WHAT have England learned from their tour to New Zealand?
Not to station Joe Denly at mid-wicket is the flippant answer, Denly having dropped one of the easiest catches in history when he spilled Kane Williamson off Jofra Archer on the final day of the series.
The ball looped towards Denly so slowly, so apologetically, only to go straight into the bread-basket and out again, as Richie Benaud might have said, that pundits were left racking their brains as to a worse dropped catch.
Agreement swiftly fell on Mike Gatting’s laughable effort at silly-point to reprieve Kiran More off Ian Salisbury at Chennai in 1993, a gentle lob off the splice that Gatting tried to blame on the fact that the sun was in his eyes.
Had the ball been a cream bun, of course, or a lemon meringue pie, the opportunity would surely have been grabbed.
Levity aside, and Denly will find it no easier to live down than “Fat Gatt” did a generation ago, this was not a successful Test trip for England.
Indeed, it is quite baffling, considering that their entire strategy is openly based on recovering the Ashes in 2021-22, and on winning Tests abroad in unhelpful conditions, that they did not take the chance to experiment more in terms of team selection, especially as the series was not part of the dreaded World Test Championship.Chris Waters
Not only did they lose 1-0 after a dire innings defeat in the first Test in Mount Maunganui, before drawing the second and final game on a featherbed in Hamilton, but they left the land of the long white cloud no closer to learning how to win away from home on flat pitches with a Kookaburra ball.
Although New Zealand must take some credit for that – a country ranked second in the world which consistently punches above its weight – the England selectors/management were once more guilty of a number of flawed/conservative decisions.
Indeed, it is quite baffling, considering that their entire strategy is openly based on recovering the Ashes in 2021-22, and on winning Tests abroad in unhelpful conditions, that they did not take the chance to experiment more in terms of team selection, especially as the series was not part of the dreaded World Test Championship.
England have long and quite rightly highlighted the need for extra pace to win Tests in Australia, a la that possessed by Archer, and yet declined the opportunity, for instance, to look at the Lancashire pace bowler Saqib Mahmood.
Similarly, they are desperate to find a top-class spinner, especially a wrist-spinner, and yet also overlooked his county colleague Matt Parkinson for the final Test and instead went into the game with five seamers and no spinner.
Although England would counter that this was a horses-for-courses decision, based on the surface/conditions that confronted them, it is debatable whether there is ever a need for five seamers and no spinner, and it was not long-term planning/experimentation on their part but short-term thinking, with the captain under pressure and a new coach naturally eager to impress.
When push came to shove, England were simply not brave enough to try out new things and to build for the future they insist that they want to create for themselves.
Instead, they keep saying one thing and then doing another, and if you keep doing the same thing you are likely to keep getting the same result.
The whole set-up seems in a state of confusion.
Not long ago, England made a big thing of wanting to bat more positively in an effort to put pressure back on the bowlers – a la Eoin Morgan’s one-day team.
They then realised “hang on, that might not work in Test cricket”, so adopted a more patient strategy coming into this tour.
Fair enough, but then they decided that there is, in fact, a line between being patient and too patient, and that it might be best, after all, if batsmen essentially played their natural game.
This is always the best policy – it should be selection and the strengths of each individual player that determines the style of play as opposed to anything else.
England have learned little from the tour and the same questions remain.
What is the best opening batting combination? Who should be the man to bat at No 3? Who is the best wicketkeeper? And so on.
The decision to drop Jonny Bairstow and to hand the gloves to Jos Buttler looks more suspect by the day.
Buttler has yet to convince as a Test cricketer, while his absence from the Hamilton Test with a back injury meant that Ollie Pope had to take the gloves.
Surprise, surprise, Pope – who has had precious little wicketkeeping experience – also dropped Williamson on the final day in Hamilton, a chance that Bairstow would have snaffled in his sleep.
The lack of specialist wicketkeeping back-up was as laughable as Denly’s dropped catch.
On the plus side, Pope looks a prospect and possibly a long-term solution at No 3, but not just yet.
Joe Root returned to form with a superb double hundred in Hamilton and will be anxious to build on that in the upcoming tour to South Africa.
But England missed a big chance to find out more about the likes of Mahmood and Parkinson, the sort of players that they might need in Australia, and to back-up their words with actions.
For that reason, they deserve little sympathy from their long-suffering supporters, who must wonder whether they really do mean what they say.