One of the reasons why it’s so hard to win Test series away from home these days is the ridiculously short period of time touring sides get to prepare. You arrive in the host country, play a couple of scratch sides missing their best players, and then you’re straight into the Test themselves. It gives the battle-hardened home team a big advantage. It’s almost unfair.
England’s first warm up game on this New Zealand tour seemed typical. We played a side packed full of youngsters and the game lacked any real intensity. Thankfully, however, this second game, which is a dress rehearsal for the first Test, has provided much better preparation so far. Thank heavens for that.
It’s great to be playing New Zealand A, rather than a regular Kiwi domestic side, in this game. Our bowlers were forced to work hard on day one, and the batsmen had to dig deep to rescue a precarious position on day two. England should feel a lot better for the experience.
Day one presented our attack with familiar problems. Indeed, they experienced similar issues in the first warm up against the Kiwi kids. When the pitch is flat, and the Kookaburra ball doesn’t swing, England can look as toothless as a Gummy Bear. On this occasion, however, at least a key member of our attack managed to keep a semblance of control.
It was really encouraging to see Jack Leach, who struggled last week, bowl 26 overs for just 56 runs. When wickets are hard to come by it’s absolutely essential that your spinner keeps things tight and allows the captain to rotate the seamers at the other end. England have struggled overseas in recent times partly because our main spinner ,Moeen Ali, has conceded far too many runs. This has enabled the opposition to dominate and forced Root to over-bowl his pacemen.
Although Sam Curran struggled a bit yesterday – I fear that his bowling will always prove a tad innocuous overseas – Jofra Archer bowled quickly and seems in good rhythm. Stuart Broad didn’t have the best of days but I’m sure he’ll come good when the Test matches start so I’m not overly concerned. Meanwhile, Ben Stokes proved expensive but did pick up a couple of wickets.
Overall the bowlers won’t be happy with their initial returns on this tour but at least they know what they’ll be up against now. The presence of Darren Gough, who was always very good at making things happen on flat pitches, has been a positive influence, and I’m optimistic that we’ll perform better in the Test series.
In some ways it’s good that our bowlers have got overs under their belt. Had we rolled over the opposition in less than a session in both games then we’d probably be undercooked. What’s more, I’m sure they’re holding back a little at this stage. Let’s hope so anyway.
The batting on day two was a bit of a mixed bag but recovered well in the end. We lost early wickets – so it must have felt like a genuine Test match (ahem) – but fine half-centuries from Joe Denly, Ollie Pope, and Jos Buttler put us in a good position by the close.
A distinctly wobbly 105-5 became 195-6 after a good stand between Denly and Pope. And then 195-6 was transformed into a comfortable 309-7 thanks to a brilliant stand between Pope and Buttler. I don’t know about you but I’m quite excited about the possibility of a Pope-Buttler middle-order axis. It should be very entertaining one.
There are always two ways of looking at performances in warm-up games. On the one hand it’s nice to cruise through and win comfortably without alarm, but then it’s also nice to face a bit of adversity and overcome a challenge. Personally I’m inclined to take the latter view on this occasion.
Although Burns, Sibley, Root, and Stokes all failed with the bat yesterday, it’s important to remember that most of them spent valuable time in the middle in the first warm up game. Therefore, England should be encouraged that all of our top 7 have scored some runs thus far.
I’m also glad that the Kiwis put out a decent side in this game. Sometimes it feels like host nations deliberately field weak sides to throw the touring team a curveball – hence why the Aussies prepared for last summer’s Ashes by playing games against Australia A in England.
However, the Kiwi’s have pretty much played ball by fielding several players with international experience in this game: Hamish Rutherford, Glenn Phillips (who scored a ton), Tim Seifert, Jimmy Neesham, Tom Blundell, Daryl Mitchell, Will Somerville, Ajaz Patel, Scott Kuggeleijn, and Blair Tickner.
What’s more, one expects it won’t be long before New Zealand A’s young opening bowler Kyle Jamieson earns an international call up. He impressed everyone yesterday by all reports.
Let’s hope England can press home their slim advantage on day 3. There might not be time to force a result but it would be great to put the hosts under some pressure.
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