Well, the day didn’t quite go as planned but England are still in a great position in the first Test. With New Zealand 144-4, and crucially still 209 behind, I’d expect us to push on and win the game from here.
Yes this is a bold prediction. And talk of an England win could well prove premature. But when an innocuous looking delivery from Sam Curran leapt at Kane Williamson from nowhere late in the evening session, took the edge of his bat, and was taken wide at slip, New Zealand’s hearts must have sunk.
If the pitch deteriorates (as seems likely) then any kind of England lead, or even parity on first innings, leaves the Kiwis with a huge problem. Would you fancy facing Jofra Archer on a surface with inconsistent bounce? Good luck with that fellas. Our spearhead has already smashed Henry Nicholls on the helmet once. I can’t see too many Kiwi batsmen getting forward enthusiastically in these circumstances.
Although the pitch is still good for batting at present, it’s worth pointing out that ten wickets fell today for approximately 250 runs. The run rate has also remained below 3; therefore an England lead of around 70 might be worth about 100 in normal circumstances.
However, it wasn’t really inconsistent bounce that undermined the batsmen on day two. England lost their last six wickets in the morning session for just 112 runs due to bad batting. And New Zealand’s batsmen were mostly undermined by a ball that unexpectedly swung. I think we all know by now that England’s attack is a completely different proposition when there’s movement through the air.
First let’s talk about England’s batting woes in the morning. It wasn’t pretty I’m afraid. Having got themselves into a strong position on day one we rather gave it away. There were rash strokes by Stokes and Pope, both of whom will be really disappointed with their dismissals, and then Sam Curran played all around a ball that moved back into him a smidge.
When Jofra Archer edged Boult to slip – we keep hearing he can bat but thus far he’s looked like a genuine tail-ender – 241-4 overnight had suddenly become 295-8. All the hard work of day one had unravelled faster than a political manifesto in the face of a legitimate fact checking operation. England only scraped up to 353 thanks to some lusty hitting from Buttler and some typically stubborn resistance from everyone’s favourite bespectacled pin-up Jack Leach.
At the time it looked like we’d blown it. And when Kane Williamson reached a largely untroubled fifty the die looked cast. However, that ball from Curran completely changed the complexion of the day. With Taylor also back in the pavilion after swatting a Stokes long-hop needless to deep midwicket, and Nicholls shaken up by that aforementioned blow to the head, England’s tails were up.
It was particularly enjoyable seeing young Curran bowl well. His left-arm angle does indeed provide useful variation and he’s learning all the time. He’s not quick – I claim my prize for stating the bleedin’ obvious here – but he does have some skill. What’s more, when the ball swings he can be dangerous.
There will be huge pressure on Nicholls and BJ Watling tomorrow morning. If England can dismiss these fine batsmen quickly then I’d expect us to romp home quite comfortably. On the other hand a big partnership will keep New Zealand firmly in the game.
Fortunately I sense that England have just enough firepower in their attack to get the job done. Leach will play a crucial role, of course, but if the ball keeps swinging and / or the bounce becomes more erratic, then the odds of an England victory could get very short very quickly.
Do I sense a rare victory overseas? It would be the perfect way to start the Chris Silverwood era.
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