After England’s run glut on day one of their warm up match at Whangarei it was the bowlers’ turn to get stuck in on Wednesday. Unfortunately, however, they got stuck rather than stuck in.
It was an all too familiar tale when England travel overseas and the bowlers are handed a Kookaburra ball. The opposition changes but the result is frequently the same.
This time it was three Kiwi kids with just a handful of first class games under their belt that made us blush – 19 year old opener Jakob Bhula, whose previous best score was just eighteen, 21 year old Sandeep Patel, whose Cricinfo profile suggests he hasn’t played a professional game for almost a year, and 20 year old Finn Allen, who’s played 8 first class games and currently averages all of 22.
Although Allen in particular is highly rated and has played for New Zealand U19s on several occasions, England should be very worried indeed that a player of such limited experience can cruise to 104 off just 130 balls against an attack featuring four nailed-on starters for the first test. This might be just a low intensity warm-up game, and perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into proceedings, but if I was an international bowler I would’ve been too proud to let these perceived upstarts amass 285-4.
At the end of play England’s struggles in the field were explained in familiar terms: the pitch offered little assistance and the Kookaburra went soft after thirty or forty overs. But is this really enough of an excuse? After all, this is exactly what happens every time we tour the Antipodes. We should’ve expected conditions like this.
The bottom line is that England should be building a team that can compete when the ball doesn’t swing. It’s slightly concerning, therefore, that the main debate surrounding the makeup of the Test team is whether Sam Curran or Chris Woakes will be chosen as our 3rd seamer.
Unfortunately neither of these bowlers have encouraging records overseas: Woakes averages over 60 and Curran over 100. They’re both useful bowlers in English conditions, and they’re both fine all-round cricketers, but they don’t really have the pace or bounce to be successful with a Kookaburra ball.
I hate to say it but choosing between Woakes and Curran is like deciding whether to go into battle against a well equipped army with either a fluffy pillow or guava fruit as one’s weapon of choice. Neither is going to do any damage.
The problem, of course, is that England don’t really have any alternatives at the mo. Although I believe Ed Smith now recognises that England need pace and high quality spin to take twenty wickets in benign conditions, injuries have deprived the squad of Mark Wood, who made such a difference in the Caribbean earlier this year, Olly Stone, who impressed against Ireland but seems destined to spend the best part of his career on a treatment table, and indeed Jimmy Anderson who has the skills and accuracy to threaten on most surfaces.
Woakes or Curran it is then.
It was also slightly frustrating that England’s spinners had a day to forget. Jack Leach usually offers both wicket-taking potential and control but bowled 15 wicketless overs whilst conceding over 4 runs per over. Meanwhile, Matt Parkinson struggled to extend his promising performances in the T20s into this game. He’ll need time.
At least, however, England’s batsmen will be feeling pleased with themselves. After Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley filled their boots on Tuesday, Olle Pope, Jos Buttler, and Ben Stokes all made scores in excess of 30 as England set up their declaration.
One thing that hasn’t helped England’s bowlers in recent times is a lack of scoreboard pressure. If we can finally start posting large totals in the first innings then the bowlers’ job will become a lot easier. This game is a bit different, of course, as a result was never likely in just a two-day fixture.
Let’s hope for a better performance in the field when the next warm-up starts.
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