England began four days of Test preparation in Hamilton on Wednesday with the first two days played with the pink ball under lights. The matches aren’t first-class, England bowled first by agreement and can teams can continue batting a whole day even if bowled out, so the games are essentially glorified middle practice. It all started well for England, reducing the New Zealand XI to 30 for 5, but a chastening afternoon and evening followed as Tom Blundell and Kyle Jamieson added 163 and both scored centuries. Here are a few things that caught the eye.
Ben Stokes‘ back
Stokes-watch has not finished with his comeback in the one-day series. He will sit out the first two-day game with a back problem but it is being played down as nothing serious; England are hopeful he will play over the second two days, he pushed himself hard during the ODIs and may be feeling the effects. It is likely his workload in the Tests will need to be managed. If, in the worst-case scenario, Stokes isn’t available for the Test it would again leave England needing to find a way to balance the side. At the very least, he won’t have had any middle time with the pink ball. James Vince had seven overs on the opening day here, but if he’s needed for that many in a Test, things haven’t gone well.
Early points to England’s quicks
New Zealand’s Test openers, Jeet Raval and Tom Latham, walked out to open the XI’s innings – a chance for Raval to have an early sight of the pink ball and for Latham to adjust from one-day cricket. It didn’t work out for either of them first time around. James Anderson, quickly back into the groove, pushed one across Latham to find the outside edge and then Raval had a lazy waft at Stuart Broad’s first ball to give Ben Foakes another catch. With Henry Nicholls chipping to midwicket and Colin de Grandhomme edging Mark Wood behind, it wasn’t a great day for New Zealand’s Test squad. There was time late in the day for Raval to fall a second time, edging a good delivery from Broad. Not the ideal preparation.
Wood opens the bowling
Broad is on 399 Test wickets has been working hard between series on trying to regain the outswinger. He had to wait a little while for his first bowl of the tour, though, as Wood was given the new ball ahead of him. If Stokes and Chris Woakes (rested here with a hamstring niggle) are fit, it’s hard to see how Wood would fit into the Test side, so it was an interesting decision from Joe Root. Wood’s first spell ended with 3-2-1-0 and then Broad struck with his first delivery.
Blundell hard done by
Tom Blundell made a century on Test debut against West Indies but, two matches later, is out of the team with BJ Watling having recovered from his hip problem to regain his place. That is an unsurprising decision – Watling averages 38.05 in Tests – but Blundell ensured that the pressure will be on Watling to perform. Having come in at 15 for 4, he became increasingly aggressive during the afternoon – his second fifty took just 49 balls – to reach three figures from 149 deliveries. It won’t have hurt that New Zealand coach Mike Hesson was at the ground by this time. When he had 131, he felt he had enough and retired to give someone else a chance.
When the ball goes soft
This opposition is stronger than what England faced during their warm-ups in Australia, although the manufactured match situation is unsatisfactory. It wouldn’t have mattered if New Zealand had been skittled, they would have all come in for another bat. At least, though, this was genuine resistance. The recovery, again, raised the question of what this attack can do when the Kookaburra passes about 25 overs. There was some fill-in bowling used at times, but England went 45 overs between actually taking a wicket themselves, and Moeen Ali was treated with some disdain, conceding over four an over. The fact that that period involved a No. 8 without a first-class fifty will raise a few concerns.
Who is Kyle Jamieson?
The 23-year-old six foot six Canterbury fast bowler, who was part of the New Zealand Under-19s squad in 2014, missed the start of this season with injury, has a highest first-class score of 40, and is more known for his exploits with the ball. A few around the ground raised an eyebrow when he batted ahead of Scott Kuggeleijn (three first-class centuries) in this side, but he certainly didn’t look out of place. He took a particular liking to Wood, with a strike-rate of 163 against him, while Anderson did not take kindly to some of his batting – at one stage the umpire had to step in. His century came from 110 balls when he nudged a single off Moeen. It won’t class in his official records, but he can tell the story of this innings for years to come.