Broad and Taylor a tale of two comebacks
It had been ten months since New Zealand stepped out in front of a home crowd when the Twenty20 series against England began last week. The anticipation was high and the public were hoping the team could bury a tough two months of board-related mismanagement. At 1-1 after two matches it was promising, that was until the show rolled into Wellington where New Zealand had more than history against them.
Winning the toss in Wellington was a massive advantage. Having been put in, New Zealand had to buck the trend. No team has ever defended a score there in T20; 139 was always under-par and England's openers, Alex Hales and Michael Lumb, made it look tiny. History in this instance was insurmountable.
England outplayed New Zealand in the first encounter. They then out-executed England in the second and in the decider, England completely out-gunned the home side.
The series marked the return of Stuart Broad to the England team after the injury problems he suffered in India. This was his first outing in a T20 since the World T20 in October and first appearance in any format since second Test against India after which he was firstly omitted before injury struck again.
A lacerated fat pad in his left heel has been revealed as a problem he will carry throughout his career. However, he showed no signs of discomfort during the three T20s. In fact, he showed signs that the Broad of old was back. He bowled quickly, he bowled aggressively, and enjoyed considerable success with a career-best 4 for 24 in the first match and series-sealing 3 for 15 in the third. The only blemish was the middle encounter where he conceded the most expensive T20 figures by any bowler against New Zealand of 0 for 53.
Watching from the sidelines, there seems to be a slight change in Broad's action. His front arm is coming down closer to his body and his delivery stride is slightly shorter. The shorter the delivery stride the less likely he is to land on the heel of his left foot as it allows the bowler to land more "whole footed" than heal first, thus protecting his injury site.
This change in action goes against what England's bowling coaches, led by David Saker for the national team, have been suggesting as the ideal. They want to see long delivery strides, based on a study that says that is the method employed by most international fast bowlers. I always disagree with trying to turn bowlers into something that they're not. The truer tests for Broad, though, will come in the longer formats, first the ODIs and then especially the Tests.
The T20s also brought the return of Ross Taylor to New Zealand colours. It has been a tough two-month period dealing with the fall-out of his poor treatment and management from the organisation that, you'd think, he could trust the most, and would treat him accordingly, New Zealand Cricket.
He was welcomed back to international stage by standing ovations rarely heard before by New Zealand cricketing crowds. The Auckland crowd, especially, provided an emotional atmosphere for one of the country's best batsmen.
Alas, the ovations and warmth showed by the public couldn't be backed up with performances in the middle by Taylor. Scores of 13, 4 and 6 were all he could muster, and dropping two catches in Auckland showed his focus wasn't quite back to its best.
The nerves surrounding the comeback for Taylor must have been an issue. Treated horribly by NZC, welcomed back so warmly by the public and then not being able to perform at his best will eat away at him for a while to come. But there is no time to reflect, regroup and rethink; the ODI series is already upon is
There will be talk that Taylor should have been sent back to his province to find form. This would have been the wrong move. The gap between the levels, especially the level of bowling this English team provides, would have made domestic success largely irrelevant to the international scene. The ODIs, where strike-rate and time are less of an issue for a longer period, should provide Taylor the best preparation for the Test series.
New Zealand were not even close to their best in the field, dropping a total of eight catches in the three T20 matches. This has to improve. Conversely, it would be hard to pick a better fielding team than this current England side.
We are now back in Hamilton, the scene of New Zealand's success, for the start of the one-day series. England welcome back some big names - Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Jonathan Trott, James Anderson and Graeme Swann. New Zealand can't afford any more off days.
Fast bowler Iain O'Brien played 22 Tests, 10 ODIs and four T20s for New Zealand in the second half of the 2000s