Chris Waters: Even Z-factor would be an improvement for England

New Zealand bowler Todd Astle raises his arms and celebrates with his team-mates after the dismissal of England's James Anderson saw the hosts win the first Test by an innings and 49 runs in Auckland (Picture: Ross Setford/AP).
New Zealand bowler Todd Astle raises his arms and celebrates with his team-mates after the dismissal of England's James Anderson saw the hosts win the first Test by an innings and 49 runs in Auckland (Picture: Ross Setford/AP).
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AFTER what has just happened in Cape Town it is perhaps difficult to get too worked up about another England Test defeat away from home.

England lost by an innings and 49 runs against New Zealand in Auckland, their 10th defeat in 12 away Tests, leaving a familiar feeling of deja vu.

Meanwhile, over in South Africa, the game is burning with Australian cricket in crisis over the ball-tampering scandal.

No one seems unduly concerned about the actual cricket at present with the wider health of the sport dominating the agenda after Australia dragged it into the emergency department.

Certainly there was no better time for England to be reduced to 27-9 and then bowled out for 58 en route to another thumping away defeat as the cricketing world’s focus naturally turns elsewhere.

There was simply no way back for Joe Root’s men after those first 90 minutes at Eden Park on Thursday, not even accounting for more than a day and a half being lost to rain, with England’s first innings capitulation deciding the contest.

England captain Joe Root answers questions at a press conference following his teams innings and 49 run defeat to New Zealand in Auckland. Picture: AP/Ross Setford.

England captain Joe Root answers questions at a press conference following his teams innings and 49 run defeat to New Zealand in Auckland. Picture: AP/Ross Setford.

Although England fought much harder in their second innings, scoring 320 before being dismissed with 18.5 overs of the match remaining, New Zealand’s first innings 427-8 declared proved a mountain too high.

Now England have one last chance to take anything out of the Test match winter, having earlier lost 4-0 in Australia, when the second and final Test against the Kiwis starts in Christchurch on Thursday at 11pm our time.

Yes, it might be difficult to get too worked up about England’s latest Test defeat, but not to the extent that it should be conveniently swept under the carpet by the antics of Australia’s “leadership group”.

England need to change something at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval – and a change in personnel would be a good start.

Yes, it might be difficult to get too worked up about England’s latest Test defeat, but not to the extent that it should be conveniently swept under the carpet by the antics of Australia’s “leadership group”.

Chris Waters

If England have learned anything from the Ashes, when their bowling attack was exposed as one-dimensional, it is not immediately apparent given that they are still picking the same sort of players and a spinner who is struggling.

Why not bring in the pace of Mark Wood for Christchurch and the spin of Jack Leach? In an attack lacking an X-factor, even a Z-factor would be preferable to the present state of affairs.

Batting alternatives are thin on the ground; if James Vince is the answer then some would say that the problem rests with the question, but why not give Liam Livingstone a go in Christchurch?

Things need to be shaken up and some thinking done “outside the box”, as they no doubt say in leadership groups.

NOT ENOUGH: England's Ben Stokes walks from the field after he was dismissed for 66 in Auckland. AP/Ross Setford

NOT ENOUGH: England's Ben Stokes walks from the field after he was dismissed for 66 in Auckland. AP/Ross Setford

At the same time England’s batsmen are, by and large, the best that we have. Alastair Cook’s best days are behind him, but he is, perhaps, just as likely to have a storming summer as anyone.

Root is one of the world’s best; ditto Jonny Bairstow, while Ben Stokes’s qualities also speak for themselves. One man who will be looking over his shoulder, however, is Mark Stoneman, who has not done enough to these eyes to suggest that he is any better than someone like Adam Lyth.

Stoneman is a fine batsman, but at the moment his place in the side looks a bit like his nickname – “rocky”.

Although England’s first-innings performance in Auckland was not good enough, as Root readily admitted, England’s problems are also indicative of the fact that precious few players these days have the mindset and skill to bat for long periods.

Individually each England player is perfectly capable of doing that, particularly a Test specialist such as Cook, but the different skills needed for those who play red- and white-ball cricket have never been further apart, while it is difficult for players to find form if the warm-up matches consist of a couple of Mickey Mouse affairs of low intensity.

Only a few weeks before he walked out to bat in the first innings at Auckland, Cook was lambing on the family farm.

One-day cricket has changed everything, and the desire of batsmen to dominate the bowling and score boundaries is ubiquitous; Stokes’s dismissal for the top score of 66 yesterday in the final over before the dinner break was a classic example of an innings of patience and control suddenly undone by a rush of blood.

Nor should New Zealand’s bowling attack be underestimated; Trent Boult and Tim Southee are among the best around.

Although the cricket itself may be taking a back seat at present, one thing that the Auckland Test did show was that two teams can go hard at each other without resorting to the sorry antics shown by the Australians.

No team is whiter-than-white – certainly not England – but Root and his New Zealand counterpart Kane Williamson presided over a contest that was played in the right spirit and a credit to both men.