Well, that was short lived, wasn’t it? For a few brief hours yesterday morning England’s bowlers seemed unplayable, their fielders leapt like salmon in a fresh stream, New Zealand’s wickets tumbled and all seemed rosy in the garden of English cricket. It was possible even to forget, for a short while, the extortionate ticket prices that had blighted this Lords Test and led to many fans being simply unable to afford to attend.
After skittling New Zealand for 132 England’s batsmen sparkled in the St Johns Wood sunshine. Zak Crawley played drives that reminded us of a young Michael Vaughan before succumbing to the same shot in all to familiar fashion for 43. If ever there was a player whose strength is also his weakness it is Crawley.
Even so, at 92-2 England’s progress seemed serene. On this Jubilee Thursday the scribes in the media centre were twitching at the fingers to proclaim King Stokes’ first day on the throne a resounding success. And then it happened….
We should have known that it would. This is English cricket and its glaringly obvious frailties will not disappear overnight. Even so, the manner of the collapse surprised even the most battle hardened of us. From a position of almost complete control England contrived to lose 5 wickets for 8 runs in 28 balls. Most of the batsmen surrendered their wickets tamely. Jonny Bairstow’s shot was particularly poor. It almost felt as if it was his maiden first class innings of the summer and he had spent the previous two months slogging sixes on the slower pitches of India……. What was that old Graham Gooch motto? “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” Oh for more batsmen in Goochy’s mould.
Hard as it seems to believe, the events of yesterday could actually prove to be a positive for Stokes and McCullum’s new England in the long run. It is far better that the coach sees first hand what he is dealing with as soon as possible. The technical flaws of these batsmen as well as their lack of application at the crease are now laid bare to him.
England’s attitude in the field today was refreshing and it is clear to see that the new broom has already had a positive effect. Players looked energised, the captain was not afraid to set attacking field placings, catches were taken and, in Matty Potts, England look to have unearthed a gem of a fast bowler. One can only hope they are able to keep him fit.
However, bowling was never really the problem. The issues are in the batting and have been for a long time. If 90 overs had been bowled today England may well have found themselves bowled out in a single session of play for the fifth time in the five last years. New captains and coaches do not make bad batsmen good. One cannot keep picking the same players time and again and expect different results.
It almost feels as if McCullum and Stokes have chosen to go with this same group of players to give themselves a chance to personally evaluate them. Once this is done, and if many of the current crop continue to fall short, they may find their Test careers swiftly at an end. There is talent in the shires. Harry Brook can count himself unlucky not to have joined Potts in making his debut this week, especially given his weight of championship runs and the fact that he was omitted for a man who, while having made two Test hundreds in the winter, chose the rupee over Championship runs this Spring.
England may yet still win this Test. Matt Parkinson may sparkle on a Lord’s Saturday in the manner he has at Old Trafford this season, although every England cricket fan’s hearts must go out to Jack Leach for yet another misfortune. However, win or lose, the gaping holes in this side are still very evident.
It may feel easy to be dispirited after yesterday’s performance but Stokes and McCullum are on the right path. However, they have a very long road ahead of them.