The Black Caps richly deserved their 1-0 series win over England despite having to battle to save the second test in Christchurch on a nail-biting fifth day. This was New Zealand’s fourth series win over England and under the captaincy of Kane Williamson, their immediate future looks very bright.
The reality for Joe Root and under fire England coach, Trevor Bayliss is that the same questions and problems remain having failed to win a test match on either of their two trips to Australia and New Zealand this winter. When the English squad set foot on Australian soil back in November the familiar challenges of posting big first innings totals and an ability to take 20 wickets had to be addressed if the Ashes were to be retained. Neither of these two key components to winning a test match materialized and England head back to an English summer none the wiser and with the same problems unresolved.
Black Caps add strength in depth to their world-class talents
New Zealand looks like a team who are improving and enjoying their cricket in stark contrast to their English counterparts. They have the ideal blend of world-class ability and experience through their captain Kane Williamson and Trent Boult and an excellent supporting cast led by Ross Taylor, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee. BJ Watling and Colin De Grandhomme both had big series as well to ensure that New Zealand have a decent team with strength in depth.
Mitchell Santner when he comes back from his knee injury will provide the competition to the promising Ish Sodhi, the latter showing great character to keep England at bay on the final day of the second test. All in all the future for the Black Cops looks very rosy with so much more to come.
McCullum’s legacy continues to grow within New Zealand cricket
The legacy that the great Brendon McCullum has left with this New Zealand team cannot be underestimated. In light of the spiteful and controversial series between South Africa and Australia, New Zealand are a shining beacon of how to play the game hard but fair. McCullum started this a few years ago, urging his team to be fearless and confident in their individual talents but crucially go into battle with a smile on your face. There was nothing friendly about Neil Wagner’s short pitched bowling master class to Joe Root during England’s second innings in Auckland but it never crossed the line and was still thrilling to watch.
England no closer to knowing their strongest batting line-up
From a batting perspective, the lack of consistent runs in the problematic batting positions of the openers and a number three batsman continues to blight England’s progress. Mark Stoneman and James Vince were under pressure before the New Zealand series given a lack of runs during the Ashes and neither has convinced despite occasional flashes of what they can do. Add in the worrying loss of form from Alistair Cook and England’s top three looks like toppling at any moment. What is infuriating is that James Vince has all the tools to be a top class batsman at this level but his concentration remains woefully poor and his chance may have come and gone. With England’s second string Lions getting destroyed in the West Indies, there are no obvious contenders knocking on the door to replace Stoneman and Vince with may be Liam Livingstone the next on the production line.
On the plus side for England, Dawid Malan’s graduation from promising to the real deal looks complete despite a quiet series in Auckland and Christchurch.
England lack a decent spinner and third seamer
England once again had to rely on the masterly skill sets of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad in the winter with the back-up bowlers contributing very little to England’s bowling attack. The statistics from England’s tour down under reveal that Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad took 47 wickets at 29.82 with the rest taking 34 wickets at 72.85. Moeen Ali’s tour from hell was finally ended after the Auckland test and Messrs. Craig Overton, Jake Ball, Tom Curran and Mark Wood have not given the support that the tireless Stuart Broad and James Anderson have needed.
There are sprouts of hope for England’s bowling unit in the shape of spinners, Jack Leach and Mason Crane, both of whom could make the cut at test match level. That said they each have one test to their names and are at the infancy of their careers. Mark Wood’s return in Christchurch is a big plus for England given that he can consistently top the 90 mph barrier which England have so lacked since the retirements of Steve Harminson and Andrew Flintoff. If Wood can keep his troublesome ankles going then he can provide the perfect foil for Anderson and Broad in the lead up to the 2019 Ashes series.
England needs to freshen up the coaching team
There are question marks to whether Trevor Bayliss is the right man to take England forward in test match cricket given England’s winter of discontent. Personally I think the ECB should give Bayliss until at least the 2019 Ashes to prove his credentials. Bayliss would benefit from enlisting some help from recent ex-players with someone like Graeme Swann being a potential mentor to England’s spinners. This area of England’s game has been found horribly wanting in both Australia and New Zealand and with Pakistan and India coming to town this summer, England have to look at all possibilities to improve. It was good to hear Bayliss mention the importance of the five championship games that take place before the first test against Pakistan, which begins on the 24th of May. This will put pressure on the likes of James Vince, Mark Stoneman, Moeen Ali and even Alistair Cook to perform and earn their spots for the Pakistan series.