Four wickets fell on day one at The Bay Oval. Ten wickets fell on day two – including the dismissal of Kane Williamson when a ball leapt alarmingly off a length from nowhere. The ball was swinging a bit too. So how many wickets fell on day 3?

Two. Just two miserable wickets. And one of those was a miracle catch by debutant Dom Sibley. Sigh.

It’s all so disappointing. I really thought England were going to win this game from their overnight position. They dominated day one. They were on top at the end of day two. And although nobody really knew how this Mount Maunganui pitch would behave later in the game, I thought it was safe to assume that batting would get harder not easier.

I was wrong. Watching England flounder in the field on day 3 was all too familiar and depressing. The bowlers had faces longer than Seabiscuit. Joe Root looked lost. And the luck went against us too. It was exactly the type of experience the selectors were hoping to avoid when they picked the tour party. At 394-6 the Kiwis are now strong favourites.

However, although it would be easy to put the boot in today, I don’t think we can blame anyone in particular. England picked the best attack available to them.

Jofra Archer was supposed to provide the pace and X-factor we’ve desperately needed on tours in the past, Sam Curran was supposed to provide that crucial left-arm variation, Broad was supposed to provide the height and nous, Leach was supposed to provide control and the odd wicket, and Ben Stokes was supposed to be our golden arm capable of creating wickets from nowhere.

The logic was sound. The problem was that they all had bad days. And the fielding was a bit loose too.

Archer had a day to forget I’m afraid. Because his international career has started so well I think we forget that he’s still a young man with relatively little first class cricket. He’s still learning and we can’t expect him to deliver every time.

The same might be said of Sam Curran. He floated the ball up there and encouraged it to swing but this time it rarely did. And when he did get the odd delivery to curve back into the right hander the batsmen always seemed to keep it out somehow. But that’s just how it goes sometimes. Swing can be ephemeral and mysterious.

Jack Leach bowled ok but there was precious little turn; therefore it’s hard to fault him too much. Finger spinners need the ball to grip but there was precious little evidence of that. And when he did land the occasion ball in the rough it turned too much and missed both the outside / inside edges and the stumps. It was just one of those days.

As for Ben Stokes he bowled well but was underused by Root. I don’t really know why. Some of the decisions Root made today were odd.

The only bowler I’d really question is Stuart Broad. I’ve said it before (in fact I’ve said it for about five years) and I’ll say it again. When he’s in rhythm, and his legs are pumping, and he’s bowling above 85 mph then he’s world class. But when he’s down at 80mph, out of rhythm, and the pitch offers very little bounce, he’s quite innocuous.

Sadly Stuart kept it tight today but his pace was down and he never looked like taking a wicket. Root should have opened up (and given the second new ball to) Archer and Curran if he wanted the latter to find some swing. Instead the opportunity was somewhat wasted on Broad whilst Archer was injudiciously left to wait.

Overall we can’t fault the bowler’s effort though. BJ Watling batted brilliantly – what a fine cricketer he is – and we can’t ignore just how flat this pitch proved. It really was a bowlers graveyard.

I don’t know about you but I hate pitches like these. It just creates turgid cricket. The Kookaburra ball doesn’t help either.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind a bit of attritional cricket sometimes. But low scoring games only captivate if there’s something in the surface for the bowlers – whether it’s turn, inconsistent bounce, or reverse swing. Unfortunately the ball that dismissed Williamson turned out to be an aberration.

So where does the game go from here? Sod’s law dictates that New Zealand will extend their lead tomorrow by another hundred, England will be under huge pressure in the second innings, and then – and only then – will the pitch start to misbehave.

However, if this fatalistic prediction comes to pass then the team will only have themselves to blame. Had England batted well on the second morning, and turned 241-4 into 450+, then the game would’ve been safe(ish) and the teams would be level pegging.

Instead it was New Zealand’s middle-order that took the game by the scruff of the neck. They’ve turned 141-4 (let alone 241-4) into a big score. And now it will be England struggling with scoreboard pressure tomorrow.

Plus ça change.

James Morgan

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