This match was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era for England. It proved to be more of the same.
Before the first Test against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui, new head coach Chris Silverwood spoke a good game. An old-school mentality was trumpeted. Finding “the method of batting for a long time” was the key goal.
Director of cricket Ashley Giles wanted Silverwood to discover “a DNA for Test cricket”. Captain Joe Root declared himself ready to “go and get some big runs” after working on his technique and feeling a “significant shift” in his approach.
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After the first day at Bay Oval the grand plan appeared on track. England had won the toss on a benign pitch, reached 241-4 from the first 90 overs and hoped to be on the brink of posting the elusive, oft-spoken-about big score.
Over the next four days it became apparent any gear shift won’t come naturally. Despite the order from above, England’s DNA for Test match batting remains rooted in their white-ball expertise.
Instinctively they want to feel bat on ball, counter-attack, reverse the momentum, put pressure on the bowlers and move the game on at pace.
That is why Ben Stokes, on batting serenely on 91 in the first innings, decided to charge Tim Southee and aim a booming drive at a wide ball. England’s top run-scorer over the Test should not be singled out for criticism, but his dismissal on day two marked the beginning of the slow, all-too-familiar death which saw the visitors schooled by a side who had clarity over their method and complete confidence in how to use all five days to grind out victory.
“We did a lot of good stuff, we just need to do it for longer,” offered Root after the crushing defeat by an innings and 65 runs was confirmed on Monday. He is right and it sounds so simple. But as England have shown time and again when playing away from home, they lack the patience, technique or application to do so.
BJ Watling’s epic 11-hour, 473-ball effort in scoring 205 might not have had the home fans in raptures, yet it was essential to New Zealand’s deserved win. Damningly, it is hard to imagine one of England’s players digging in, concentrating hard and producing a similar effort.
While his team’s collective failings were the focus, Root’s personal struggles are an important issue too. Just 13 runs and two poor dismissals made the Test his worst when he has batted twice as skipper. Negative fielding positions, ill-advised bowling changes and an average of 27.40 in his last 10 Tests and 39.70 overall in 34 Tests as captain means the unwanted spotlight remains.
“We have made quite a big shift and mental approach to how we play our cricket,” said Root. “And we have to give that time to work and be patient.”
With the next Test starting in Hamilton on Thursday, Root and his side don’t have much time to ponder their deficiencies. But, considering they have been evident for years, they shouldn’t need it.