England v New Zealand: day four at Headingley

New Zealand can still win this match – they have ninety-eight overs in which to take ten wickets – but it’s hard to believe England will strive for victory too, despite Joe Root’s claims to the contrary.

We have an opportunity to do something special. We have every intention to go out and win the game. We got off to a great start and hopefully that can continue. When I look around that changing room everyone from one to 11 are match-winners and we have every opportunity to chase them down.

The key is to go out there with the view to chase them down and then react and adapt accordingly. It is still a good pitch. Fingers crossed we can come out tomorrow morning all guns blazing.

England are ahead in the series, with everything to lose but little to gain, save kudos. Will they – with Cook at the helm – risk forfeiting a series victory for so little reward? With 412 runs required, they’ll have to score rapidly, and put their wickets at jeopardy, from the first over.

On the other hand, England’s interests are best served by batting with a goal in mind beyond pure survival. If they simply try to avoid getting out, they’ll most likely fail.

New Zealand have played the better cricket in this test and deserve a share of the series, if only for their gritty sense of derring-do. This morning, Craig and Southee led an onslaught which realised 116 runs in only sixteen overs. Stuart Broad refused to aim at the stumps, and finished with match figures of 33.1-1-203-7, or 6.12 runs per over- the third most expensive runs-per-over analysis ever for England. Two of his overs cost 39 runs.

In their second innings, eight New Zealanders struck a six, the most ever in test cricket. Across both their innings, England conceded 4.9 runs an over, more than they ever have before.

Scyld Berry, in the Telegraph, made some interesting observations.

When Broad, armed with a ball less than 12 overs old, bowled to Southee with two slips, an extra-cover and everybody else spread around the boundary, it looked terrible. It looked like an army in retreat. It looked like anarchy.

At first slip, too far away to communicate with Broad, Cook sees his captaincy dismissed as an irrelevance. Andrew Strauss would run to speak to his bowler about Plan B. Cook, more passive, resigns himself to letting Broad do what he wants.

This is surely the biggest problem which Trevor Bayliss is going to face when he takes over as head coach. Cook, Broad, Anderson and the coaching staff agree a bowling tactic. Then the opposition play a few shots and everything flies out the window.

One complicating factor is seniority. Cook came into the England team after Anderson, and in the same year as Broad. But the whip has to be cracked, and order restored. Otherwise a few hits from Australia’s David Warner will be sufficient to put England to flight.

Restoring control from mayhem, when batsmen are running riot, is one of captaincy’s key requisites. It has never been Cook’s strong point. In fact, it’s one of his greatest weaknesses. Any idiot can rotate the bowlers, as he was lauded for doing at Lord’s. Stamping one’s authority on a chaotic situation is another matter.

Cook was at centre of the day’s main off-field talking point: the revelation he went outside the Team England system for private batting coaching. On this front, I’d like to argue that Cook deserves commendation – for initiative and independent thinking. He took responsibility for his own form, and did what he needed to do, under his own steam, to put things right.

Wouldn’t England be better off if more players both did the same and felt they had the freedom to do so? Players should be empowered to take responsibility for themselves, not infantilised and diminished by an oppressive management team who micro-manage every detail of the players’ lives to justify their own expensive existence. The players’ needs and judgement should come first, with a system designed to support them. Sometimes it feels as if the reality is the other way around.


  • I agree with every line of this. Well written and well said Maxie. Putting into words the random ideas that have been floating around in my head.

    I despair of Cook in the field. There are times when he is little short of dreadful. Taken all around I still think he is the best we have got. I can’t go along with the idea that ‘anyone else will do’. Root needs the freedom to play his game and Bell is very unlikely to be a better choice.

    Broad was terrible beyond belief but we are short of top quality opening bowlers. He does come good in bursts so maybe we have to persevere with him for that. I would like to see Plunkett coming into the side, possibly as a replacement for Broad.

    If we have to play a spinner I think Moeen is our best option although I am very uncomfortable with the thought of him bowling against the Aussies. Unfortunately he is obliged to learn his trade in the test arena and could be damaged as a result. I don’t think we have a specialist spinner who would fare any better.

    Lyth does look the part as a test match opening bat and I’m delighted to see him doing well. I think both he and the team have been disadvantaged by the fact that he didn’t play in the West Indies. He would have been so much better prepared for the summer if he had been given that chance.

    A wonderful series so far and a shame that this final test has been interrupted by rain. As you have written I do hope England give it their best shot. I think they are doomed if they try to simply play out the draw. New Zealand deserve to level the series but McCullum might just have given it away.

  • Captaincy is not necessarily about seniority – Smith was early 20s when he took over. Its about courage and the ability to impose yourself, consistently.

  • “England’s interests are best served by batting with a goal in mind beyond pure survival. If they simply try to avoid getting out, they’ll most likely fail”.

    When Gordon Greenidge was asked about his 214* when West Indies chased down 340+ at Lord’s in 1984, he said he didn’t go out there with a plan – he went out to bat and when early wickets didn’t fall, the opposition bowled poorly and a catch went down he responded to the situation and played accordingly. Play the match situation seems the best plan to me. Individual players should also be shown some trust – some players are more likely to get out playing a forward defensive than a reverse sweep and some aren’t.

    It is entirely possible to block out for a draw if the situation does not permit going for a win. SA are masters at it – most memorably when they held out in Adelaide with Faf Du Plessis.

  • Let’s hope McCullem has been taking tips off Cook, and takes off his spinner and instructs his swing bowlers to bowl three straight hours of poorly directed bouncers.

  • the moment NZ stepped up their game Cook started looking clueless. one of the Main stays of ENG team of the old is someone used to put their hands up in dire situation, like freddie or atherton or KP, etc nowadays it looks like whenever there is trouble everyone looks to pass on the baton.For all the talk of ” Team ” England right now doesnt seem to be playing like one, this might sound harsh and by no means am i calling the players selfish, but they are just playing as individuals looking to score runs or take wickets, not working together as a team. Just see the way boult says i strike the lefties and southee takes on the right handers. Can broad or anderson say the same? A draw here was always easy Wood and butler held the bay longer than others, if the same application came from middle order/lower middle order this would have been an easy draw.

    • Cook’s poor captaincy was shown up even more by the brilliance of Brendan McCullum’s decisions out in the field. He switches bowlers around, he will take a bowler off quickly if they stray in line and length, he tinkers with the field and sets traps which catch some batsmen out, he doesn’t panic if an opponent smashes a couple of boundaries, he makes some brilliant stops himself in the field, thus setting the tone for the whole team. He and his whole team should be proud of themselves, they play a wonderful style of cricket in a very sportsmanlike manner. Cook could learn so much from McCullum.

  • For all I have admired New Zealand’s positive cricket in this match, I can’t help feeling that England should have been able to draw this game today. There is a worrying fragility to the batting that was also on show in Barbados a few weeks ago. The moment Lyth was out this morning, I knew we’d lose. For most of my life, we have failed to bat out matches for the draw, even if there’s been a few exceptions like the famous one involving Monty at Cardiff in the 2009 Ashes series.

    I am left totally depressed by today’s collapse, in which part-time spinner Kane Williamson too three key wickets. His wickets versus England cost him just 17 runs a time, against other teams each wicket costs him about 65 runs according to Andrew Sampson. Shane Warne or Murali he ain’t and yet he was able to take three vital wickets today.

    There’s so much to concern us all…

    1. Ian Bell’s total loss of form. He is falling into the traps set for him, often getting himself out as much as anything. He missed chances in the slips in both games and appears distracted and in a bad place mentally. Even though he had a good home Ashes series in 2013, I’m not sure he has the stomach for another one this year.

    2. Gary Ballance’s loss of form. He played very well in the first two tests in the West Indies but has struggled since. Apparently he is not moving his feet and staying too far back in the crease. I don’t fancy his chances against the Aussie left-arm bowlers.

    3. England’s continuing inability to dismiss lower order batsmen cheaply. This was evident in the 2013-2014 Ashes series, where the likes of Haddin, Johnson and co kept getting Australia out of trouble after our bowlers had made inroads into the top and middle order. Last year we saw some awful cricket against Sri Lanka when Angelo Matthews and Herath were at the wicket. Now we’ve seen the New Zealand lower order thrashing England’s bowlers all round the ground. Graeme Swann believes Cook should turn to spin more in these situations, but it would be great if we had a real pace bowler to run through the final three.

    4. Cook’s captaincy. Jonathan Agnew asked him about the short-pitched attack to the Kiwi lower order tactics, and Cook seemed decidedly defensive about it and wasn’t prepared to admit that this style of bowling was all wrong. Is it that Stuart Broad and James Anderson decide these tactics, and that Cook is too weak to stand up to them ? Or is he just so dumb as a captain that he genuinely thinks these are the right lines and lengths, even when they are now regularly contributing to us losing test matches?

    5. Poor slip catching. We’re told Adam Lyth is a fine slip catcher and yet he was sometimes at short-leg. Surely they aren’t still adhering to all the old nonsense about the newcomer in the team having to field at short-leg. Bell is said to be good at this position, so surely he and Lyth should be swapped around. New Zealand were excellent in the slips and in their ground fielding and they seem to be able to bring the best of their one-day skills into the test match arena.

    6. The lack of a specialist spinner. Moeen Ali had a decent game at Lord’s with bat and ball and in the field, but at Headingley he struggled to make an impact with the ball. Contrast that with Mark Craig, who looked a pie-thrower at Lord’s and yet took vital wickets in both innings in the 2nd test just finished. Surely Adil Rashid should have been given a try in the West Indies and in this series. Graeme Swann says lower order batsmen are always uncomfortable against real spin and given that leg spinners take the most wickets in West Indies domestic cricket these days, then surely Rashid might have done quite well out there. I can’t now see the powers that be giving Rashid a chance against Australia.

    7. James Anderson. I’m a big fan of Jimmy, but he struggles when the ball isn’t swinging. If he doesn’t get a 5-for, then England struggle, although Broad is getting better and Mark Wood looks really promising. I’d like to see both Broad and Anderson exempted from the five match ODI series. Jimmy might like a rest, Broad could play a couple of county games if he still feels he has things to work on.

    8. Batting fragility. Today’s performance was an abject collapse, in which England succumbed to – alongside the excellent Boult and Southee- two bowlers who we’d hardly think of as world beaters:Mark Craig and Kane Williamson. Yes, the ball was turning, but too many of our batsmen are inept against spin. The way Bell and Root got themselves out in the same over from Craig was unforgiveable at this level of cricket. Ballance and Bell are both going through a bad run of form and don’t look rock solid in a batting crisis. For all I like the attacking flair of Buttler, Stokes and Moeen, only Buttler today looked like he could really get his head down and play a long innings. No team can collapse quite like England: in the first innings here from 232-2 to 350 all out, then effectively about 209-9 second innings. The inevitability of it all is so depressing, I’ve been listening to collapses like this on TMS for all my life, or so it seems.

    9. The way the ECB, Strauss, Cook et al have slammed the door on Kevin Pietersen. He has a great record against Australia, apart from 2013-2014 (when all the batsmen struggled), and I reckon he would be raring to go at number four. I think he would really apply himself and another right hander wouldn’t go amiss either. He has scored over 8100 test match runs at an average of 47.28, you don’t just chuck him on the scrapheap because David Walsh ghost-wrote a book for him. KP has been treated appallingly and is far more sinned against than sinning. I could imagine him having some great partnerships with Root, Stokes and Buttler. I would bring KP in for Ian Bell, but of course it won’t happen. So who are the the decent county threes and fours who could take Ballance and Bell’s places if they fail again at the start of the Ashes ?

    What a depressing day. Whilst I am not so sure the Aussies will thrash us 5-0 as many are predicting, I still feel they will probably win something like 3-1.

  • Ian Bell hasn’t lost form, he’s lost confidence. Coming out and not toeing the ECB line on KP has probably led to a bit of cold-shouldering by the dressing room clique. This has then been rubber stamped by the greater powers removing the Vice-captaincy from him. He probably imagines that if he steps out of line again, he’ll be shot.
    Sadly, this feeds into his mindset when batting and he loses all his focus.

    I expect some intelligent analyst from the MSM will look into this further sometime soon. Maybe Ed Smith. Or Mike Selvey. Or the ANALyst himself, Simon Hughes.

    *doesn’t hold his breath*

    • If that’s true, then what a horrible team environment to be playing in. I was watching some of the highlights from the Lord’s test match last week and Bell wasn’t looking very happy, even during a passage of play when England were taking wickets. KP talked of a culture of bullying in the team and he felt that this contributed to Trott’s anxiety/stress problems. Can you imagine Brendan McCullum allowing that to go on amongst the NZ players, who seem to have a great team spirit. I’m a fan of Ian Bell, I’m just worried about his run of low scores and the fact that he often gets himself out. Perhaps a couple of county games for Warwickshire will help him.

      • ya you see taylor who isnt exactly having a great series but comes out and smashes the ball from get go without worrying about his own score and place but about putting the team in a winning position. That’s the true team spirit not the being chums in dressing room.

  • In my earlier post, I forgot to mention something else that bothers me, namely the way the coaching staff and team management seems to have had an adverse effect on some promising players in recent years. Monty Panesar and Steven Finn are two prime examples of players of talent and potential who seem to have gone backwards under England’s coaching/management regime. Some of the TMS team were speculating as to whether this has something to do with the army of support staff and hangers-on feeling that they have to justify their pay grade and position by picking apart a play and then putting him back together again. Steven Finn had real promise, now he’s banished back to Middlesex and seems to be struggling to take many wickets even in county cricket. Panesar has been forgotten about. Whilst it’s true that he wasn’t in Swann’s class, he was still a good bowler with a decent test record. Why does England’s man management seem so bad ? You’d almost believe they end up screwing people up mentally, which could be what is happening to Ian Bell at present.

    • Sadly everything you’ve written rings true, SaxophoneAlex. I’m particularly worried about Bell, who looked (I’m quite deliberately going to use a rather unfortunate phrase) “disengaged” while fielding during this match. You can’t help but wonder what crap might have been going on behind the scenes.


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