The England men’s team can finally come home after a very long winter. 157 days after they departed for the Ashes, the frustrating draw in the second Test against New Zealand brought the curtain down on their overseas adventures. While the players will be pleased not to have to stay in hotels any longer, those of us who have been following them from the other side of the world are finally able to get some sleep.
As the days went by, it became increasingly clear that England were probably going to let us down, but we kept on watching anyway. We weren’t gaining much pleasure from the cricket but we still watched, partly because it’s cricket and partly because it has been dark and cold and it looked warmer on the TV.
England played 7 Tests, 10 ODIs and 4 T20s on their travels. Their contrasting fortunes across the formats has been stark. Very little can be taken from T20s, but still, 1 win from the 4. They continue to excel at 50 over games, with 7 wins from the 10 matches played and both series won – the 4-1 victory against Australia was particularly impressive. But the tests, I’m afraid, were a disaster.
What was most frustrating about the Ashes was the fact that England weren’t completely blown away in every match. On more than one occasion they got themselves into strong positions but failed to capitalise on them. Their second innings efforts with the ball in Adelaide, bowling Australia out for 138, left them with a not impossible 354 to win. They went into the final day needing 178 more runs with six wickets in hand, only to be blown away and lose by 120. In the last ever Test to be played at the WACA in Perth, England ended the first day on 305 for 4 thanks to Dawid Malan’s maiden century. They were bowled out on the second day for just 403. How typical.
I think most people, other than the ICC, would agree that a two Test series is at least one too short. That was what England were faced with in New Zealand, however, and that’s why their 58 all out abomination in the first innings in Auckland ended any hopes of a series win. Two hours into the first match, and England’s chances of winning the series were over. Sigh.
The Christchurch Test did at least provide some positives. Joe Root’s team were only two wickets short of what would have been a morale boosting victory. If it wasn’t for the bad light, England probably would have got over the line. There was a welcome return to form for Stuart Broad with 6 for 54 in the first innings, and while serious questions remain over the batting line up, Jonny Bairstow did at least stand tall with his fifth Test century. Broad’s peach of a delivery to get New Zealand captain Kane Williamson out for a first ball duck in the second innings was one of the best balls of the winter.
A word for the Kiwis, too, who were excellent hosts. After the heat and bile from the unpleasant Australians, it was a breath of fresh air to see the game played with humility and respect. The Black Caps are a shining example of how you can play fair and still win. In the wake of the ball tampering scandal, Australians have been saying how they need to be more like New Zealand. That seems like a very good idea.
The way the Kiwi crowd gave the Barmy Army a big cheer after their morning rendition of Jerusalem was wonderful, as was the way the New Zealand players clapped Bairstow when he reached three figures. Nothing about William’s interview after his side’s big win in the first Test was boastful. It was a joy to watch. I hope we see at least three Tests between the two countries the next time they meet.
So what have England learned from their long winter? That they’ve got problems, obviously. Alastair Cook has been out of form for so long now that you have to wonder if it might just be the new norm for him. But with Mark Stoneman not convincing as his opening partner, could England really consider dropping a man with 12,000 Test runs? There is not exactly another opener banging down the door to be selected.
Meanwhile the debate about Root batting at three continues to rage. His reluctance to do so is baffling. I imagine much depends on the future of James Vince. Surely they can’t keep carrying a player with such an inability to leave balls alone outside the off stump?
The Moeen Ali situation is also contentious. Should Moeen return to the Test side, or has Jack Leach earned himself a run? And what on earth are we going to do when Anderson and Broad aren’t there to take all the wickets? England have a lot of thinking to do between now and the next time they take the field against Pakistan at Lord’s on 24th May.
Personally, it’s been four months of broken sleep and broken dreams. The Test team left England several months ago with several question marks, and not a single one has been answered. At least there’s a bright side though. We can all looking forward to being able to watch England at a civil hour of the day again. I just hope they can put on a better show.