At the end of day two at The Bay Oval, England had reduced New Zealand to 144-4 and had built a strong position. The Kiwis were still over 200 runs behind, their first four batsmen were back in the hutch (including their best player Kane Williamson), and they were facing the prospect of batting last on a surface that was showing signs of wear. Everything pointed to an eventual England victory.
Three days later England had lost by the humungous margin of an innings and 65 runs. Talk about inept. Yes New Zealand did brilliant to fight their way back into the game, and then take a decisive lead, but losing so meekly after establishing such a strong foundation is embarrassing.
In his post match analysis, Joe Root argued that analysts shouldn’t read too much into the defeat. He claimed that looking into the performance “too deeply” would be a mistake. But why? Surely tough questions must be asked after a capitulation like this.
I’m sure Joe would love everyone to say “oh well it was just a bad day at the office” because it lets him and his team off the hook. However, it simply doesn’t work this way. Supporters realise that defeats this lamentable have become a habit under Root’s captaincy. It’s not a blip; it’s a pattern. Therefore the forensic treatment is fully justified.
Now don’t get me wrong. There’s no shame in losing to a better team – especially away from home. But some of England’s dismissals yesterday were indeed shameful.
The skipper himself was culprit number one. Having battled hard for almost an hour he inexplicably tapped a short ball to gully. It was a terrible shot that revealed a totally scrambled mind. Was he dwelling on something else at the time? Who knows. But when you throw your wicket away twice in the match, both times caught behind square on the off-side, then you’ve got to expect a backlash.
The vice captain also let the team down. It’s hard to criticise Ben Stokes too much because he’s dug us out of a hole many times in the past. However, his dismissal yesterday was almost as bad. It was a nothing shot – a careless effort. It’s amazing how often shots lacking conviction ricochet back onto the stumps.
Ollie Pope was another culprit. He was obviously deceived by Wagner’s slower ball but smacking a full toss straight to cover is never a good look. I sense it was Pope’s naturally positive mindset that proved his undoing. If your default is to seek scoring opportunities then things like this can happen. However, the match situation demanded a more defensive mentality. As soon as he saw a wide full toss he should’ve thought “that’s harmless I can leave it” rather than “bingo I’m going to whack it”.
The other batsman taking some flak is Jos Buttler, who left a full delivery that cannoned into his stumps. Again it looked terrible. The only defence I can offer is that the ball swung in quite a lot and Jos was probably physically and mentally exhausted after keeping wicket for 201 overs. I bet he’s never kept wicket for anything like that period of time before. Overall he had a very rough game.
We talked about the bowling yesterday so I won’t go into that again. What’s more, my cat got extremely antsy when I compared her to England’s toothless wonders and she retaliated by crapping in my shoe; therefore I have no desire to go back there again. However, I can’t ignore Root’s controversial comments about Jofra Archer after the game.
To question Archer’s “energy and effort” live on TV was extremely strange and suggests there may be trouble ahead. Although some might agree that Jofra’s body language isn’t exactly electric on occasion, is it any surprise when he’s just bowled an insane 42 overs in a single innings? The poor bloke’s probably exhausted.
What’s more, Root’s comment that Archer needs to bowl sharper and shorter spells seems a bit rich. Jofra isn’t the captain, Joe. You are! If you want him to bowl faster then why bowl him into the ground?
England need to be very careful with their prized asset and one hopes the team management (and indeed the ECB) will learn from the Kevin Pietersen debacle. When you’ve got a special talent you need to look after him. Don’t ostracise the player or criticise him in public. Make him feel included and invested.
Archer is going to have a long cricket career but there’s nothing that obliges him to focus on Test cricket in particular. Like Pietersen he’ll no doubt look to earn as much money as possible from T20 competitions, and quite frankly he doesn’t need any of this crap. England must try to convince Archer that slogging his guts out for England in the longest form of the game is a worthwhile endeavour. Questioning his commitment is only going to lead to bad feeling and increase the chances he’ll say “sod this” sooner rather than later.
Ask yourself this. When was the last time an England player’s motivation was questioned in public? I could be wrong but I think it was indeed Kevin Pietersen who was criticised for looking ‘disengaged’ amongst other things.
Root and Chris Silverwood need to sit down with Jofra pronto and thrash things out in an amicable way. And I don’t want any clash of egos or talk of team culture – i.e. the management flexing their muscles and saying “it’s our way or the highway”. A player’s needs, and what a player thinks his role should be, is important too. Why? because happy geniuses tend to be productive geniuses.
Before I sign off, I also want to mention how sad it was that Archer got racially abused by a New Zealand fan yesterday. The game doesn’t need ignorant bozos with a chip on their shoulder. I hope they find the perpetrator and ban him for life.
I’d also like to ban England batting collapses but somehow I doubt this will happen anytime soon. Our batsmen, like our bowlers, will be handicapped by the ECB’s white-ball-first domestic schedule for the foreseeable future.
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