What We Didn’t Learn In New Zealand

I love a good tour of New Zealand me. The scenery is gorgeous (unless they’re playing in Aukland), the people are nice, the teams are evenly matched, and the weather is good but not so good that you immediately want to emigrate.

But unfortunately this wasn’t your ordinary New Zealand tour. The scenery was pretty (especially at Mount Maunganui) but the cricket was pretty dull. What’s more, there was an unsavoury incident when a local racially abused Jofra Archer. I guess every country has its fair share of ignorant morons. Some of ours even become political leaders.

The most frustrating aspect, however, was that the teams weren’t evenly matched this time. New Zealand’s batting is a lot stronger than ours – only Root and Burns would make a combined top 6 for specialist batsmen – and their bowlers had slightly more nous than ours in the benign conditions.

It’s interesting, for example, that they omitted their one genuine quick in Lockie Ferguson. Instead they trusted the likes of Southee and Wagner to keep control and pick up the odd wicket. And of course, they picked a spinner in both games.

As a result, it’s not wholly surprising that the Kiwis won the series 1-0. We made them slight favourites beforehand and that’s exactly how it played out. Losing therefore wasn’t a disaster.

Because the two Test matches didn’t count towards the world test championship (for reasons known only to those who reside deep within the inner sanctum of the authorities’ masonic temple) there was a pre-tour inkling that performances would be more important than results. This series was therefore billed as a learning experience for the Silverwood / Root axis. Ed Smith’s squad selection also hinted at experimentation.

So what did we learn in defeat? I’ve jotted down the main findings beneath:

→ England struggle to take wickets on flat pitches with the Kookaburra ball.

→ Dom Sibley favours the leg-side

→ Ollie Pope is a batsman not a wicket-keeper

→ Jofra Archer doesn’t always bowl as quickly as we’d like him to

→ Joe Root can score runs batting at No.4 if he’s captain (albeit perhaps not quite as regularly as we’d like)

→ Joe Denly is a very good fielder but he’s human

→ People are very quick to get on Jack Leach’s back

Can you think of any others? I might have added that England’s new management team are just as capable of making bizarre morning-of-the-game decisions as previous regimes but that would’ve been stating the bleedin’ obvious.

Unfortunately, therefore, we haven’t learned much at all. We knew all the above points two months ago before the team left Blighty. Although the squad selected by Ed Smith suggested experimentation, when it came down to it England disappointingly reverted to type. Silverwood and Root were given some shiny new toys to play with but they kept them in their boxes and barely unwrapped the cellophane. I wouldn’t be surprised if they ultimately returned them to the shop.

Take Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood for example, who were part of both legs of the tour (the five T20s and the Tests). The former bowled just six international overs in the entire tour and the latter bowled just ten. Jofra Archer managed 40+ in one innings alone.

What’s more, when it comes to the spin department the side has inexplicably gone backwards. We left home with a left arm spinner who had impressed all and sundry in his first two series. He’d out-bowled the Sri Lankan spinners in Sri Lanka, and he’d out bowled Nathan Lyon in the Ashes. One bad game later and Jack Leach has been dropped, and many people are praying that Moeen Ali is recalled for South Africa.

When it comes to the batting we didn’t learn much either – although the top 6 has taken some small steps forward. Rory Burns’s stock rose again, thanks to a gutsy half-century at The Bay Oval and a fluent hundred at Seddon Park, and Joe Denly also cemented his place with 74 at Mount Maunganui. Ollie Pope also made runs in the second test which atoned for his two poor shots in the first game.

The wicket-keeper’s spot also remains a conundrum. England gave the gloves to Jos Buttler at the start of the tour but injury prevented him from completing it. His performance at The Bay Oval was somewhat mixed. He’s a more than good enough Test No.7 but he doesn’t have the softest hands in the world. As for Ben Foakes, well, heaven knows what’s going on there.

The biggest positive of the tour was probably Joe Root’s batting. He was awful at Mount Maunganui but moved mountains at Hamilton. The skipper’s captaincy remains a little erratic and unpredictable but he’s a class act with the willow. But then we knew that already.

As for the bowling unit, again more questions were raised than answers provided. After the Ashes it looked like Stuart Broad was back to his best and might play another two or three years. This looks uncertain now. He bowled economically but looked about as penetrative and incisive as a Fox News investigation into Donald Trump most of the time.

Jofra Archer was also a bit of a disappointment – although the way he was utilised surely didn’t help. After the Ashes we thought we’d found our X-factor who would make all the difference on flat pitches with the Kookaburra ball. Nope! Archer remains one hell of a prospect but he’s not the finished article yet. What’s more, we saw signs of some niggling aggro between our spearhead and the captain. This doesn’t bode well for a long international career.

When it comes to the other bowlers we learned that Chris Woakes is Chris Woakes – who’d have thunk it? – and that Mahmood and Parkinson make an awesome cuppa. Meanwhile, Sam Curran bowled the odd good spell but is this enough to compensate for the times he looks like a teenager playing a man’s game?

One question, however, has been answered. I’m just not sure that it’s the right answer. Root’s fine double ton at Seddon Park has cemented his place as skipper for the foreseeable future. But surely his abilities as captain are a separate issue to his undoubted abilities as a batsman?

Although Root’s runs will silence the critics for now, there was plenty to criticise his captaincy for. He still has a horrible habit of bowling the wrong bowlers at the start of sessions, and one wonders how strong his man management skills are.

Questioning Jofra Archer’s effort after the first Test seemed curious to say the least, and his post-series promise to phone Moeen Ali and almost plead with him to return must have felt like a massive kick in the nuts to Leach. It’s also rather bizarre as Root has often seemed reluctant to bowl Moeen (ditto Adil Rashid) when he was actually in the team last year.

This illogical behaviour might prompt critics to ask whether the questions I’ve raised today are actually relevant. It seems, at times, as though the only question that matters is whether a player’s face fits. With Moeen set to return to a Test side that is apparently building for The Ashes (despite Mo’s horrendous record down under), and Jonny Bairstow also set to return despite not playing any red ball cricket since he was dropped, England’s core group doesn’t seem to have evolved much at all – despite Ed Smith’s somewhat experimental picks.

But I suppose that’s what happens when you employ the continuity candidate as head coach even though the squad clearly needed a shake-up, a fresh voice, and some outside expertise.

It’s still early days into Chris Silverwood’s tenure, of course, but a lot of supporters might wonder why the ECB spurned Gary Kirsten just because he doesn’t excel at pointless powerpoint presentations.

James Morgan


  • Yep. Spot on. Root’s attitude towards team mates is poor and should automatically disqualify him from captaincy. Leach needs to be persisted with, Archer needs to be given time, and a little TLC on and off the pitch. And Foakes absolutely should be starting the first test in S Africa (with Pope, Buttler, Bairstow et al) contesting the 6th batting position.

  • I think Jack Leach has every right to be hopping mad at the way he is being treated. Moeen was absolutely rightly dropped from the test time (and is for my money equally rightly a fringe player in white ball cricket), and to recall him would be a huge mistake. Leach and Parkinson should both go to South Africa, while when more spinners are needed I would rate both Bess and Virdi ahead of Moeen as red-ball spinners. Recalling Moeen would be a worse selection even than giving the gloves to Buttler and travelling without an official reserve wicketkeeper (though not down there with setting aside the best parts of the home season for a competition which will not be duplicated at international level).

  • Yes, Root’s run drought came to a welcome end but his captaincy deficiences were all too apparent.
    Some of his bowling choices continue to be bizarre and it’s not as if he has both Anderson and Broad bossing him about.
    I think he still displays an unwelcome degree of immaturity when it comes to man management.

    As to what we learned – it’s obviously helpful to have a name ending in y. Denly (big drop aside) is OK but Sibley and Crawley don’t do it for me. It used to be a case that team mates added a y to some names e.g. Woakesy, Stokesy, Broady and Burnsy.

    On another note I saw Wobbly Bob deliver his greatest performance at Headingley in 1981. 70 is too young to go.

  • Firstly what can you learn from a 2 test series anyway. Not much about any player in my view.
    Secondly articles about Leach’s omission from the team have indicated he has supposedly been suffering from gastrointeritus and was not considered fit enough to play a five day match. Let’s face it most of Leach’s achievements since he came into the squad have been with the bat, which is not what he was selected for.
    His bowling has generally been less than match defining, even when conditions have favoured spin. He deserves his chance to play for his country but for me has yet to prove he has the skill set at this level.
    The more important lesson we show no signs of learning concerns Root and the captaincy. It is clear he has misused our most potent attacking weapon and continues to be in denial about any decline in standards. His body language when things are not going well is poor and he seems to lack obvious leadership qualities. Let’s face it he is captain because at the time of his appointment there was no other fit player guaranteed selection.
    Let’s also face it that positive thinking can be muddled thinking if applied across the board. There are alternatives out there, so let’s make use of them and not be lulled into a false sense of security by a single innings on a flat track.

      • But who would pick him ahead of Swann for any England side? Can you honestly say that Leach, on present evidence, looks like he could get through a half decent batting line up. Swann, at his best certainly could. That’s what you want from a test spinner, attacking wickets not stock bowling.
        I can’t think of any spell he’s bowled where he’s looked more than competent to me. He’s had more than one opportunity to bowl in favourable conditions and hasn’t troubled recognised batsmen much. The latest being his comparison with Santner. I’m not saying he’s a bad bowler, just pretty ordinary. What I am saying is that he’s got more publicity for his batting, which he was never selected for.

    • We get a rather biased view of Test series in England. Many ‘series’ are two – or even one – match. Five Test series are essentially the province of England and Australia – there has only been one 5 match series this century which didn’t include one or both of those sides.

  • The point about Root often opening sessions with the wrong bowlers is a good one. The dropped catches rather obscured the fact that opening the bowling on the final day with Stokes and Curran made absolutely no sense. Broad and Woakes had taken the most wickets in the first innings and Archer had troubled Williamson the previous day. I’m not the biggest fan of Woakes but not bringing him on until sixth change was absurd.

    NZ’s bowling attack in Perth will be interesting to see. Were they holding Ferguson back?

  • James, I disagree with your comment that only Root and Burns would get into a combined top 6. How quickly you have forgotten Ben Stokes fantastic innings at Headingley so it would be 3-3 split in my opinion. Furthermore, our best bowler Jimmy Anderson wasn’t there and he would have made a difference. I agree that England missed the opportunity to play Mahmood and Parkinson in NZ.

    I hope and pray that England persist with Leach and Parkinson and don’t bring back Moeen. Regarding Bairstow, I don’t know where you bat him as 3 is too high and you surely can’t bin Pope at this stage so he either comes back as keeper and Buttler gets dropped or not at all.

    Very sad news about Bob Willis. I shall miss him on The Debate although, Sky seemed to have found a likely successor in Rob Key.

    • James did say “specialist batsmen”. Granted pre-series I would have taken Stokes & Burns in my combined team (with Archer & Leach & 7 kiwis) and left out Root. He’d make it in post series admittedly.

    • I was indeed careful to say ‘specialist batsmen’. I would have Stokes at 7 as the all-rounder. BJ Watling would probably bat at 6 come to think of it. If I was picking 6 pure batsmen they would be Latham, Burns, Williamson, Root, Taylor, and then probably Nicholls.

  • Very minor point James, apparently the racial stuff was by an England supporter (he was shouting encouragement: “come on the big black co—“), not a local No kiwi fans pulled him up on it though so there’s enough shame to share

  • it was hard to get too excited about the series, despite it involving the two sides I follow/support. That is partly because it comes at the end of quite a dramatic and intense summer of cricket, so I wonder how jaded some of the England players must be (not excusing their substandard play, or denigrating New Zealand’s much better effort), and also because it was only a two-test series with an atmosphere of a good local contest rather than a test match, given the modest crowds at small grounds.

    Sadly there isn’t much new here – I remember in the mid-1990s, as NZ cricket went into a severe decline following the retirement of the 80s stalwarts, a test being played against Sri Lanka in Otago in front of two men and a dog. ‘You can make any excuse you want but there’s no-one here’ bemoaned Warren Lees. In Graham Gooch’s autobiography he recalled turning up for the first test on the 1992 tour to find the ground was locked. They waited for a bit before a slightly put out local who had just woken up walked over and obligingly opened the door for them.

    Once upon a time, a test series win over England was something pretty special for NZ. In particular I am reminded of the 1983/4 series, which was NZ’s first series win against England, after more than fifty years of trying. It was the first test I attended as well. The unlucky English captain was none other than Bob Willis. It was a different era for so many reasons, not least because in those days the England captain spoke his mind. Willis grumbled a bit about the standard of the pitches and umpiring, but equally left everyone in no doubt that the reason England had lost the series was because of their atrocious play in the second test, which he didn’t try to excuse. He wouldn’t have gone any easier on the current tour I’m sure.

  • 1) Where is Ben Foakes?
    2) What has Moeen done recently in red-ball cricket to earn a Test recall?
    3) Why is Root bowling Archer in long spells instead of short ones?
    4) Why do the bowlers keep blaming the ball instead of themselves for not getting wickets?


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