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Match Analysis

Fortress Edgbaston falls as England's not-so-fancy batters crash the party

One of the weakest batting line-ups fielded for years left England facing embarrassment

George Dobell
George Dobell
Dan Lawrence walks back for a duck as Joe Root looks on, England vs New Zealand, 2nd Test, Edgbaston, 3rd day, June 12, 2021

Dan Lawrence walks back for a duck as Joe Root looks on  •  Getty Images

Had the England team barged into a wedding, knocked over the cake and shouted "she's a goat!" they could hardly have pooped the party any more.
The Saturday of the Edgbaston Test was meant to be a celebration. A chance for England supporters to rejoice in the company of their fellow fan and revel in the chance to watch the national side at the ground they call their "fortress" for the first time in almost two years.
Instead, it became something approaching a wake. As England subsided to the brink of their first home Test series defeat since 2014 and their first against New Zealand this century, the dancing and chanting that filled the ground for the first couple of hours of the day gave way to shocked muttering and disgusted tutting.
It surely wasn't the party the throng of punters in fancy dress had anticipated. Instead we were treated to the surreal sight of a superfluity of nuns (presumably in fancy dress, it seems high risk to ask) sipping their pints in quiet reflection with some subdued lobsters (again, presumably fancy dress, though you do see some odd things floating about in Birmingham's canals). Still, nobody's fancy dress was less convincing than the England team. Some of them came as batters, after all.
There is some mitigation for England. It's not so much that they are without three first-choice players - New Zealand made six changes for this match, remember - or that this is an unusually young batting line-up. The side at Lord's included England's youngest top seven ever assembled for a home Test.
It's more that they are up against opponents who are simply better than them. New Zealand are terrific. They have enviable depth in their seam bowling, they put a high price on their wickets and they can catch the wind in the slip cordon. It is no disgrace to be beaten by them.
So, those in the Eric Hollies Stand chanting "Who are you?" as the New Zealand players not required for this game made their way back and forth to the training ground (yes, England have been thrashed by something approaching an A side), will hopefully know by now: they're a top side who, with a fraction of the resources available to England, have just given them a lesson in how to play Test cricket.
It's the hubris that's most grating with England. The hubris that thinks they can compete - and sell tickets, of course - with one of the best Test teams in the world while resting players having prioritised limited-overs cricket. The hubris that talks of their scouting system as if every eventuality has been considered and then picks a keeper who looks faintly astonished each time he manages to cling on to the ball. The hubris of a coaching system that, these days, allows batters to "work it out for themselves" and has resulted in some of the most technically deficient players to ever bat together in an England team.
There's a touch of hubris about having a coach for every discipline, too. That includes a spin-bowling coach for a side without a spinner and a fielding coach for a side that can hardly catch the bus. Statistics shown by Sky midway through the afternoon session showed that no Test team has a lower percentage of chances taken in the slips over the last three years. Given that England's keeper and fine leg fielder also dropped chances on Saturday and a picture emerges of a side that has been consistently poor in this regard.
You feel for England's bowlers. While for an hour or so on Saturday morning, even they lost the plot for a while - the first hour of the day was arguably England's most ragged in the field for a couple of years - they are generally admirably threatening and consistent.
But they are being given no chance by a batting line-up as fragile as poppadoms and, to bowling attacks around the world, just as easy to gobble up. It gives no time for James Anderson and co to recover between innings and no reasonable totals to try to defend. This England side contains two of the greatest seamers the country has ever produced and also perhaps its fastest ever bowler. Their efforts are being wasted by what may be the weakest batting line-up England have put out in many, many years.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, take a look at the career averages and compare it to other low points in their Test history. Apart from Joe Root, the one undisputed world-class batter in the side, nobody else averages as much as 34. Even when England were being thrashed 5-0 by West Indies in 1984, or Australia in 2006-07 and 2013-14, their line-ups contained several fine batters. Even when they lost to New Zealand in 1999 it looks stronger than this. You can take a look at the scorecards and names to make up your own mind.
The ECB knows the reasons for the fragility of the batting. Everyone one reading this knows the reasons. While the board continues to disrespect domestic first-class cricket - be it with the schedules, the regulations or the prioritisation of the limited-overs games - they will continue to struggle to produce batters with the skills and discipline for Test cricket. This is not rocket science; the ECB will reap what it sows.
There is no future in England pretending that the return of Ben Stokes will cure all ills. Of course he is a fine player who would boost any side. But the Top five England fielded here was the top five they have pencilled in to take-on India and Australia. It is unreasonable to expect Stokes to keep producing the miracles we saw at Leeds and Lord's to mask the deficiencies of his team-mates.
To be fair to England's selection, you can understand why they felt they needed an extra batter. They probably needed a dozen extra batters. And you can see why they didn't feel they needed a spinner on the fourth or fifth day. There's hardly going to be any play.
But there are very few positives to take from this performance. Not only is a proud home record about to be lost, but the arrival of India provides a real challenge in the next series. Australia won't be looking on with a chuckle any more; they'll be looking on worried that the Ashes is going to be uncompetitive. And if there's one thing English cricket hates more than Australian derision, it is Australian sympathy.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo