By Ayyaz Malik
To say it’s been a soap opera is the understatement of the year – but the saga that is English cricket unfolded on the pitch on Thursday rather than off it as New Zealand helped kick off the English summer. The Kiwis who were beaten finalists in this years world cup come to England for two tests before Australia come to play for ‘something’ called the Ashes.
Through out the winter and even in the early parts of the summer English cricket has been dominated by who is coming and who is going. To say English cricket has been in turmoil might be understating the whole situation – but the amount of changes England have had at managerial level, one might be thinking if the ECB has taken a liking to the game of musical chairs.
Alistair Cook captain of the England one day team, then replaced before a world cup. Let’s not forget the Kevin Pieterson saga which has been a whole soap opera in itself. Some one at board level says he does have a future others at board level say he doesn’t, this whole fiasco looks like a failed attempt of Chinese whispers. Then there’s the sacking of the head coach peter Moore’s right before the New Zealand series, it’s fair to say drama like this seems fitting for Coronation Street or Eastenders!
Despite all the back ground disruptions England had the ‘small matter’ of a test series with New Zealand. The Black Caps are far from mugs – and in Brendan McCullum they have a general like figure who knows how to marshal his troops.
In the world cup when they sensed blood they hunted in packs whether that be in batting or bowling. Different surroundings it might be as this is the test arena – but the talent that New Zealand possess in their batting and bowling means they are a very dangerous side.
Roll back 18 months ago and in New Zealand you had a side who were towards the bottom of the world rankings – but if you fast forward that now, here is side that is towards the top of the rankings. New Zealand come into this series in good form and confidence sky high – but the same can’t really be said of England who struggled against West Indies in their last series, and had a disastrous world cup.
New Zealand put in England into bat which meant that Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth made his batting debut straight away. Lyth who has been in good form with his county, was accompanied by his captain Alistair Cook. In what was England’s sixth combination since Andrew Straus retired. Initially both openers were very watchful and dare I say looked comfortable – but then disaster struck for England.
After looking comfortable the home side slipped to 30-4. Cook, debutant Lyth, Bairstow; Bell all departed cheaply. At the start of the series many were demanding Kevin Pieterson’s inclusion and especially since the 34 year old Pieterson hit 355 a few weeks ago, the calls for KP’s inclusion would have been stronger with the scorecard reading 30-4.
This though is the new England batting line up. Maybe none of the batsmen in England’s middle order have that flamboyance that KP did – but what they do have in Joe Root is someone who battles hard and ‘gets stuck in’. Also there is Ben Stokes who on Thursday showed he only knows one form of defence – attack.
England at 30-4 were in a real sticky situation – but that soon changed as Joe Root and Ben Stokes made a decent New Zealand attack look ordinary in the end. A game changing stand of 161 for the fifth wicket changed the complexion of the game.
Such was the shift in power that England managed to close on 354-7. Joe Root and Ben Stokes were crucial to England, it was such a shame that after both batted brilliantly – that both men should fell short of deserved hundreds. Matt Henry who was also making his debut was one of the main reasons that New Zealand were on top initially. Henry in his first spell took 2-19 off five overs – but an unbeaten 49 from Moeen Ali ensured that England are just about in control of this match after day one.
England will be hoping for Mo of the same from Mr Ali.