Well there’s me looking a total twit, and not for the first time.
After Friday’s play I opined that our side had become stuck in a rut, lacking in inspiration, stolid, and decaying in confidence. Unable to break the Kiwi shackles, we seemed a team about to unravel, who had lost its joie de vivre and sense of identity.
And now this. Just as it appeared our deadlock with New Zealand would last for the rest of our lives, we blasted a breach into the hitherto impregnable Black Cap fortifications, and stormed through it with the voracious gusto of a Viking raiding party.
To win by 170 runs in such a low-scoring game is remarkable, and it sends out a chilling message to Australia – because this is the kind of crushing-victory-from-nowhere which their forebears of the 1990s and 2000s would have perpetrated.
What scares opponents is the knowledge that – even when below par – your team always retains that capacity to find another gear and blow you away through sheer aggression, fortitude, and even downright nastiness.
If they could do this to the Kiwis, Michael Clarke will be thinking, they can do it to us. His batsmen are probably even less experienced than New Zealand’s.
Yesterday’s performance has the potential – which may of course not materialise – to transform our summer. Our team play best with the sun of confidence on their backs – when they feel the force is with them, and they can exert both control and authority.
It was the consciousness of a missing mojo which stymied our players during the last three and a half test matches. Yesterday’s breathtaking display supplied the galvanising experience they sorely needed.
Which is not to say no issues remain. Root and Trott aside, our batting feels unconvincing, and this match demonstrated what can happen when the perma-safety net of Matt Prior is cut away. Cook may have entered one of his periodic spells of misfiring technique and strategic miscalibration.
We might just have to accept that Stuart Broad will remain an enigma for the rest of his career. It’s not so much that he blows hot and cold – than cold, cold, tepid, tepid, white-hot, then cold again. If only he could convert those annual spells of brilliance into something more reliably consistent – and what’s most painful is that his inability to do so is even more frustrating and baffling to Broad himself than to us.
More generally, this test match had another function in that it underlined how low-scoring games will almost be more entertaining than high – which makes you wonder why the ICC and other administrators don’t recognise this in the way everyone else does. In their world, the erroneous and unthinking assumption is that runs=entertainment – hence the ubiquity of agonisingly flat pitches, short boundaries, and über-powerful bats. They’ve got it completely the wrong way around.
This was one of the most absorbing, intriguing, and ultimately thrilling test matches England have played for a long time – because the low scores kept the game moving quickly, with all outcomes remaining possible.
What would you rather watch – 600 v 600, as each side amasses a mountain of dreary runs? Or 200 v 200 v 200 v who knows what?