ENGLAND TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND, 2018
Only 17 balls were possible on the third day as persistent rain curtailed another day’s play. © Getty
Two days of almost constant rain in Auckland has given England an unexpected sniff of avoiding defeat in the first Test at Eden Park after their shambolic routing for 58 on the opening morning. Regardless of the result, however, England cannot afford to gloss over the obvious inadequacies of their recent Test performances.
Just 17 balls were possible on Day 3 and only 23.1 overs of action took place on Day 2 because of wet weather. New Zealand currently have a lead of 175 runs with six wickets in hand and all eyes will be on captain Kane Williamson on Sunday (March 24) to see when he might declare. There is still plenty of time for the home team to win the game but England – who might have to bat out a day and a half – will feel they have a chance of saving the match too.
If the tourists do survive, their overseas record would read as no victories from their last twelve Tests away from home and this performance, coming after a humbling display in the Ashes, has simply been more of the same ineffective cricket they have been playing overseas for the past two winters.
There have been familiar problems during this Test: a failure of the batsmen to adapt to conditions, the lack of big first innings score, a bowling attack which has little variation or genuine pace, an unthreatening spinner too. Whatever happens in the rest of this Test and during the second match in Christchurch, these are long-term issues which will require long-term solutions, some of which are to do with the domestic game and the ECB’s development system.
For now, the rest of this match is simply a test of character. “We didn’t play the swinging ball well on that day. No-one did. You’ve actually got to get back in the fight,” Graham Thorpe, the batting coach, said. “That’s the most important thing. Technique’s one thing, but actually the most important thing is getting your head back into the battle of the match.
“We’ve still got quite a lot of work to do in this test match, but the team can redeem themselves by actually putting in a top-class performance in the second innings, and that’s what it’s going to have to be as well, to get out of this test match. You are playing for your country and get rolled over like that, your pride is dented but you can’t feel sorry for yourself for long. You can’t just run off for the hills or hide under the bed, you have to get up and go again the next day.
“There’s enough character in that dressing room. But you have to dust yourself down. The rain has helped us a little bit, we’re nowhere near out of the woods, but it’s given them something to focus on. The important thing is what happens in the rest of the game. Clear your minds, it’s very rare things like that do happen. You try and stay level with the players because they are going to feel bad enough.”
New Zealand, on the other hand, are handily placed after their first-innings excellence with the ball and a dogged batting display, led by Williamson’s hundred, which has showed all the application and technique which was so lacking from England’s batsmen. “The position we’re in now is a good one,” fast bowler Tim Southee said. “The rain has been frustrating, but the work we put in on day one has made that frustration a little bit easier to swallow.”
Southee took 4 for 25 in the first innings but his opening partner Trent Boult, with 6 for 32, took most of the plaudits. Not that Southee minds too much. “You’re obviously wanting to take wickets, but when you’re in that huddle and the guys are getting around you for the job you’re doing at your end, you still feel like you’re still contributing to him taking the wickets. It’s a great partnership and we’ve bowled reasonably well together for a while now, so it’s nice to see Trent do well and feel like you’re contributing at the other end, helping to build some pressure.”
“I think the pink ball historically has been a nice ball to bowl with first up, but you’ve still got to put it in the right areas and try to get as much as movement as you can. We had the first use of the wicket and we probably got our lengths right, but we’ve seen throughout, when England have bowled, there have always been challenging times, and our batters have done a pretty good job so far. Being caged up for a couple of days, it’s important when we do go out and bowl [in the second innings], that we hit our areas from the start.”