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Match Analysis

To leave or not to leave: Mitchell and Blundell answer the question

Batters have not had it easy at Lord's but New Zealand pair strike perfect balance

Osman Samiuddin
Osman Samiuddin
03-Jun-2022
Daryll Mitchell and Tom Blundell an unbeaten 180 on day two after getting together at 4 for 56  •  Getty Images

Daryll Mitchell and Tom Blundell an unbeaten 180 on day two after getting together at 4 for 56  •  Getty Images

They couldn't even let as essentially unremarkable an act as leaving the ball alone, could they? No, these new batting whizzes had to come and start doing fancy things even with the leave.
It's leaving a cricket ball. Not home. It doesn't need drama. Line it up, make sure the off-stump is exactly where it was when you arrived - a tip: it hasn't moved - and leave it. Move on to the next ball. Don't name-check yourself, don't high-five yourself. Don't look back at the bowler like you've pulled him for six. Don't pretend it's Darth Vader and that this is a battle for the galaxy (looking squarely at you Marnus). Don't do the one where you've been beaten but by pulling the bat inside the line late, pretend that you left it.
You've left the ball. Do it with some decorum and move on. It's not difficult. A leave is not a win. It is not a loss. It is, in some way, the most basic element of batting and the game itself but that is it: it doesn't need sexing up.
Now Tom Latham, he does the leave right. He does it boring. Today he left 16 balls from the 33 he faced and sorry-not-sorry if in this Test writing about Tom Latham leaving feels not even like the slices of bread between which you mix the peanut butter and the jelly, but the plate that holds that sandwich. The plate is not the party.
It is useful though. You will definitely not remember any of his leaves - that's what ball-by-ball commentary is for. There are three leaves - all in a row - worth recalling if only for their unremarkability, to Matthew Potts in the innings' 10th over. The first of those was to a delivery that was wide, harmless and a little apologetic as it went through to Ben Foakes. The next was everything the first was not, a boast of a ball: nipping back in from some way outside off and not missing by much at all. The third landed the same but straightened.
Latham didn't light-sabre his way through any of these leaves. He played pretty much the exact same leave to each, designed in a way to make sure they will not be remembered. A little step, a little look and move on because there really is nothing to see here.
Latham is a serial leaver. He needs to be given he opens in New Zealand. Only Dom Sibley has left a higher percentage of deliveries from pacers (34.54% to Latham's 31.58%) in the last five years. The top five in that list is properly eclectic and it'll be difficult to find another place that houses Sibley, Latham, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Labuschagne together.
Leaving is - or should be - a dull, routine skill.
That said, it isn't an easy one, as the first day and a half of this Test has confirmed. Not on a surface like this and especially not with the quality of new-ball bowlers here - not for no reason were people recalling the Antigua Test of 2000, with the two Ws and Ambrose and Walsh together - for another occasion with such heft of fast-bowling quality and experience.
After all, seen in isolation, Foakes could have left the ball that he reached out to and edged to slip. Except it was Tim Southee, working a wider angle of release and the Lord's slope, so adeptly, the kind of thing he's done forever, that it can't have been easy for Foakes to just leave the ball.
Another thing about leaving is that it's unhelpful to view it as a binary equation, where leaving well makes a good batter and not leaving enough a poor one. Top of the list for leaves per 100 balls in England (against pace bowlers and a minimum of 300 balls faced) for instance is Labuschagne. On average he leaves 38 out of every 100 of those balls. He also averages over 73 in England. Next on the list is Sibley, who has left around 36 out of every 100 balls he's faced in England; he averages 27. At the bottom is Joe Root who leaves only 15 balls out of 100 but has scored more runs than anyone on the list and averages 42, behind only four others.
Root probably could've left the ball he got out to on the first day, except that it is precisely one of those shots that helps him live and breathe, one that is seeing him come off a record-breaking year.
Kane Williamson probably could've left the ball he got out to today. He isn't a big leaver. He's also desperate to get out of a rut and so he's chased one like he's chased a gazillion times before but this time, this time, he's just edged it and why not leave that one? Well, because that one shot might be the one that speeds away to the ropes and clicks everything back in place for him, that painful, chiropractor-administered crack in the back that actually kills the pain. Also because - let's not sugarcoat this - getting bat to ball is literally the one job any batter has.
By the last ball of the day, as Daryl Mitchell reached into a drive through to the extra cover boundary, to a ball that he might have left, this truism was shining through. Mitchell and Tom Blundell put ball to bat plenty as they turned this Test that's turned around so often already, one more time. That, as Blundell said later, was the plan. To show intent, to be positive, to play to our style, to reap the benefits of the sort of wicket where if you did show intent, runs would come.
By then, with both near hundreds, Mitchell had left 24% of the balls he faced from pacemen and Blundell less than 23%. Of course, the ball was softer, the bowlers tired, the pitch easing up and so leaving became both less important and easier. As an opener it helps to be able to leave well; lower down the requirement doesn't feel quite as urgent.
Still because both were in relatively early in the new ball's life, there needed to be some balance. Both had to negotiate mini-phases where the ball or bowler was doing enough; Blundell left well early and as late as the third-last over of the day, Mitchell was leaving impeccably off Potts.
The balance is delicate. "It's just knowing your areas, where you want to score," Blundell said. "For Daryl anything overpitched, both of us, we look to capitalise on anything overpitched. England bowled really well so it was just trying to be patient, and to keep bringing the bowlers back."
For all his impeccable leaving, Latham ultimately fell to one he probably could've left. Which is the final thing about leaving. It's fine. Until it isn't.

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo