Passive aggressive cricket pays off for England

By Ant Sims 28 May 2013

England wrapped up a 2-0 series win over New Zealand on Tuesday, amidst dodgy weather and even dodgier declarations. That the second-ranked Test team in the world approached a vantage point with such timidity is somewhat disconcerting ahead of a looming Ashes series. By ANT SIMS.

With dark clouds circling around Headingley and rain threatening play all of Tuesday, England would have likely breathed a sigh of relief as they wrapped up a 2-0 series win over New Zealand, crushing the visitors by 247 runs. That victory margin, however, flatters to deceive the hosts – their tactics posed plenty of questions.

After skittling the visitors out for 174 in the second innings, England opted not to enforce the follow-on. While that decision surprised few, in the modern age when follow-ons are rarely enforced, much more surprising was England’s approach in the second innings. Not only were the hosts perfectly content with remarkably slow approach, but their decision to set the Black Caps 468 was befuddling.

England was well ahead by lunch on the fourth day, but to many’s bewilderment, opted to bat on after the break instead of declaring. When the declaration eventually came, New Zealand had been set a target of more runs than they’d managed in the entire series. They would have had to survive for more overs than they’ve managed the entire series.

Skipper Alistair Cook justified his decision by stating that it was all part of the plan.

“Tactically, we wanted some more wear into that pitch and you saw quite a few balls misbehaved, the rough getting deeper and deeper, and I think that proved a pretty good tactic,” Cook told BBC radio.

“If you’re nit-picking, with that last 45 minutes yesterday, you could have said we could have pushed on, but obviously we were pretty happy with the position we got ourselves [into].”

While it might all make sense now, such conservatism had last been seen when women’s hemlines weren’t allowed above their knees. While some might argue that England was simply showing New Zealand some respect, it was more concerning that Cook showed so little faith in his bowlers.

With Graeme Swann’s exploits in the second innings and Steven Finn finding his rhythm, England was in a strong position. And with lingering rain about, the hosts were only doing themselves an injustice. Swann was impeccable in the first innings, taking four wickets in his nine-over spell and managing to find all the right bits of rough almost every single time. The notion that there was a need for more rough is downplaying Swann’s aptitude. England had all of the ability, but none of the belief, and for the world’s number two-ranked Test team, that’s a cracking veneer.

Perhaps the events back in New Zealand still lingered in the minds of England. Perhaps that the Black Caps had managed to get within a wicket of a famous win had poked holes in their confidence. Cook didn’t only take the game away from New Zealand, but he posted it without a return address.

While there was no need to win the Test, the go-slow towards the end of the end of the third day, with Jonathan Trott scoring 11 runs in 69 balls, was terribly timid.

Trott, however, saw no error in his or England’s ways, and believed that England was in a fine position; that allowing the match to take its course was the right decision.

“I think we got it spot on, to be honest. Today we set out to get the total we wanted and we achieved that in the time we wanted as well,” Trott said.

“When you are 1-0 up, I think you can afford to let the game take its course, play how you normally would. I don’t think you have to chase it. You don’t let the weather dictate how you are going to play the game,” he said.

“It’s a pretty dry pitch; you don’t want to be batting last on it, make a sacrifice and put yourself in a bit of a hole. When you are on top, you want to stay on top, and that was the advantage we had yesterday – putting on a big score and getting a big lead on this wicket.”

That England was in a dominant position there was no doubt, but to surrender their dominance through insecurity is concerning ahead of a five-match Ashes series. While many might argue that feigning inferiority to encourage arrogance in the opposition is an apt approach in cricket, but England was largely passive-aggressive, almost taunting New Zealand by not enforcing the follow-on with a lingering declaration.

It certainly is hard to decipher exactly what England was thinking. It was unbecoming behaviour from a team who should be crushing their opposition and spitting them out without taking the time to chew. DM

Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook holds the trophy after England defeated New Zealand 2-0 in the test series at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, England May 28, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown


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