A winter series in New Zealand is always pretty ideal for an student cricket fan. Play starts at 9:30pm GMT, which fits into my relatively nocturnal schedule. I can get in from the library, or more likely, the pub, after the football finishes, and settle in for the first session with a cup of coffee which should see me through the night.
This year’s series has been a little more stressful as an England fan than one might usually anticipate, given that New Zealand are rated eighth in the world in Test cricket. I regard the ODIs and T20Is as a warm-up for the Test series, and when it comes to 50-over cricket, I think many of the players who play both forms think similarly, especially since the abolition of a 50-over domestic competition means that some players may only play 10 days of this sort of cricket in a year, leaving them unfamiliar and uninterested in the format of the World Cup. A bad thing indeed.
However, it is Test cricket which is the jewel in any crown of a tour. England surprised almost everyone by thrashing India in India, something no English side had managed in 30 years, and making it look remarkably easy (after a dismal performance in the first Test). Alistair Cook continued his passable impression of a run machine whilst also dealing with the captaincy and Monty Panesar, although out-bowled by Graeme Swann, returned to prominence as a England player with 17 wickets at 27 in 3 matches.
We appeared to be following a similar pattern during the 1st Test against the Black Caps in Dunedin, which was worrying after Graeme Swann was sent home with an elbow injury. After a washed-out first day, England were skittled for just 167, and then allowed Hamish Rutherford, formerly of Ayr, a mammoth debut hundred through some very defensive fields and poor bowling. After that, England then decided they didn’t want to lose the game, and Cook and Nick Compton, South Africa’s latest reject, put on 231 for the first wicket, Steven Finn lasted 200 balls, and England saved the game.
In Wellington, another Compton hundred, and on from Jonathan Trott, put England in control, and Stuart Broad’s return to form skittle New Zealand, but once again rain hampered the game, and New Zealand’s follow-on was curtailed by rain.
As I write, Peter Fulton’s hundred and 6 wickets for Trent Boult have put New Zealand firmly in control at Eden Park, a rugby stadium in truth, with 2 days to go. However, the result of this Test is almost irrelevant, other than to the league tables. A draw in the series is as good as defeat for England, who would have expected to win handsomely here, which is perhaps the problem. Having done the unthinkable by winning in India, Cook’s men would have been full of confidence arriving in New Zealand, a side who have beaten England in a Test series just 3 times in 33 attempts, and have not done so since 1999, when Ed Giddins used to get a game for England.
Whether England win or draw, we will all regard the tour in the same way, and the press will tear the side to pieces. Andy Flower’s job, now as solely Test match coach, will be questioned, as will Alastair Cook’s captaincy, the form of all the bowlers, the attitude of the batsmen, and finally, the legitimacy of England’s position on the top of the Test rankings which they so dearly desire. However, all this criticism, while warranted, is completely unnecessary. The very best England sides will lose a series from time to time, and we even seen it from the current crop.
Remember the UAE? England had won 8 of their last 9 series, and then all of a sudden forgot how to play the ever-dangerous non-spinning off-spinner, the dread of Sunday cricket all over Shropshire. That certainly was a blip, in unusual conditions, against a very media-savvy team. England came back and damn near won a series in Sri Lanka. They have slipped over banana skins before, which is no disrespect to New Zealand, and they will do it again. What we have to remember is that it doesn’t mean they forgotten how to play cricket.
All of this is not to mention the number of positives gained from this tour. Joe Root and Nick Compton have both emerged as very capable Test batsmen, the latter especially, McCullum compared Cook to Bradman, which was amusing at least, and Geoffrey Boycott met a lovely Asian girl in the hotel in Auckland who served him one of the best cups of tea on the North Island. So it wasn’t all bad. And despite what the Daily Mail might print over the next two days, England haven’t lost the Ashes yet.[wpsqt name=”England Ashes Result during NZ Tour” type=”poll”]