When Anything But Disaster Feels Like A Triumph

The headline above sums up how I feel about day one in Christchurch. I went to sleep with England on 38-1. Vince and Stoneman were looked a little more secure, and Trent Boult was having a breather. Perhaps both batsmen would make a hundred and England would score 400?

I knew I was kidding myself. Vince had played a few lovely strokes, which is always a tell tale sign he’s about to get out (actually, his mere presence at the crease is usually a sign he’s about to get out), and Stoneman was looking pretty ordinary too. People keep saying that Stoneman has potential but I can’t see it myself. He makes batting look such hard work sometimes. He only looks good compared to Cook, who lost his off stump to a decent ball that he made look absolutely amazing.

In many ways Vince and Cook are whatever the opposite of peas in a pod are. Vince is right handed, elegant, and looks like a million dollars … until he’s set packing. Cook is left-handed, generally horrible to watch, yet has somehow cobbled together the small matter of 12,000 test runs. Basically Vince is the best looking crap batsman of all time. And Alastair is the worst looking good batsman of all time.

It was with some trepidation that I picked up my phone in the morning to find out the score. And what a relief it was to discover we’d only lost eight wickets in a day (rather than the usual ten) and managed to score more than 58. Anything other than complete disaster makes a refreshing change these days.

Having said that, today was almost a disaster by all reports. Vince and Stoneman predictably got sod all, Root made yet another score without going on to make a biggie – it’s remarkable that he still averages 52 is test cricket with so few hundreds to his name – and Malan proved yet again that he might not be the answer at five after all. He’s a good player but he’ll need to move his feet more if he wants to be successful anywhere other than Australia and subcontinental featherbeds.

Naturally it was down to Stokes and Bairstow to rescue the team once again. The former made a decent fist of it before being strangled down the legside, and the latter proved yet again why he’s one of the few international class test players England possess. He rode his luck somewhat but his unbeaten 97 was pugnacious and good to watch … at least it looked that way from the brief highlights I’ve seen.

The problem with batting Jonny as low as 7 is that he often runs out of partners. But that wasn’t such a problem today thanks to an unexpected cameo from Mark Wood, who scored an incredibly valuable 52. Apparently it was full of attractive attacking shots and really lifted the small Barmy Army contingent’s spirits. 164-7 suddenly became 250-7. England closed on a respectable 290-8.

In normal circumstances 290-8 is a pretty average score, even after you’ve been inserted on a pitch that helped the bowlers a bit in the morning session. However, after 0-4 in the Ashes and 58 all out at Auckland, ‘respectability’ feels like a bloody triumph.

And I think that statement just about sums up the state of England’s test team.

James Morgan

2018-03-30T09:23:52+00:00March 30th, 2018|NZ v England 2018, Test Cricket|25 Comments


  1. James March 30, 2018 at 9:58 am - Reply

    I tend to agree. I went to sleep early so only heard Cook’s entirely predictable early wicket. 290/8 is certainly a lot better than 94/5 Or 164/7.

    The problem is that (especially with a long tail by England standards) you can’t expect them to bail out a misfiring top order all the time. The good news (I hope) is that with 300 or so on the board and a more varied and (dare I say) penetrative bowling attack on a pitch doing a bit we might be in with a chance.

  2. jennyah46 March 30, 2018 at 10:02 am - Reply

    On a good batting wicket like this 290 for 7 still looks well below par. It’s a shame that you missed Wood, he was highly entertaining. Leach did well to see us through to the close on his debut match.
    It was not an overall disaster but we are still papering over the cracks. Cook seems to be living on borrowed time but who on earth would replace him? We are technically short of the top three. Added to that we have Bairstow with the gloves batting too high and Root determined to hang onto his slot at 4. I am known to be with Root on this. It’s better that he plays where he is most comfortable, but all in all it’s a bit of a shambles.
    If Strauss’ new selector scouts find anyone looking reasonably promising as an opener, perhaps we could try Cook at 3. It’s the only idea I have. The bowlers will have their work cut out tomorrow and I wish them well. I’d like to see how Leach gets on but don’t expect the pitch to turn much.

    • glenn March 31, 2018 at 2:24 pm - Reply

      I thought Cook should be at no 3 too if he is staying on for the next Ashes. They replace him in the opening position with a batsman who could play a few shots and get a few quick 50s at least.

  3. Mark March 30, 2018 at 10:11 am - Reply

    The sooner we can move on some of the old guard (jimmy anderson excluded) and field the following team the better:

    S Curran
    J Overton

    Apart from archer not yet eligible they will surely do a better job than the current 11 are managing.

    • SimonH March 30, 2018 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Have you seen Jennings’ scores for the Lions this winter?

      • Mark March 30, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

        I cannot think of another option to open but you get the point. Time for a change…

    • Tate March 30, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

      I presume you are joking?

      • Mark March 30, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

        What is a joke is our winter. Any better ideas?

    • Benny March 31, 2018 at 8:14 am - Reply

      I like the approach. It highlights the situation the outgoing selectors are leaving behind.

      I’d also recommend replacing the Lions coach with someone who knows how to develop players, win games and provide an injury free environment.

  4. Comte March 30, 2018 at 10:14 am - Reply

    We have too many batsmen who, quite frankly, are below Test standard. Plus Cook’s heart and head do not appear to be in it. I hope he announces his retirement from international cricket at the end of the game.
    Good bowling, as expected from the Kiwis.
    Let’s see what England’s attack can do tomorrow.

    • Doug M March 30, 2018 at 11:03 am - Reply

      Yes Comte I think Cook will retire from International cricket after this. He’s managed only two 50’s in the last 20 test innings. To give him some credit he constantly has to try and prop up a poor performing, Root included, top 5. Hameed has to come in and stick with him, not Jennings though.
      Now what on earth is Vince in the side again for? Why is Livingstone not selected? What about Sam (left armer) and Tom Curran? Overton? No not really.
      Hope Wood lasts the match out, not sure he bowls at 90mph any more. The positive is at last Moen has been dropped and Leach is tried. I think England needs to look at Bess as well.

  5. Kevin March 30, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Cook does look lost at the moment. As Jenny said above, who is there to replace him.
    If we pick on form, for the summer tests, Cook will most likely be the leading run scorer in the 4 or 5 championship matches they play, before the 1st test.
    Any thoughts on moving Bairstow up the order, and bringing Foakes in to keep?

    • Nick March 30, 2018 at 11:19 am - Reply

      They could do although I don’t see him as a top four player, he has a middle order technique and I think he would end up too loose. I guess the question is if England have anyone better at the top order role if they don’t they might have to accept Bairstow averages 33 there instead of 45 at 6/7.

      Even If Bairstow could move to four they would need someone else to bat three which Root seems unwilling to do, Its a big ask for Malan who currently averages under 30 in Tests and it shows how poor a place England’s batting is in that we aren’t even talking about him.

      Bayliss sees Stokes as a number five but that again would require Root or Malan to bat three unless England are going to drop Cook to three and try two new openers. Given we can’t find one, its a long time since Hameed or Jennings made a First Class Hundred but who knows

    • James Morgan March 30, 2018 at 11:24 am - Reply

      Cook has always been superb at scoring runs against average attacks or in very benign batting conditions. He’s made a career of it. He generally struggles (and always has) against top class bowlers who can exploit his technical idiosyncrasies. Or when he’s totally all at sea … like he is now.

      You make a really good point Kevin. If the selectors drop Cook he’s bound to score millions in the championship … thus making the decision to drop him look daft. His media supporters will also start clamouring for his return, which will put even more pressure on the untested opener who replaces him in the test side.

      The best thing for everyone (apart from Essex!) would be for Cook to retire from all cricket when he’s had enough of playing for England. Well, it would make life simpler anyway.

      • Hungerpang March 30, 2018 at 7:41 pm - Reply

        If he scores stacks in the Championship then doesn’t he deserve to be reconsidered if he still wants to be? Isn’t that the point? Having said that, there’s no guarantee he would. Ian Bell didn’t. He may simply have lost it, either in terms of motivation or physical ability, or both.

  6. Nick March 30, 2018 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Went to sleep at Lunch, woke up just after Broad was out and as I always enjoy watching Jonny bat and at at 160 odd for seven didn’t think it would last long stayed up for the rest of the play. He did have a bit of luck, dropped by Watling although in truth he did well to get fingertips to it and by JB’s own admission Wagner clipped the stumps but the bails stayed put hope he can get the three he needs tonight.

    Hopefully the new selection panel/formula can shake things up in the summer, I am tired of talking about Vince I just feel mean it isn’t his fault. He was picked in 2016 flaws were found he showed no improvement, it down to the selectors that recalled up and then brought him to NZ.

  7. SimonH March 30, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Bet Woakes and Ali are back for the First Test against Pakistan.

    Leach will need Laker-esque figures not to become a one-Test wonder with a media chorus of “see, we told you he wasn’t good enough, not mentally tough, too slow, makes the tail look too long” and all the other tunes they have in their little playbook.

    • Nick March 30, 2018 at 11:28 am - Reply

      Wouldn’t surprise me if Woakes is back, Wood’s fitness issues alone mean its a big possibility. Hopefully that won’t happen to Leach he has already come out and got 10 off the new ball so can’t be too hard on his batting, he might be Cook’s next opening partner

      Can see Moeen playing in the winter at least, last test in India he scored 146 batting at four so he could be taken as second spinner for balance or even as just a batsmen if others don’t take their chance in the summer

    • James Morgan March 30, 2018 at 11:29 am - Reply

      You forgot “and he chucks it, honest”. I sense that if Moeen missed more than this one match then his test career could be over. He’s not quite good enough to be either a specialist batsman or bowler – wonderful batsman though he is to watch. However, his good bowling record in English conditions might see him recalled for home tests against Pakistan as you say. Selectors usually try to win the match in front of them (to save their jobs and / or make them look good) rather than picking teams with an eye to the future. If it was up to me, I’d invest in Leach or Bess now and stick with them.

  8. Vashtar March 30, 2018 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    As Vic Marks said, batsmen get caught down the legside far to often these days for it to be called a strangulation, its more like carelessness.

    As usual it takes a bowler with the bat to bail them out.

  9. Doug M March 30, 2018 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    You know there are plenty of players to try here: Hameed, Burns, Livingstone, Clarke, Hain, Foakes, Sam Curran, Porter, Bess, Algar, Meaker ( who is capable of real pace) etc.
    Cook is very replaceable, he won’t be dropped because I think he’ll retire, certainly from International Cricket.

  10. Marc Evans March 30, 2018 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Whatever people’s views on ‘the state’ of this English team, after all they’ve been through this winter, albeit a fair bit of it self inflicted, fair play to show enough spirit to climb out of another hole. At present I don’t think there’s much left in the tank, whomever they select, so to end the day in a comparatively respectable position is no mean feat. New Zealand have a decent attack and there was a bit in the pitch early on, as you’d expect here.
    Root, Stokes and Anderson are the only automatic choices now, so there’s plenty of places up for grabs. I think it will be a while before we get back to winning ways. The first goal is to get back to being competitive, especially abroad, though very few sides win away consistently any more.

  11. Mike Chaffin March 31, 2018 at 1:36 am - Reply

    Leach bowling beautifully thus far…

    Also interesting that Warner weepily claiming he’d only ever cheated on one day of one test.

    Hopefully this means further weeping, forgot to record it sadly.

  12. SimonH March 31, 2018 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    “Players prepare to lawyer up”…. the favourite words of every well-run cricket board:


    Meanwhile, watching dispirited Aussies being ground into the dust has turned out to be a lot less fun than one might have thought although Pat Cummins taking a five-for couldn’t have been more deserved (it’s only the second five-for of his career, the first being also in a Test on the same ground)..

  13. Cricket-Now April 4, 2018 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Very nice article James. The way you summed it up “after the ashes debacle and 58 all out”… Well on point.

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