Well now yesterday’s review looks really bloody stupid, doesn’t it?
A lot of it still holds, but it was both pleasing and a relief to see England’s senior men take some responsibility and salvage a draw. It’s less pleasing that it took till the series was on the verge of being lost for them to finally take on that responsibility, but more on that in a bit. It would be unfair to not give due respect to one of the better days of Test match cricket we have had the pleasure of watching. The final day wrapped up a series where there was ultimately very little between the two sides. Weather and flat pitches may have played their part, but seldom can a nil-nil result in a three Test series have made for such compelling viewing.
Now that the pleasantries are out of the way, it’s time to get mean.
There was one fate New Zealand were hoping to avoid on the final day, and that was to come out of this Test with a brave draw. But owing to English stubbornness and the ineffectiveness of their strike bowlers, that’s exactly what they got. Tim Southee and Bruce Martin were hoping to spearhead the Kiwis to a famous victory, and their first series win over a top six Test nation since Dan Vettori was in nappies. Instead they proved disturbingly unable to provoke any sort of concern in the English batsmen, and it was the somewhat makeshift pairing of Kane Williamson and Neil Wagner who proved the most threatening.
It was all a bit too reminiscent of the final day of the Adelaide Test between Australia and South Africa last year, although thankfully with far less talk of slushies. On that occasion South Africa resolutely refused to chase the target set them (430 runs on that occasion) and it was only the whole hearted efforts of Peter Siddle that threatened to unsettle them at any stage. Here again England decided that the mammoth total of 480 was beyond them and that survival was their only goal. And despite the constant attention of a ring of close in fielders, and some last minute jitters, it was a goal that never looked beyond them.
Of course that is to give too little credit to the efforts of Matt Prior, Ian Bell and even Stuart Broad, who at one stage looked set to overtake Geoff Allott’s record of 77 deliveries whilst on nought. With the pitch looking little different from day one of the Test it was entirely possible to remain perched on the crease and play everything with a dead bat, a ploy they accomplished with aplomb. But the Kiwis won’t be feeling very charitable. Maybe they would have done better if they hadn’t been so damn nice about it all. A bit of sledging or physical intimidation might have helped them make that breakthrough. They just never looked like they wanted it enough. Or actually believed they could really win. This series has suggested that the Kiwis are on the verge of something big, but there is a world of difference between promise and fulfilment (we will get onto England next). This was a massive missed opportunity for the hosts to announce their revival to the world. Maybe they just need to schedule a home series against Australia soon.
You seldom see draws celebrated so jubilantly, especially not by teams who were expected to dominate the opposition. That England did enough to draw the game was symptomatic of their efforts this series, where they only ever did enough to get by. That it took a super-human effort to escape with a draw here was only because of their inept performances on the previous four days. We know England can fight when their back is to the wall – we’ve seen that plenty of times of late – but a team with this sort of reputation shouldn’t be putting itself in that sort of situation so often. And thus ends another thoroughly underwhelming Test series for the English team.
The positive outlook is that Prior showed that he is the best ‘keeper-batsman in Test cricket (in your face Dhoni), Bell once again came good at the last moment, whilst Broad proved his doubters wrong by showing he can actually bat properly these days. Well, when he actually wants to that is, which isn’t all that often. It was. all told, a Herculean effort of resilience that enabled the tourists to depart New Zealand with at least some credibility still intact. Granted they would have hoped to have been leaving with a hell of a lot more than that, but perhaps this might teach them to not wait till the 15th day of the series before deciding to show up.
The two Test return series begins in mid May, and if recent history is anything to go by England will win it whilst simultaneously never getting out of second gear and therefore making it as hard as possible for themselves. It’s what happened against the West Indies last year after similarly lacklustre (if we’re being charitable) performances against Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and there is little reason to believe the same thing won’t happen again.
Which means that – the inconvenience of the IPL notwithstanding – the Kiwis ought to have a golden opportunity to catch England with their pants down ahead of the Ashes. They appear to have unearthed a rich vein of talent to draw upon. Peter Fulton ought to have done enough to silence his critics for a little while at least and Tim Southee can’t possibly be that bad again. Plus they might even have international man of mystery, Jesse Ryder, back in the team by then. That is if he’s allowed to play Call of Duty in the dressing room. Otherwise he’ll probably just stay at home.