England 465. New Zealand 66-3.
England outplaying New Zealand at test cricket is a bit like loo roll – you only notice it when it’s not there.
That’s why I suspect this match has so far failed to set the world on fire.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing you’ve not spent the last two mornings stumbling into work, bleary-eyed and yawning, because you’ve been up most of the night, unable to tear yourself away from the sight of Tim Southee bowling to Jonathan Trott.
The factor in play here is that this test has exactly lived up to our expectations for the series: low-key, workmanlike dominance by England. No fireworks, far from perfect, and not a thrashing, just an inevitable and steady advance by the English ranks over the Kiwi front lines. There is little to make us speculate or analyse, because everyone involved knew it would be like this.
That’s why the previous match, at Dunedin, was rather more interesting, because England’s first-innings car crash upset the apple cart, leaving the game wide open and full of potential plot-lines.
England’s predicament in this series is that they have nothing to gain. Even a 0-2 victory from this point will barely impress anyone, because the perception is that’s the very least our team should achieve. But if they slip up – a rain-affected draw here would cause problems – they risk grave embarrassment.
Probably the main talking point from today’s play was Matt Prior’s effortlessly effective innings, which makes you wonder just what he could achieve as a specialist test batsman, or playing higher up the order. Such talk should be firmly resisted though – Prior’s current role is in the best interests of the team. He can rescue us from a dangerous position, ram home an advantage, or shepherd the tail. There is no other candidate for the number seven slot who could possibly do all three.
It’s a shame that Joe Root failed again today. Has the hype unnerved him slightly? I hope he gets some decent runs next time.
Meanwhile, Australia’s progress at Mohali seems to have got people talking more than events in Wellington, judging by Facebook and Twitter. Clarke’s elevation to the number three position – he somehow found the courage after all this time – didn’t exactly work as well as planned: he was out first ball.
Few in England could believe that Steve Smith – who was both useless and irritating in the Ashes – was brought back in, and at number five to boot. Do they really not have anyone better, even with the absence of the Powerpoint quartet? That said, he proved us wrong by making a very valuable fifty which has left the match carefully poised. I’m going to stand by my prediction that Australia will at least come close to winning this test match.
You can attack, counter-attack, and bat with the tail from no6 too. Hussey did it for years and now Dhoni is doing it as well. In fact, India have recently moved Dhoni from 7 to 6 because he’s infinitely better than anyone else they could bat there. If Prior was playing as a batsman who didn’t keep, he would bat 6. To do anything else would just be bizarre. Then he wouldn’t run out of partners so regularly, and a considerable number of his 24 half centuries wouldve been tons. He has only 4 centuries.
I can’t see them moving Prior to 6. Doing so requires us to find a bowling all-rounder for the no 7 slot, and we simply don’t have one. Our once bottomless batting order is looking much more vulnerable below Prior, with Swann and Bresnan injured and Broad’s batting falling away. Finn’s emergence as a handy no 9 has come at the right time.