Irrespective of what pans out a week later when they take on India for the inaugural World Test Championship honors, New Zealand can go back home as a proud team, bagging their first series victory in England in the 21st century. That they have done without Kane Williamson, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Kyle Jamieson, and Colin de Grandhomme - five definitive starters in the WTC final - makes it a colossal achievement.
While the post-match desertion is bound to revolve around England’s shambolic batting performance this series, that New Zealand have not thrown their towels despite having backs against the wall calls for greater anatomy. Be it Devon Conway’s prolific approach to the red-ball opening in England to Matt Henry turning the clock back and repeating his Kent 2018 heroics once again, there are multiple subplots that would hold the No.1 Test team in the world in good stead for the Southampton showdown.
Players coming off the bench and putting in a performance always lead to happy headaches. New Zealand will have some when they sit down to decide their XI for the much-awaited final.
New Zealand can rival India with their bench strength
Don’t think it needs a re-telling that Devon Conway is a special cricketer. He had already proven it in the white-ball format for New Zealand and in the whites, he only got better. 306 runs at 76.50 aside, Conway showed what it takes to bat in English conditions. The wickets might have been on the flatter side, but the fact that Conway made it look so easy against the new-ball duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad wouldn’t be forgotten that easily.
Then came Will Young. All of two Test old coming to the Edgbaston encounter. But with a bagful of experience of batting in English conditions with a Duke's ball. He stepped into Kane Williamson’s shoes and dominated the proceedings in some fashion. No one quite knows if he will play in the next Test, but it was a special performance.
Matt Henry, with a ball in his hand, weaved magic. He was the enforcer any team would die to have but such has been the dynamics that Henry will probably have to make way for Southee and Jamieson. His first spell in the second innings was a dream for any pacer. He swung both ways, unsettled the batters with his pace, rattled the stumps as was his wont, and opened up the game for the Kiwis.
"[Henry] was fantastic," stand-in skipper Tom Latham said. "We've got a bigger group [with us] and through a mixture of injuries and guys being rested for next week, those guys that came in certainly took their opportunity. Matt has been with the group for a long period and probably hasn't got the game time he would have wanted. For him to come in and put a performance on the board, that was really important, especially the work that he did yesterday with that new ball.”
Ajaz Patel should start ahead of Santner - No questions asked
Ajaz Patel had a match figure of 4 for 59 in 23 overs at Edgbaston. All of his wickets were important ones and he did the donkey’s job to grab them up. However, you’d suspect what New Zealand’s approach will be when they take on India next week. To make it clearer, what will New Zealand decide if Mitchell Santner regains fitness.
As good a limited-overs cricketer as he has been, Santner’s red-ball career has been one of tragicomedy. With a bowling average over 45, Santner is far away from the world standard and taking wickets has never been his biggest strength. On the other hand, with a loopy action, Patel has been able to exude a kind of control that often yields wickets out of nowhere. The common argument for Santner all these years has been attributed to his batting, but Patel is no mug either. Some of his shots yesterday would make any great batsman proud. If one decision they should feel absolutely confident about, it has to be this.
The all-rounder conundrum
While New Zealand now have a problem of plenty in all aspects, one issue that they have failed to address is the all-rounder. Neither Colin de Grandhomme nor Daryll Mitchell showed any authority, leaving the management with a bigger conundrum. At Lord’s, Grandhomme scored a total of 9 runs while failing to pick up a wicket. At Edgbaston, Mitchell didn’t bowl much and scored just 6 with the bat. Yeah, very small sample size but they don’t have time either.
Will New Zealand add another batsman in Will Young to their line-up to complement three pacers and Ajaz Patel or go with an all-pace attack and hope four of them do the job? In all fairness, it is difficult to predict the right answer. However, for the balancing act, it is imperative that New Zealand persist with Colin de Grandhomme and ask him to bat at No.7, with four bowlers adding to the versatility.