It is hard to know where to start with England’s lamentable First Test defeat to New Zealand in Mount Maunganui.
Skipper Joe Root giving catching practice not once but twice to the slips and gully, Jos Buttler leaving a straight one as we tried to grind out a draw or Ben Stokes coming down the wicket to Tim Southee on 91 when 200, rather than 100, was there for the taking on the second morning.
These are three, allegedly, world-class players remember, although the truth is only Stokes is worthy of the adjective.
Root has dropped out of the ICC top ten rankings for the first time in over five years after scores of 2 and 11 and he now averages 27.40 from 10 Tests in 2019. Note Stokes is up to a career-high ninth.
One thing I do not condone, however, is a change in leadership despite the fact that Root’s average was an outstanding 52.8 before he took the captaincy in 2017 and he has averaged just shy of 40 since he took over the reins. No, Root remains the man for the job and I expect England to come out fighting in Hamilton on Thursday.
Lockie Ferguson looks likely to replace Trent Boult, who hardly bowled on the final day of the 1st Test with injury, and I am a big admirer of Ferguson who was the second highest wicket taker in the ICC World Cup during the summer.
The New Zealand batsman – especially BJ Watling – played Jofra Archer well and I hope Root bowls his fast bowler in shorter, sharper spells. That said I have no idea why Archer did not open the bowling on the third morning of the match with the game in the balance.
The talk pre-Test was that England promised to be more circumspect with the bat and bat for longer periods. Ollie Pope couldn’t have got the memo, however, after two dreadful shots. The problem is that in a best-of-two series England now have to win to draw the series while New Zealand can play for a draw and hope to pick up the pieces if England implode trying to push for a result.
If England win the toss, they will look to bat just the once and hope that Tim Southee and Neil Wagner are not over last week’s exertions. If New Zealand bat first Archer, Broad and Tom Curran – who looks likely to get the nod over Chris Woakes again – could be in for another gruelling couple of days.
England are 6/4 to level the series in Hamilton with BetVictor with the Black Caps 5/4 and the draw at 17/5. Kane Williamson got a good one from Tom Curran in the 1st Test and he is 27/10 to top score for the hosts. Joe Root will have been hurt by the criticism of his captaincy and batting in Mount Maunganui and is 31/10 to top scorer for England.
Ben Stokes is England’s best player and he knows his first innings dismissal was the catalyst for change. England should have got 450+ in the first dig and I don’t expect Stokes to make the same mistake in Hamilton.
There is little rain in the forecast that I have seen – possible showers on Friday – but the draw has been backed from 4s to 3/1 at BetVictor which suggests that New Zealand are likely to prepare another slow, docile wicket.
A draw would suit the hosts and that is the recommendation.