Despite England’s 199-run defeat in the second Investec Test at Headingley, there were certainly more positives than negatives during the two-match series with New Zealand, which finished locked at 1-1.
From where England were in the West Indies they have definitely progressed. Opener Adam Lyth stood up and scored a century in Leeds and cemented his place for next month’s Ashes and it was nice to see skipper Alastair Cook back in the runs.
That will divert the attention from him and his captaincy, something which has dogged him for the last 18 months or so. Hopefully his mind will be at ease after a couple of really good knocks, in particular a 27th Test hundred at Lord’s.
As I said in my column last week, all-rounder Ben Stokes has been a shining light, particularly in the first Test. We know he cannot reach that level of performance every week, but we also know that on his day he is very special.
However, some worries remain, principally the form of batsmen Gary Ballance and Ian Bell in that top and middle order. Yorkshire’s Ballance scored just 36 runs in the two matches against New Zealand and I think teams have worked him out and how he plays. It is going to be hard for him in the Ashes. The No3 battling slot is such an important position and I think the Australian bowlers will target him. He looks all at sea at the moment and seems to be struggling with his footwork and with the areas in which he is trying to score.
Since Bell scored 143 in the first Test against the West Indies in Antigua in April, he has only managed 55 runs in eight innings and that will be preying on his mind going into a big series.
Seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad did okay but they are still not at their best. I am sure both would benefit from going back to their respective counties, Lancashire and Nottinghamshire, and having games in domestic cricket before the Ashes.
Anderson and Broad, along with Bell, have been left out of the limited-overs squad for one-day series against New Zealand, which starts on Tuesday at Edgbaston, while England have selected a fresh group. That is definitely the right move. England need to bring in young, one-day specialists for a new era of cricket. It’s time for the likes of my Surrey team-mate Jason Roy, Alex Hales of Nottinghamshire and Kent’s Sam Billings to be given a chance to express themselves.
New Zealand are one of the best sides in the world with the white ball so it is not going to be easy for the guys coming in but there are exciting names in that squad. I have played against them in domestic cricket and some of their stroke-play is unbelievable.
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