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Uncharacteristic cricket nullifies New Zealand's fighting spirit

Last updated on 28 Jun 2022 | 04:11 PM
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Uncharacteristic cricket nullifies New Zealand's fighting spirit

Failure to seize opportunities result in a 0-3 series defeat despite all their fighting spirit

A 3-0 clean sweep, more often than not, reflects at a one-sided series. However, things were quite close in the recently-concluded New Zealand’s three-match series in England. The Kiwis, in their typical dogged style, created chances in each of the three Tests. “In all three matches we have had our opportunities,” said the skipper Kane Williamson in the post-match presentation and it couldn’t have been more apt.

The tourists lost Kyle Jamieson and Colin de Grandhomme due to injuries and missed Williamson in the second Test due to COVID. The new era of this England side were too quick to catch up to, but the Kiwis also made their job a little easier by losing crucial phases of play. 

Not retaining the restrain long enough 

In the first Test, they bowled out England for 141 in the first innings. In the second Test, they had them down to 93/4 in the second innings. In the third Test, England managed a first-innings lead despite being 55/6. 

As Williamson mentioned, New Zealand had their moments in all three Tests. In fact, all the aforementioned instances were a result of fighting back from behind. However, the fight didn’t continue long enough. Every time the visitors looked in control, they squandered the advantage with an ordinary phase of play. 

Resuming at 236/4 in the second innings on Day 3 at Lord’s, New Zealand crumbled to 285 all out. A good morning session could have stretched their lead beyond 350 but the collapse enabled England to restrict their target to an achievable 277. In the evening session on Day 4 at Trent Bridge, two terrible run outs opened the door for England. 

At Headingley, they allowed Jonny Bairstow and debutant Jamie Overton to power England to a first innings lead, from a position where saving the follow-on was a question once. New Zealand managed to fight back again but losing four wickets in the final session on Day 3 was probably the last straw, despite another century stand between Tom Blundell and Daryl Mitchell, as the pitch was getting better to bat. Most of these wickets were after a break. 

Not to mention, whenever England stepped their foot on the paddle, New Zealand simply looked flat. While their fight with the bat was not long enough, the same with the ball was simply missing. 

Uncharacteristic Kiwis 

New Zealand are known to be a side that makes the most of their limited resources. Efficient planning goes a long way in achieving that. That coherency was absent in this series. To begin with, they missed Neil Wagner as an enforcer on a placid Trent Bridge track. Instead, they went for Matt Henry who returned figures of 42-8-195-2. Wagner played the third Test at Leeds without creating any impact except in his first over, the Trent Bridge track suited his bowling style more than Henry's. Stand-in skipper Tom Latham, at the toss, identified the pitch as a dry strip which makes Wagner’s exclusion more surprising. 

Wagner was missed when New Zealand opted for the short-ball ploy on Day 5. The tactic itself helped England accelerate towards the target rather than providing New Zealand the opportunity to pick wickets. The risk-reward factor was biased towards the bustling willow of Bairstow with the shorter boundary on the on-side. The keenness to continue with those harmless short balls was bewildering on a different level. 

Having conceded 270+ targets in the first two Tests, New Zealand played a seamer short at Headingley instead of strengthening the bowling attack. They had recognized batters till number eight but only three frontline bowling options. The thinking behind their third Test’s XI is hard to comprehend and they duly lacked variety in their attack. Considering Michael Bracewell’s struggle to land the ball in the right areas, Rachin Ravindra’s selection ahead of him would have made more sense for that combination. 

Ravindra offers more control with the ball and notched up 217 for Durham roughly 10 days before the Test in the County Championship. Not to forget, England had only one left-hander in their middle-order. Nothing against Bracewell, but it felt New Zealand took the field with only 10 players in the third Test. 

Underperforming stars 

You only need to look at the top-order of the two sides to enunciate this point. England's top three of Zak Crawley, Alex Lees and Ollie Pope - 56 Tests in total - despite their inconsistency, outperformed their counterparts, Tom Latham, Will Young, and Kane Williamson who share the experience of 166 Tests in between them. If you add the number four to that, the difference becomes bigger - 37.8 versus 22.3 in batting average. 

This difference is what hurt New Zealand the most. Unlike England, New Zealand’s star power lies at the top. Latham and Williamson averaged 20.2 and 14 in the series respectively. Also, their number four, Devon Conway epitomized the first point of this article - dogged fight but not for long enough. He reached the double-digit scores five times in six innings, yet his series best was only 52. 

Latham now averages only 33.6 in the ongoing WTC cycle. But the real cause of worry here is Williamson’s continuous dip. He has missed six of New Zealand’s nine Tests in the ongoing cycle, averaging only 23. The runs have dried up overseas. Since 2019, Williamson averages only 20.9 in Tests away from home (away + neutral). From 2016 to 2018, the same number showed a hefty figure of 67.5. Does it bring his captaincy into question? Maybe not yet but it may in the upcoming future if the downfall isn’t arrested. 

There was a similar kind of contrast in the bowling numbers as well. Tim Southee is the second-highest wicket-taker for New Zealand in the series but averaged 59 for his nine wickets in three Tests. In between Boult, the highest wicket-taker in the series, and Tim Southee, there are three English seamers, starting from the young Matt Potts. 

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