The opening five-day international of the summer between England and New Zealand was a fantastic advert for test match cricket. England rallied after an awful start, only for the Kiwis to build a first innings lead; the pendulum swung back to the home side with a couple of contrasting but equally impressive centuries, and victory was secured with a fine effort from the bowlers (and a couple of excellent catches).
However, the fact that we were bowled out early on day five meant that Alistair Cook did not get the chance to declare England’s second innings and I wonder just how much we have actually learned about how the “new” regime are going to approach the longer form of the game.
For me, the biggest positive is that the side contains three young, dynamic cricketers, all of whom are capable of making significant contributions on (hopefully) a reasonably regular basis. Joe Root is a class act, a definite future captain who has developed into a model of middle-order consistency. Add the occasional invaluable wicket and you have a player around whom you could build a side for another decade.
I’m a big fan of Moeen Ali; a stylish attacking batsman and a more than useful off-spinner, and of course Ben Stokes is the man grabbing all the headlines with his quick-fire ton and crucial wickets.
The latter two (maybe Stokes in particular) will have days when things just don’t go for them, and there will undoubtedly be glaring failures in amongst the sparkling performances. They might not always change a game, but if and when they do, they’ll probably change it very quickly, and the effect on the rest of the team was there for all to see yesterday, as the players showed a spirit and togetherness that has been noticeably absent for quite some time.
I’m pleased Cook got runs, but I do have concerns over his captaincy. There’s a massive difference between playing to win and playing not to lose, and perhaps we might learn more as the summer progresses.
The second opener slot, as well as Ian Bell at no.4 are both open to debate – disappointing in Bell’s case because he is arguably the side’s most technically gifted batsman. Gary Ballance looks a very good cricketer and Jos Buttler’s position is pretty secure. He’s steady enough behind the stumps, and on his day will score runs very quickly. Personally I would still prefer Jonny Bairstow in the role, but for whatever reason, his name is rarely mentioned in dispatches, however well he is playing for Yorkshire. The three pace bowlers used at Lord’s looked a decent unit at times. The experienced Anderson and Broad will be picked all summer if they stay fit, and I hope that Mark Wood gets a decent chance to show what he can do. He generates a lot of pace and bounce from a relatively short run-up and looks are really good prospect.
As for New Zealand, I really enjoy the way they play the game. Had the roles been reversed yesterday, you just know that Brendon McCullum would have declared, and run the risk of losing to give his side the best chance of winning. As with his captaincy, his interviews are refreshingly candid; he accepted the defeat but confirmed the result of one game would not change his (or his team’s) attitude and style of play….
And did you see how virtually all the Kiwis went to congratulate and shake hands with Cook at the end of the fourth day, after he’s batted through all three sessions? Very impressive indeed…
New Zealand’s lack of a quality spinner should be of little relevance when the next test gets underway at Headingley later this week. In Trent Boult, the Kiwis have probably the best bowler on either side and with Kane Williamson looking in great form with the bat – and playing on his adopted home ground - the stage looks set for another great game of cricket.
If the outcome of the game is hard to predict, one thing I can say for certain is that Michael Vaughan’s commentary will irritate me no end. He seems to delight in using more and more ridiculous words and phrases to describe the action… apparently if the ball is swinging, the pitch is bouncy and a straightforward catch is dropped, what you will actually hear is: “The ball is hooping all over the place, there’s spice in the wicket… oh no… it’s a goober!”
I wonder what the great Richie would make of it…