ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 4th day

Time for some honesty, England

England must introspect on the shortcomings of their bowling attack and address their problem of refocusing after achieving Test goals

Andrew McGlashan in Auckland

March 25, 2013

Comments: 85 | Text size: A | A

James Anderson and Steven Finn inspect the ball, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 1st day, March 22, 2013
James Anderson and Steve Finn have struggled to maintain consistency in the Tests against New Zealand © Getty Images

During the last over before lunch, James Anderson used every trick in the book to make sure it would be the final one of the session. He chatted with the captain, changed his field and aborted his run-up. It is something that any other team in England's position - being flogged senseless - would have done. However, that moment highlighted the depth of England's problems. It had come down to timewasting.

Even if they bat out the final day and leave with a share of the series - and that is unlikely following the late loss of Alastair Cook to a shot that completes a difficult match for the captain - there needs to be a tough critique of how they have played. It is the second time in little more than 12 months where England's Test credentials have taken a significant hit overseas.

Last year it was Pakistan in the UAE, which ended with the 3-0 whitewash, and now they are facing their first series defeat in New Zealand since 1983-84. Perhaps it is coincidental, but both those situations have followed the team achieving notable success - the Pakistan defeat followed, albeit five months later, beating India 4-0 at home to reach No. 1 in the world and this series has followed their victory in India before Christmas. Refocusing after achieving a significant goal appears to a problem.

England will have to be honest when they reflect on the series. They cannot hide behind clichés, previous glories or what the computers are telling them. To be fair, Graham Gooch spoke openly after the day, but the players also need to do the same. The performance in Auckland has, with a day left, been horrendously poor and it is not a one-off for the tour. In Dunedin, their second-day effort was as bad as it comes - 167 all out and New Zealand 131 without loss in reply - although that was put down to their poor starting overseas. Their finishing is not looking too flash, either, at the moment.

The first session on the fourth day at Eden Park was awful. It was the sort of scene witnessed during a 1990s Ashes Test when Australia would secure a huge first-innings lead, then forge ahead before leaving a massive target. For the second hour until lunch, England completely lost control, the heads dropped and they were taken apart by a 34-year-old batsman who averaged 20.93 before this series started. Shortly before New Zealand declared, there were nine fielders posted on the boundary for Brendon McCullum. The frustrations were clear when Stuart Broad showed his displeasure at a skier not being caught even though the two fielders converging had little chance of reaching it.

'Can't be happy' - Gooch

  • Graham Gooch, the England batting coach, fronted up after the fourth day's play in Auckland with the type of attitude the team will need plenty of when they look back at this Test series.
  • "I think it's a great reality check that you can't take any team lightly, and you can't play people on what it says in the rankings or what it says on a piece of paper," he said. "Our performance is not up to the standard we've produced in the past, on a consistent basis - so we'll have to look at that."

  • After overseas trips that included the Test series victory India, plus Twenty20 and one-day success in New Zealand he admitted defeat here would leave a sour taste.

  • "It's not the sort of conclusion to the winter tours we would have wanted, that's for sure. We wanted to finish strongly going into our summer, build on the Test cricket we played in India towards the middle and end of that series.

  • "Here, we've not found that form. So we've got to be disappointed. You can't be happy with the way we've played."

For the England attack on this tour, it has been a sobering experience. They have not come close to taking 20 wickets once. The weather played a part in Wellington, true, but they had 68 overs at New Zealand in the second innings and claimed two scalps. Gripes about the surfaces have not gone down well and perhaps it showed preconceived ideas. Going to India, the expectation is that bowlers will be made to work hard and England adapted magnificently. On this tour they have not responded to the challenge as effectively.

If England's bowlers are not careful, they could become a bit of a myth. There has been the occasional burst of brilliance over the last 12 months - Steven Finn at Lord's, Monty Panesar in Mumbai, James Anderson in Kolkata and Stuart Broad in Wellington - but they have been off-set by lengthy periods of struggle. The first day here, when New Zealand reached 250 for 1, was not a one-off. Last July, there was the small matter of 637 for 2 at The Oval and, in the following Test at Headingley, South Africa made more than 400 after being put into bat. Then there was New Zealand's 460 in Dunedin.

Broad has been the pick of the quicks in this series. Anderson has been grumpy with a creaking body and Finn has not had the same the rhythm that he did in the one-day series off his shorter run, when New Zealand found him a handful. They remain fine bowlers, but their lack of penetration at times is a concern. David Saker, the bowling coach, is often lauded with much praise, and rightly so, but in this series something has been missing from his charges.

Then there is Panesar. He did not quite know what to do while McCullum and Peter Fulton were launching him into the stands. It was a tough role - the batsmen had free reign to attack - but Panesar has had precious little wicket-taking threat in the series. At times he has contained effectively, but it has only gone to reinforce, to a worrying level, the importance of Graeme Swann.

Not that the batsmen go home flush with pride, although some still have a final chance. Despite four hundreds in the series (two by Nick Compton and one apiece for Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook) and the consistency of Matt Prior the bottom line is that they have slumped in two first innings - the time when a Test match is set up. Cook's decision at the toss in Auckland can be debated all you want, but England should not have been bowled out for 204. His dismissal, with less than five overs of the day remaining, driving out of the rough against a part-time offspinner, was apt for a game he will want to the forget. That, though, cannot be allowed to happen.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 85 
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Posted by Dummy4 on (March 26, 2013, 3:30 GMT)

I like some of the comments in this thread. Why would the author speak like England are "special" and are expected to win ? They have been a mediocre team for more than a couple of decades..until they rose to number 1 in Tests briefly.. They have done some admirable things like beating Australia last time 3-1 in Australia and beating India in India 2-1. Besides that they rose to number 1 briefly due to winning series at home only. Even the 2-1 against India may have been impossible if the Indian selectors had played some of the promising players like S.Dhawan, M.Tiwary, M.Vijay, Rohit in the Test Team instead of playing losers like Sehwag and Gambhir. Also when England beat Aus. in Ausralia 3-1, Australia were ranked number 5, so what is the great achievement in beating a team ranked 5 ? It was "expected" of England...

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 26, 2013, 1:42 GMT)

How about looking at it from another perspective as opposed to the "England played terrible, England couldnt bat bowl or field in this series, England didnt turn up." What about "New Zealand have played some brilliant cricket!" Please some credit where credit is due, the fact is that NZ have outplayed and outclassed the English in this test series.

Posted by Chris on (March 26, 2013, 1:28 GMT)

Even SA isn't so far ahead of everyone as some are suggesting. Last summer only losing an entire day to rain and Australia losing their top fast bowler for most of the second test stopped Australia likely leading 2-0 in the series going into the final test.

Australia beat India 4-0 at home and then lost 4-0 away. That shows that unless England plan on preparing dustbowl pitches and playing two spinners that the India series can't really be used as any prediction of the Ashes.

England may have a bit more experience in the batting department, but guys like Warner and Hughes can score prolifically if they can get their heads in the right place. And I'd take Australia's fast bowling stocks over England's at the moment.

Could be a very interesting double Ashes series coming right up. I suspect it will be very close.

Posted by I on (March 26, 2013, 0:44 GMT)

It wasn't that long ago that England's opening pair of Cook and Strauss were fumbling around with their shoelaces to avoid facing another of Abdur Reman. Gul saw the light side of it then with a hole or two, but NZ supporters must feel nothing but pity for their opponents this time

Posted by Dean on (March 25, 2013, 23:33 GMT)

@NZcricket174, You are entitled to your opinion but you are probably the only person in the world who thinks Swann is our 3rd choice spinner. Despite Monty's success in Ind, but for the injury Swann would have played all 3 tetsts here. As he has been injured & has played no part in the series there is no way of knowing if he would have had a significant impact of the series. For what it's worth IMO Monty has struggled in this series since day 1 & I would like to have seen Treadwell get a game in Auckland, he's done really well in the odi's recently & can also bat a bit 2.

Posted by David on (March 25, 2013, 22:11 GMT)

@ GeoffreysMother. Right on - you nailed it there. I could not agree more.

Last year, before the SA tour of Eng, the press could not stop hyping the Eng bowlers as "the world's best attack." In the "Golden age of English cricket," SA were coming to "Fortress England" to be crushed by "the world's best attack." We heard this again and again and again. Reality of course hit home when the supposedly "world's best attack" could only manage to take 2 wickets at the Oval, and Eng suffered the most comprehensive defeat in test history.

It seems that the media have very short memories when it comest to the Eng team, and especially it's bowlers. Heck, a week or so ago the bloviating Botham was still insisting that Anderson is Steyn's equal, which is about as reality based as saying that Aus were on par with India.

All this bull does the players no good. Once they start believing their own press, the fall is not far off.

Posted by tom on (March 25, 2013, 22:00 GMT)

Yes, England need to blood some new bowlers for a very busy 15 months ahead. It doesn't look as if Anderson will keep going for the whole time even if he can start taking wickets again. Harris, Topley, Meaker and Roland-Jones all need decent time to work their way in to the side but playing your first games against a resurgent NZ team in May will not be an easy baptism, and the prospect of the Ozzies in July will not enthral. However one cannot see England challenging either of the antipodean sides at home this summer with the current attack. England need a "fire in the belly bowler" of the Flintoff / Botham ilk and they also happened to be terrific allrounders. New blood in the batting seems likely too after Bell and Bairstow have failed to set the wold alight this winter.

Posted by Baxter on (March 25, 2013, 21:59 GMT)

@JackieThePen I know what Bell was doing (i.e. batting out time). But he did it to such an extraordinary extreme it was, in my opinion, a poor innings. He played every ball with a dead bat and invited pressure, enabling McCullum to add more and more close-in catchers and allowing the bowlers to bowl attackingly, safe in the knowledge they would not be punished for loose balls. Why not bat cautiously, play risk-free shots, but push 1s and 2s here and there and the odd boundary, rotate the strike, make NZ work in the field, and release the pressure? As a senior batsman, he needed to help Cook wrestle some control back for England and force NZ to back off, but his negativity has now contributed to the loss of Cook and Finn. A tidy 25 or 30 not out off 90 balls would still have been batting out time AND it would have shown a less defeatist attitude.

Posted by David on (March 25, 2013, 21:57 GMT)

TheBigBoodha. You are dead right. Luck like that happens once in a blue moon. Australia could not believe their luck when Kallis broke down with a hamstring injury right after tearing into the Aus lineup, sending Cowan & Ponting back to the pavilion. Aus' luck of course had started much earlier, after SA were reduced to playing with 10 men in the 1st test after Duminy's tour ending injury. Then of course Philander could not play the second test. So SA were effectively 3 men down. Boy, did Aus get lucky. And even after all that luck they still choked, could not dismiss SA in Adelaide, and were then crushed, completely destroyed in Perth. I guess their once in a blue moon luck ran out when they lost the series after their Perth whipping. Yep - Australia certainly got lucky, but choked and could not seal the deal. Once in a blue moon luck and they blew it. Sad really - the old Aus would have never let such luck slip through their fingers.

Posted by Richard on (March 25, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

At least England know that we are superior to India and Australia, the two countries who think they are still one of the best teams. South Africa are of course, miles ahead, but England do come second. England have one bad (ish) series and everyone takes their chance to criticize.

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Andrew McGlashan Deputy Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.

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