between Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Kyle Jamieson and Colin de Grandhomme, assuming Patel is an automatic inclusion in their XI.
They should play their best four bowlers and they are Southee, Boult, Jamieson and Wagner. Patel is a fair to middling spinner, but is not good enough to seriously challenge the Indian batsmen, though he may still play, depending on the pitch.
This is also going to be the last Test for BJ Watling and hopefully he goes out with a bang, especially with the bat. He will likely bat at six and the Black Caps badly need him to produce one of those scrappy innings he’s famous for, hanging around and making a gutsy 40 or 50. If he can do that, New Zealand should be able to post competitive scores.
On the other hand, where to for England?
There are three things that need to happen. The first is to accept this is a very ordinary Test squad, that isn’t going to improve with the addition of players from the county scene.
There have been all manner of comments about England not having their best team, with people moaning about several absences.
The fact is, the guys who represented England in this series, bar James Bracey, will be the nucleus of their Test squad both for the India series at home and the Ashes in Australia. There are no players like Devon Conway or Will Young playing great cricket for their county and bashing doors down to get into the England Test side.
The second thing England need to do is to play cricket within their limitations, play with discipline and aim for consistency. To highlight this point, the following are the scores England’s top six made in this series.
Rory Burns 132, 25, 81, 0 (Test average 33.23)
Dom Sibley 0, 60, 35, 8 (Test average 30.78)
Zak Crawley 2, 2, 0, 17 (Test average 29.33)
Joe Root 42, 40, 4, 11 ( Test average 48.68)
Dan Lawrence 0, 81*, 0 (Test average 29.90)
Ollie Pope 22, 20*, 19, 23 (Test average 31.50)
Only Burns made enough runs to improve his average. All bar Crawley had at least one decent innings or got starts, but that was about it. Joe Root had another underwhelming series and it’s now been 11 innings since he past 50.
The batsmen were guilty of playing without discipline, gifting their wickets to the Black Caps bowlers. When they gritted it out, some showed they could make runs, but too many failed too often, hence the series result.
The blame for England’s poor showing has been laid at the feet of their batsmen, but the bowlers were little better. These are the bowling figures from this series.
Ollie Robinson – seven wickets for 101 runs – average 14.42
Stuart Broad – six wickets for 174 runs – average 29.00
Ollie Stone – three wickets for 97 runs – average 32.33
Mark Wood – six wickets for 205 runs – average 34.16
James Anderson – three wickets for 206 runs – average 68.66
Bear in mind this attack is playing at home with a Dukes ball that moved a lot, both through the air and off the wicket, yet they returned such underwhelming figures. Or maybe this is the new normal that England can expect over the next nine Tests?
As a left hander, I thoroughly enjoyed watching guys like Conway and Tom Latham playing some outstanding drives. The problem from an English perspective is how many of these they were allowed to play. Ditto with how many runs came from glides down to fine leg, which is showing their bowlers aren’t respecting line or length.
The final thing England have to do is sort out their fielding. This is one area where a miracle can happen, but only if they work seriously hard.
They’re not likely to make huge scores, given the averages and form of their batsmen, nor are they likely to bowl sides out cheaply enough for their batsmen to win games, unless they improve their bowling discipline.
However, they will generate chances and these need to be taken – not only the obvious chances but they need to turn half-chances into wickets.
They also need to really focus on saving runs in the field. Again, with the current line-up, they’re not likely to make huge scores, so to be competitive, they must keep the opposition totals down to a gettable level.
New Zealand have an obvious, simple target: win the World Test Championship final. They are a confident squad that has plenty of guys in very good form.
India though will be very hard to beat. On paper, they probably have the wood on the Black Caps, but Tests aren’t won or lost on paper.
That game should be an absolutely beauty and good on the ICC for allowing an extra day’s play to maximise the chance of a result.
I heard a commentator say the other day that England need to go back to basics. If by basics they mean playing with real determination and being disciplined with bat and ball, then that’s the way to go for sure.
They also need to stop any thoughts about the Ashes and focus first and foremost on being a competitive unit against Virat Kohli’s squad.
Everyone knows India will come at England very hard, in part because of the series hiding they copped the last time they played in the Old Dart, but also because Kohli will want to make sure India gets back their number one Test ranking.
The series loss against the Black Caps should hopefully wake up the England players and really get them motivated to show significant improvement. If they can all play to their Test averages (or better), they can be competitive. If not, the India series and the Ashes might be one-sided contests.