I went to sleep with New Zealand on 91-4. I was extremely hopeful we’d be able to force a result. Anderson and Broad were bowling well, and Jack Leach was causing problems, so it was extremely disappointing to wake up and find that we’d been denied by the Kiwi tail.
Credit to the Black Caps, of course, but I thought England deserved to win this game, and they would have done if the schedulers had a brain. Why oh why did they schedule all the white ball stuff, which is often played under floodlights anyway, and then save the test matches until the very end of the tour when Autumn had set? It was even dafter to schedule the final test for the beautiful Halgey Oval where there are no floodlights. Bad light was always going to be an issue at this time of year.
When you throw in the nonsensical logic re: the scheduled start – they moved the start time back by half an hour from day two because of daylight saving measures in New Zealand – I think England have reason to feel a tad aggrieved. Why not just start each day a whole hour early? The official reason was the possibility of dew. But this wasn’t a concern on day one so why should it matter on the other days? Sometimes cricket is really daft.
Having said that, England can’t really complain about the number of overs bowled today. They played for longer than anticipated, and our bowlers had plenty of time to dismiss the likes of Neil Wagner, who batted like Matthew Hoggard on sedatives: 7 runs in 103 balls. You’ve got to take your hat off to the Kiwi tail really. Sodhi also played a blinder.
What more could England have done? It’s hard to tell to be honest. I’ve only been able to stay up for the first session each day – due to the fact I have a day job and a daughter with chicken pox – but I imagine we might have forced a result with a bit of genuine pace and mystery spin. Mark Wood and Jack Leach have definitely improved matters but they’re not quite Malcolm Marshall or Shane Warne yet!
I’d be interested to know what everyone thought of Leach’s performance. From what I saw he bowled quite well – although I do think his action is worse now than it was before his ‘remedial work’. It looks less fluent and, to be honest, it appears to have more of a kink in it now than it did before. I really don’t understand why they messed with it in the first place as I don’t think anyone in the cricket world had raised suspicions. It’s a really weird state of affairs.
There’s no doubt, however, that Leach is an improvement over Moeen Ali. Whereas Mo used to land approximately two balls an over in precisely the right spot to test the batsman, Leach seemed to bowl about four. He’ll obviously grow in confidence, and give it a bit more of a tweak as he gets more comfortable on the international stage, but I think he’s worth persevering with. I wasn’t able to watch after 1.30am but he looked quite promising from the brief action I saw.
Mark Wood also had some impact on the fifth day. I thought he bowled too short in the first innings – which might have been to team instructions – but he picked up a couple of wickets today so that bodes well. I’d much rather play Wood than Overton because he offers something a little different. He’s not left arm, and he can’t always sustain his pace for long, but the fact he’s skiddier than the other bowlers offers some variation.
We’ll have a roundup of the winter’s action in the coming days but in the meantime I’d like to ask everyone what their main takes from this game are? Have Vince and Stoneman done enough to retain their places for the Pakistan series or do you think they’ll be thrown in the same bin as Ballance, Lyth, Compton, and Robson etc? Personally I’m not sure whether either will turn into consistent performers at test level but I can’t see the selectors dropping them after making half-centuries in their last innings. They’ll be desperate to prove everyone wrong and justify their original decision to pick them.
The other big questions concern England’s two ‘bankers’, Joe Root and Alastair Cook. The former scored seven half-centuries this winter without making a single match-defining century. Is the captaincy therefore affecting his batting? It’s worth pointing out by the way, that Root gets to 50 far more than any other batsman in the world according to Jonathan Liew.
And then there’s Alastair. Is the Cook era finally coming to a close? Is he even tempted to call it a day? Somehow I think he’ll want to leave on a high. We’ve also heard that he wants to leave when the team is in good shape and there’s a natural replacement waiting in the wings. I fear that might take a very, very, long time.
Before I sign off I’d also like to pay homage to Jimmy Anderson who has now gone past Courtney Walsh on the all-time test wicket takers list. Apparently Jimmy has now bowled over 10,000 balls in international cricket. That’s an incredible achievement. What’s more, I think he could play for another two years if his shoulder holds up. He still looks very fit and his skills haven’t diminished at all. What a remarkable bowler.