For long, England had been considered as a cricketing team that put most of their efforts into red ball cricket and gave little importance to the white ball versions of the sport. But that has drastically changed over the last few years – so much so that England are now the ODI world champions but failed to win an Ashes series at home for the first time in 18 years recently.
Over the last few weeks, we saw England’s fragilities in the five-day format come to the fore once again during the first Test against New Zealand as they suffered an innings defeat in Mount Maunganui. On a pitch that didn’t have many demons in it, it wasn’t a tough task to save the Test, but Joe Root’s side were bowled out in just 96.2 overs in their second innings.
In fact, one of the key reasons for England’s batting to have been underperforming this season has been the form of Root. The England captain, expected to be the lynchpin of the team’s batting, has averaged just 27.40 in Tests in 2019 which is the lowest for him in any year. Previously, Root had been criticised for failing to convert his fifties into hundreds, but right now, England would gladly take even those half-centuries.
There have been voices raised that Root’s captaincy is affecting his batting. In Tests as skipper, he averages just 39.70 which is an incredibly low number for a batsman of his calibre and talent. Contrast that to his average of 52.80 when he wasn’t leading the side and there’s enough reason to support the aforementioned point.
In the first Test, Root was dismissed by Neil Wagner and Colin de Grandhomme respectively. While the latter will miss the Hamilton Test due to a tear to his lower abdominal muscle, Wagner is a bowler who has gone under the radar despite his superlative performances over the last few years. While Trent Boult and Tim Southee have been seen as the leading pacers in the team, it’s Wagner who has arguably been the best among the trio.
In fact, since the start of 2016, no New Zealand bowler has taken more Test wickets than Wagner (115). The left-arm pacer shone in the first Test as he claimed eight wickets, including a fifer in England’s second essay. Despite his lack of pace, Wagner tends to bombard batsmen with bouncers. This weapon has yielded him great results too, producing a wicket every 35.7 deliveries.
The Kiwis, who are ranked number two in the Test rankings, also have BJ Watling in their ranks who is perhaps the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the format currently. While Watling notched up a double ton in the first Test, an impressive part of his game has been his ability to stay at the crease for a long time.
In this decade, i.e since 2010, only AB de Villiers (113.21) has faced more balls per dismissal than Watling (99.86) in Test cricket when playing as a designated wicketkeeper. It’s also interesting to note that in his last two innings, the New Zealand stumper has been dismissed just once in 699 deliveries!
On the other hand, England have a huge problem when it comes to their opening partnership. Since 2017, they haven’t had a single century stand for the first wicket. Their average for this partnership during the said period is 23.20 which is better than only Afghanistan who are playing in just their fourth Test currently. But there were some positive signs in the first Test with Rory Burns and Dom Sibley putting on 52 and 48.
Despite this series not being a part of the ICC World Test Championship, this is a huge match for both teams. While New Zealand will look to complete a series whitewash to extract some payback for their World Cup final heartbreak against the same opponents, England are desperate to prove a point after recent failures in this format.
In addition to de Grandhomme being ruled out, the hosts will also miss the services of Boult who is out due to a rib injury. Daryl Mitchell and Matt Henry are widely expected to come into the team.
New Zealand: Tom Latham, Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson (c), Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls, BJ Watling (wk), Darryl Mitchell, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry
After the embarrassing defeat in the first Test, England could make a change or two for this match. Chris Woakes coming in for Sam Curran is a possibility.
England: Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler/Zak Crawley, Chris Woakes/Sam Curran, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach