England begin the second Test against New Zealand in Hamilton tomorrow and there is one man in particular who could do with a positive performance.
Joe Root is enduring a difficult time at the moment, with his position as captain coming under fresh scrutiny after he managed just 13 runs in the defeat by an innings and 65 runs in the first Test.
Head coach Chris Silverwood and director of cricket Ashley Giles have both thrown their support behind Root, but the statistics don’t make for great reading.
His Test batting average has dropped from 52.80 before succeeding Alastair Cook in February 2017 to 39.70 since.
Batting v captaincy
That certainly suggests the captaincy has affected his batting, but only Root will know for certain if that is the case or if it is a coincidence.
I have sympathy for him because he has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, and he hasn’t been in charge of the best team over the past few years.
Batting at No3 or No4, and with top order collapses happening frequently, he has been forced to the crease earlier than he would have hoped after taxing hours in the field.
Root has never struck me as a natural leader, but he has improved and he is still learning on the job.
Ultimately the issue comes down to what is best for the team and I don’t think there is a viable alternative to take over the captaincy. Root will have had honest discussions with the coaching staff and I hope he has the fire to keep going.
Finding a balance
This series was always going to be tough and I don’t think we should be too disheartened by the defeat at Bay Oval.
It certainly didn’t go to plan, with the bowling and the second innings largely poor, but this is a new batch of players who are taking on the world No2 Test side in their own conditions.
For me Neil Wagner is the archetypal New Zealand player: underrated and knows how to get results. His bowling, and the huge partnership between BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner, took the game away from England, who had no answers.
England’s issues with the Kookaburra ball on placid pitches are nothing new, but really it is the batting department which needs the most work, as they are not giving the bowlers enough rest.
Silverwood really has to find the right balance between the old-school types like Rory Burns and Dom Sibley and the more naturally aggressive other batsmen because at the moment a consistent tempo is lacking.
The openers did their job in the first innings, wearing down the new ball, but England didn’t manage to cash in.
Too often they’re making scores of around 300 when they need to be aiming higher at 450 or more, especially away from home.
This series isn’t a part of the World Test Championship but I don’t think the away side should rotate their squad and give caps out in Hamilton to the likes of Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood unless it is due to injury.
The current side has got the quality to win. With a plan in place for improvement, continuity is needed so the players can grow in confidence and build momentum for the rest of the winter.