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March 17, 2013
If England's pace bowlers came to New Zealand hoping for pitches with a bit of life and nice carry for the Tests, they will have been disappointed. By accident or design, the slow surfaces have made for some attritional cricket and, coupled with weather that has deteriorated faster than the pitches, it has meant some long stretches in the field.
A week ago, it was New Zealand feeling the strain after a 170-over stint in Dunedin and now it is England's turn. The pace bowlers lacked vigour on the fourth day in Wellington with the overs racking up against each of their names. The main concern has surrounded James Anderson, who has spent the last two days regularly stretching his back, but it is being put down to the aches and pains of the day job rather than anything more serious.
"Injury-wise, he's fine," David Saker, the England bowling coach, said. "I think he's just struggling for a little bit of rhythm. The high standards he sets, he'd probably say he's below his best at the moment. Test cricket's a hard game, and it takes its toll on fast bowlers. He knows how hard it is, and I think he'll be fine.
"Some days you just have to go out there and get on with the job, and not complain about it. We're not complaining about it. Some days you're going to be sore, but that's the job."
This Wellington pitch is far from the springy, seaming surface where James Anderson made his comeback in 2008. In New Zealand, there has been a trend towards slower, lower Test pitches which are certainly in contrast to the surfaces on show for the Twenty20s and ODIs earlier this tour which often flew through to make for compelling action.
New Zealand have probably seen slower wickets as a way of narrowing the gap between the two sides especially after the confidence-sapping performance during the Tests in South Africa. Some of their batsmen were also uncomfortable against the bounce of Steven Finn during the ODIs. That is what home advantage entitles you to, and there is nothing wrong with it, but seam bowling is also one of New Zealand's strengths and perhaps could have been backed a little more. For them, England's 167 in Dunedin is appearing to be an anomaly.
"If you watched the Twenty20 and one-day games, they were played on very good and fast wickets - which produced some good cricket," Saker said. "The two Test wickets we've played on have been quite opposite to that.
"I don't know whether that's something that New Zealand Cricket would put out, or just the way the wickets are. Just from where I'm sitting, I always like to see the ball get through and the batsmen playing off both front and back foot ... seeing catches behind the wicket always excites me."
Finn has been the most disappointing of England's pacemen in this series - in contrast to his new-found batting status - and while Saker admitted he would enjoy from more life in the pitches he also knows it is part of the development process Finn has to go through.
"He would benefit from a wicket that bounces a bit as well, but he has to learn as well to get the batsmen coming forward, and try to get them out that way," he said. "He again is probably struggling a little bit, with his rhythm. He's started with a new run-up, and is still a young player trying to find his way in Test cricket. We're pretty patient with him, and we're going to stay that way."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala