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England's inauspicious start to Test cricket in 2013 was a consequence of their failure to bat well in conditions that should have reminded them of the beginning of the County Championship
March 7, 2013
It has not been a good week for England, but the second day in Dunedin comprehensively trumped the other setbacks. Beaten in Queenstown, they were then greeted yesterday with the news that their premier spinner, Graeme Swann, requires elbow surgery and, when play finally got underway at University Oval, they were bundled out for 167 by a left-arm quick who had three Tests under his belt and a debutant left-arm spinner.
If it had not been for the lush green outfield and packed banks around the ground it could almost have been Ahmedabad (191 all out), Galle (193 all out) or Dubai (192 and 160 all out), venues for England's three previous Tests tours that have started with defeat and been characterised by limp batting in the first innings. A partial defence to those displays is that they were in conditions far removed from home, but what faced them in Dunedin was straight out of the start of the English domestic season.
County cricketers, currently putting in the final month of preparation for the early April start to the County Championship, will expect conditions similar, if not tougher, than this; a breezy, chilly morning with some lingering cloud cover, a pitch that had been covered for close to 24 hours and the new ball in the hands of competent swing bowlers. To make it worse, apart from early on with the new ball, there was not much on offer for the seamers.
It is what England's batsmen have been schooled in, yet what followed over the next 55 overs was an opening-day performance as poor as any since Andy Flower took over. New Zealand bowled well, but this was not Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander or Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson. Bruce Martin will rarely pick up more gifted wickets. The end-of-play score suggests the No. 2 team in the world taking on the No. 8 - but not the way around that was expected
This is already shaping to the latest chapter in England's early series horror-shows overseas. Flower says it was one of his priorities when he took over to ensure the team did not always have ground to make up. However, excluding victory over Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2010 you have to go back to Port Elizabeth, in 2004, for the last time England began an away series with a win.
To turn this match around will go against history. On only 13 occasions have England won after making less than 167 batting first, and the most recent of those was 1979 against Australia at Sydney when they turned around a total of 152. This was also their lowest score batting first against New Zealand.
The way New Zealand moved to 131 without loss at the close - with a brand-new opening pair - was equally worrying for England and only went to highlight the wastefulness of their performance. They knew they would have to graft for success in India, and followed the lead of Alastair Cook, but today's performance smacked of a side that, at least subconsciously, expected things to come more easily.
The lack of a longer warm-up period will be cited as one reason for the collapse. Ideally every Test series would have a minimum two, if not three, first-class matches but conflicting demands on the schedules means those days have passed except ahead of Ashes campaigns. The players, too, are often not keen to tour for longer than they have to, so they can't have it both ways.
And, in reality, only two of England's top order were significantly short of time in the middle ahead of this series. Nick Compton made 21 and 1 in against the New Zealand XI while Kevin Pietersen only contributed 14 and 8. They both collected ducks on the second day, Compton bowled off a weak defensive shot and Pietersen trapped lbw first ball by an excellent delivery from Wagner, but in a top order where six of the top seven average over 40 that should not have been terminal.
It was the shot selection of the batsman who played themselves in that was most damaging for England. Cook, having just been dropped, picked out point; Ian Bell drove lazily to short cover; Matt Prior slapped to backward point; Jonathan Trott top-edged a sweep. Stuart Broad's slog sweep, which picked out the man pushed back to deep square that delivery, was head-in-hands moment but Broad's batting has regressed so much it did not come as a huge surprise.
Before the close England had Trott bowling with a single slip in place and a widely-spread field. One (horrendously) bad day does not have to define their year, but in 2012 their Test cricket took a dive after making a poor start against Pakistan in the UAE. This was not the statement England needed to make at the start of an Ashes year.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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