At the end of the third day’s play at Lord’s, Tim Southee described New Zealand’s day in the field as meandering. With Jonathan Trott and Joe Root having got stuck in for a 123-run partnership in just over 40 overs, the New Zealand bowler was quite right.
It was Southee who led New Zealand’s inspirational fightback, which saw the hosts lose eight wickets for just 54 runs. After a chloroform-cricket first day, where runs were scored at the pace of a snail going over sandpaper, you’d be forgiven if you thought things were dead set for another stalemate. The first day saw 160 runs scored in 378 balls, as a newly laid outfield stuck like Velcro to the ball and the pitch remained stubborn in the infancy of the cricketing season.
But cricket is a cruel mistress and things can change so quickly. If the Black Caps were meandering on Saturday, they were flying on Sunday – unfortunately not quite in the way they wanted to.
After dismissing England for 213 in their second innings, the visitors had one simple task: score more than anybody else had in the entire game.
They needed 239 for victory, or to simply bat out the day and hope that the rain which had been threatening to spoil the part finally arrived on the fifth day. On day one, that would have seemed a simple task, but under the guise of Stuart Broad – and with the tourists bruised and battered, with BJ Watling having suffered a knee injury and Bruce Martin a calf injury – things were never going to be easy for the eight-ranked Test side.
Broad put on a remarkable display of bowling – his best-ever figures of seven for 44. It was the kind of bowling that almost makes him likeable, despite his stroppiness and apparent sense of entitlement.
Before New Zealand knew it, they were squashed like frogs under a stiletto – skittled out for 68 and convincingly beaten by 170 runs.
For most of the match, New Zealand had in fact looked better than England in a few aspects. Brendon McCullum is a brave, innovative and sometimes even eccentric captain. His fielding placements are admirable and he marshals his troops with gusto. But sadly for the visitors, that kind of new-age thinking isn’t enough to secure victory on its own.
While they were reasonably apt at crafting an innings on home turf, they once again showed they lacked that vital aspect away from home. While Ross Taylor blew perceptions about the pitch out of the water when he was scoring at nearly a run-a-ball in New Zealand’s first innings, it was only Kane Williamson who managed to stay with him. There was nobody there to back Taylor up and allow him to play his natural game, and it’s that kind of inability to construct something from a difficult situation which will keep the Black Caps shackled at the lower end of the Test rankings.
Broad-inspired or not, England was poor in certain aspects of the game and, just like in New Zealand and India, it was a few individuals who spared them total embarrassment.
English skipper Alastair Cook knows this and isn’t getting too carried away. How can he? It was just a few months ago that his charges were held to a 0-0 draw against this New Zealand team, and the English skipper admitted that the game was snakes and ladders all through.
“It was a good Test win, but it’s important to keep a lid on it,” Cook told a news conference. “We knew we wanted to hit the ground running this summer.”
“I haven’t experienced a game which has ebbed and flowed as much,” Cook said. “New Zealand came back hard at us and put us under pressure. We’d have liked a few more; we thought 250-260 would be a tough chase.”
Of course, there are positives for both sides. The baby-faced Joe Root looked solid in his two knocks. A patient 40 off 180 in the first innings and a similarly steady 71 off 178 in the second: those who like bandwagons have jumped on Root’s one pretty quickly, but the Yorkshireman is hardly a fly-by-night. He might look like he is still in primary school, but for somebody of his age, he shoulders the responsibility of playing on cricket’s greatest stage with tremendous maturity. He’s a thinking cricketer, and even if he can’t managed more than the media-trained phrases in press conferences, he’s clever on the field.
Similarly for New Zealand, Williamson continues to show that he can adapt to tough situations, while Southee will take confidence from bagging a 10-for at Lord’s. When asked about his feat, in the face of such a destructive loss, Souhtee barely blinked.
“It’ll probably sink in later,” Southee said wryly.
It will sink in later, his ten-for and what could have been for the visitors if only the batsmen had applied themselves as well as the bowlers.
The two sides now have four days to regroup until they do it all over again at Headingley on Friday.
England 232 & 213
New Zealand 207 & 68 (22.3 ov)
England won by 170 runs DM
Photo: England’s James Anderson (L) celebrates with teammate Nick Compton after the run out of New Zealand’s Neil Wagner to complete victory for England in the first test cricket match at Lord’s cricket ground in London May 19, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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