(Image of an England batsman looking upset)

By Michael Stafford-Jones

  • England’s batsmen perform atrociously to be bowled out for just 58 in the first innings
  • Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls hit centuries as New Zealand amass 427/8 declared in reply
  • England bat better second time around but still lose by an innings and 49 runs
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – England suffer an embarrassing innings defeat after they are bowled for just 58 in their first innings due to some of the worst batting in Test cricket history.

 

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First innings shambles must never be repeated

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England’s batting performance in the first innings was abysmal. At 23/7, the team were on course for the lowest score in their country’s history. And the recognised batsmen would have deserved that kind of ignominy because they were that bad. Ultimately, they avoided it thanks to one man – No.9 Craig Overton – who blazed his way to 33 off 25 balls to drag the score up to 58 all out (England’s sixth-lowest Test score).

The final wicket fell at 3.34pm – just 94 minutes after the start of play – and the woeful total England had just put on the board effectively meant they had already lost the match. It was an utterly unacceptable performance in every way.

Admittedly, England fans have seen their team collapse plenty of times over the years. However, in those situations the team typically either loses a flurry of wickets from a position of relative strength or rebuilds from a position of crisis because one or two batsmen step and limit the damage. Neither of those things happened on this occasion, and every batsman in England’s line-up needs to take a long, hard look at himself and figure out why he played so poorly.

Having said that, some batsmen should be blamed more than others. In every Test innings, there is always the possibility that a team can lose a few early wickets if the opposition bowls well with the new ball – and Trent Boult and Tim Southee were outstanding here. That is generally accepted as part of the game and means that top-order batsmen deserve a certain amount of leniency for some of their low scores.

However, if a team does lose early wickets, it is up to the middle order to repair the damage. It is one of their most important jobs on the cricket field, and they are perfectly-placed to carry it out because they have had a chance to watch the top order in action and see what problems (if any) the pitch and the bowlers have caused them.

So Dawid Malan, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali should have watched Boult claiming the wickets of Alastair Cook and Joe Root during his brilliant opening spell and thought: it is time to dig in and occupy the crease until it gets easier to score.

Instead, Malan played a loose shot and was caught behind, Stokes was bowled because he was way too late bringing his bat down to defend his stumps, Bairstow inexplicably lobbed the ball straight back to Southee and Moeen missed a straight ball. All four of these England batsmen need to learn to play the situation as soon as possible or another disaster could be on the cards.

 

Second innings display shows England can bat

Persistent rain wiped out almost all of days two and three of the match, and this gave England’s batsmen an improbable opportunity to salvage a draw.

They almost managed it because they batted quite well, but it was frustrating to watch because it made one wonder why they did not have do the same things in the first innings.

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Mark Stoneman and Root led the way by scoring fifties, Malan, Bairstow and Moeen chipped in with middle-order cameos and Stokes and Chris Woakes scored half-centuries and occupied the crease for a long time as England accumulated 320.

Stokes’ innings of 66 from 188 balls was particularly impressive because he demonstrated patience, skill and composure in a difficult situation. Root was excellent too and may not have been dismissed by the last ball of day four if he had not taken nasty blow to his index finger minutes before. Unfortunately, he was out for a score between 50 and 100 yet again and one cannot help feeling that England need him to score a century in the Second Test if they are to win.

Stoneman’s fifty was also encouraging and gives him something to build on. However, it was disappointing to see him get out caught in the deep after going for a rash pull shot. Woakes again showed his prowess as a lower-order batsman but needs to improve with the ball next time around.

Having got in and got to 20 or more, Malan, Bairstow and Moeen should all have gone on to make more meaningful contributions, but at least they played themselves into some kind of nick. All in all, England can take heart from their second innings batting display. It is just a terrible pity that their fighting spirit and national pride kicked in much too late to save this game.

 

New Zealand showed England the way

While England faltered, New Zealand executed their game plan superbly. After winning the toss and inserting the tourists, the hosts’ new-ball pairing of Boult and Southee produced the kind of performance bowlers dream about.

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Then Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls scored centuries and showed England how they should have batted. The Kiwi captain set the tone by playing sensible cricket. He got forward to negate any movement the tourists’ seamers extracted from the pitch, and punished any bad balls that came his way. In short, it was proper Test match batting, and it was galling for any England fan to watch after their side’s horror show.

After Williamson departed, Nicholls picked up where he left off and played exceptionally well for his unbeaten 145. Although he faced 268 balls, the young batsman was rarely troubled by England’s bowling attack, which is looking increasingly impotent in foreign conditions.

New Zealand’s display in the field second time around could have been better as they were a little too defensive despite their massive lead. But they did enough to get the job done and secure an impressive innings win. England must ensure they match (or preferably outplay) their hosts in the Second Test or they will suffer their first series loss against the Kiwis since 1999.

 

The 2nd Test between England and New Zealand begins in Christchurch on Friday 29th March at 11pm GMT.

 

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