It is such a shame that New Zealand’s excellent, commanding victory in the first Test at Bay Oval last week will not be rewarded with World Test Championship points. That this series is not in the WTC is yet another example of those who run the game finding ways to make themselves look not so genius. But with or without the points that should be due to them, New Zealand’s performance highlighted once more how very good value they are for their second place in the Test rankings.
Given their form, New Zealand’s next two series against Australia and India, the former away and the latter at home, look set to be absolute belters, particularly the match-up against Virat Kohli and his world number one side in February. Given New Zealand have now won eleven of their last 13 Tests at home, it will be some challenges for India and their captain. But for now, at least, the future can wait. First, Kane Williamson’s side has the second Test in Hamilton against England to navigate.
Given this series does not form part of the WTC, and that Trent Boult and Colin de Grandhomme have been ruled out with injuries, the match is a chance for New Zealand to test their depth ahead of the harder tests to come. They certainly won’t be taking England lightly – this New Zealand team doesn’t do arrogance or get carried away – but the second Test is an opportunity to get a couple of fringe players up to Test speed in case they are needed in Australia.
Having already played nine T20Is, all-rounder Daryl Mitchell is confirmed to make his Test debut in place of de Grandhomme after being called-up ahead of James Neesham. Mitchell is a similar type of cricketer to de Grandhomme, more of a batsman but with the ability to bowl good medium pace. He averages 35 with the bat and 33 with the ball in first-class cricket and has seven centuries from 67 games. Whether he can match de Grandhomme’s indifferent ‘I am so chilled I could be playing in a park with my mates’ demeanor is doubtful, however.
Which one of Lockie Ferguson or Matt Henry replaces Boult remains to be seen but each has its strengths and both will almost certainly be in the squad for the three-match Australia series. As Boult’s injury has proved, fast-bowlers often go lame and getting some Test match intensity overs into either Ferguson or Henry will be good preparation should they be called upon in Australia. With all due respect to Henry, a debut for Ferguson – all pace and mustachioed aggression – would be the most fun.
After their innings defeat last week, only the here and now matters for England. The four-match series against South Africa next month can wait as they look to prevent this winter lurching into crisis before it has begun. Given England are only one game into a new coaching regime and their supposed new focus on Test cricket, suggestions of crisis might seem harsh? But such has been the inconsistency of England’s play since 2015, patience is in short supply, particularly with the manner of their overseas struggles.
The aftermath of the defeat in Mount Maunganui has been rather more eventful for England than they would have wanted. The racist abuse suffered by Jofra Archer on the final day at Bay Oval is still being investigated and will have proven an unsavory and unwelcome distraction. Head coach Chris Silverwood will head home after the second day’s play in Hamilton following a family bereavement. The form and leadership of captain Joe Root have also come into focus after a disappointing performance in the first Test. England might well be relieved to get back onto the field.
When they do, there are few aspects of their game that do not need improvement from the effort in Mount Maunganui. While there was no shortage of hard work in the first match, even during New Zealand’s mammoth innings, that only goes so far against a team as skilled and disciplined as the home side. England’s batsmen need to bat for longer, the bowlers need more of a cutting edge, the fielding and body language needs to be more consistent and Root needs to do better tactically. Aside from that, they are pretty much there.
England’s ability to bounce back from defeat is one of their major strengths. True, if they didn’t lose so much they wouldn’t have to major in bouncebackability. But given they have lost 41% of their matches under Root, it’s a useful quality to have. After the defeat at Edgbaston in the Ashes, they had much the better of a rain-affected game at Lord’s, for instance. After losing at Old Trafford, they followed it up with a convincing win at The Oval. From the ridiculous to the sublime in the space of a week is how England tends to operate. It is one of the many maddening things about this team.