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England v New Zealand, 2015

A review of England v New Zealand, 2015

Simon Wilde
Alastair Cook acknowledges the applause for his record, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, May 30, 2015

Alastair Cook acknowledges the applause after becoming England's leading run-scorer in Tests  •  Getty Images

Test matches (2): England 1, New Zealand 1. One-day internationals (5): England 3, New Zealand 2. Twenty20 international (1): England 1, New Zealand 0
Back in 1999, England's home defeat by New Zealand left them languishingat the foot of the Wisden World Championship, the precursor to the ICC's official rankings. It was a humiliation that gave Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain, the new coach and captain, a mandate for change, and the revival of the Test team was launched. Sixteen years on, New Zealand again acted as acatalyst, but of a different kind: confronted by a team playing in the cavalier image of their captain, Brendon McCullum, England felt emboldened, not tosay obliged, to up the tempo themselves.
Before the tour had ended seven weeks later, New Zealand - who had contributed to England's winter of crisis by handing out a World Cup hammering in Wellington in February - were feeling the backlash.The early signs, though, had not been encouraging. Over the weekend of New Zealand's arrival at the start of May, England were crashing to defeat in the final Test in the West Indies; and, as the tourists began their first warm-up game in Taunton, reports were emerging of Peter Moores's sacking as head coach during the one-day trip to Dublin. With Andrew Strauss, the ECB's new director of England cricket, handed the task of rebooting their one-day game, and the clock running down to the Ashes, the matches with New Zealand acquired immense significance.
English cricket was on trial, all the more so because Strauss had ruled out are turn for Kevin Pietersen just after he had apparently bolstered his case with a triple-century for Surrey. As McCullum - whose New Zealand side appeared as settled and confident as England looked fragile and uncertain - was committed to his ultra-positive style, both teams were set on risking all. The confluence proved glorious, producing arguably the most memorable cricket seen in the first half of an English summer since the twin-tour schedule was expanded in 2000.
If the style of play was one joy, and the good spirit between the teams another, the public's positive response was an additional boon. Having spent 18 months being ridiculed for mismanagement off the field and wild inconsistency on it, England were finally back in favour - not necessarily because they were winning (though, overall, they claimed five victories to New Zealand's three), but because they were playing with a smile and sense of adventure. As England turned things round on the fourth and fifth days of the Lord's Test, and later raised the heat in the opening one-day international at Edgbaston, the overriding sentiment among onlookers was incredulity.Entertainment evidently counted for as much as results, at least against opponents who inspired little of the antipathy usually reserved for Australia.
Several key New Zealanders, including McCullum, joined the tour late from the IPL. But, with the nature of Tests and limited-overs matches fast converging, this seemed increasingly irrelevant. A lack of conventional preparation - the IPL players took red Dukes balls to India for net practice -hardly affected New Zealand at Lord's, where they were on top until the fourth morning. Indeed, England had used one-day methodology to extract them selvesfrom a precarious situation on the first day, when Joe Root and Ben Stokes -doing what came naturally to them - went on a rampaging counter-attack during a stand of 161. In the second innings, with the contest again in the balance, Stokes struck the fastest Test hundred seen at Lord's. Credit went to Paul Farbrace, England's acting-coach, for promoting him back to No. 6 and encouraging the players to express themselves, regardless of the consequences.
Stokes's second-innings runs also contributed to a large crowd on the last day,previously unheard of in May. Again he gave them plenty to cheer about,removing Kane Williamson and McCullum with successive balls. Marlon Samuels's mock salute in the Caribbean had given way to salutes of admiration from Root. New Zealand then won the Headingley Test in stunning fashion - a huge collective effort typified by superior fielding and a scoring-rate of 4.92, unequalled by any side topping 750 runs in a Test. Their haste was such that losing the equivalent of a day to rain did not matter. It was the first two-match series to breach 3,000 runs.But the frenzy had only just started. The England selectors, with some long-distance input from Trevor Bayliss - who was preparing to take over as head coach in time for the Ashes - threw caution to the wind and retained only seven of the one-day squad that had exited the World Cup at the group stage.
As Farbrace said, playing against New Zealand was perfect for England as they strove to forge a new philosophy: McCullum's attacking fields meant they had no alternative but to attack. Absolved of blame if things went wrong,the players followed the instruction to the letter. The transformation was astonishing, quickly burying the bad news of Headingley. The charge was led by the unshackled World Cup survivors. Eoin Morgan (shrewdly retained as captain by Strauss), Jos Buttler and Root hit three of England's six fastest one-day hundreds, and played prominent parts in their highest total (408 for nine at Edgbaston), their highest total batting second (365 for nine at The Oval, in 46 overs), and their highest successful chase (350for three at Trent Bridge, in just 44).
Less established members of the squad joined in the fun, too. Openers JasonRoy and Alex Hales laid the groundwork for the chase in Nottingham with 100 in 10.4 overs, while Sam Billings produced attractive cameos at Southampton and Chester-le-Street, full of thoroughly 21st-century stroke play. Adil Rashid justified his selection with bat and ball: encouraged to take wickets and forget about conceding runs, he put himself into the frame for the Ashes. So did MarkWood, who across the three formats bowled more overs for England than anyone; his 50-over economy-rate of 5.23 was the best on either side. With his infectious fooling around, he epitomised England's new laissez-faire attitude.
Jonny Bairstow, summoned at short notice to keep wicket in the deciding one-day international in Durham, following an injury to Buttler, swiftly caught the mood, winning the game from the unlikeliest of positions with an unbeaten 83 from 60 balls. Many wondered why none of this had happened under Moores.The upshot was that New Zealand, one of the world's strongest and most seasoned one-day sides, were outgunned and - after taking a 2-1 lead - beaten 3-2. Even so, their own batsmen were no slouches: Williamson (396 runs from No. 3) and Ross Taylor (375 from No. 4) were powerful presences, always contributing at least 42 each, while Williamson added another half-century in the one-off Twenty20 game in Manchester, though England won again.
McCullum the batsman had a relatively quiet tour. He occasionally showed the attacking spirit for which his side had become famous, never more so than when hitting the first delivery he faced during the Headingley Test over cover for six. But he fared best when adopting a more orthodox approach. His only half-century in ten international innings came at Headingley, where he helped put the game beyond England's reach. It was a measure of Wood's potential that his bustling pace accounted for McCullum five times in all formats. David Willey, the Northamptonshire all-rounder, displayed a similar knack for dismissing good players, claiming Martin Guptill, Williamson and Taylor twice each with the white ball.
In mitigation, New Zealand lost Trent Boult, their most dangerous bowler,to injury mid-tour, just as they had in 2013; his nine wickets represented the best haul by a left-arm fast bowler in a Lord's Test. Tim Southee looked less potent without him after the second one-dayer, and failed to build on his sensational return of seven for 33 against England during the World Cup. New Zealand were also still coming to terms with the retirement of Daniel Vettori,although all-rounder Mitchell Santner's left-arm spin came in handy. With McCullum declining to confirm his future in 50-over cricket, there was a sense that England might have caught a New Zealand one-day side coming down the other side of the hill.
The statistics confirmed the extraordinary nature of the one-day games, with records set in a five-match series for most runs (3,151) and sixes (76), and highest run-rate (7.15). On July 5, less than a fortnight after the tour had ended with a Twenty20 match at Old Trafford, the ICC's amended regulations governing ODIs came into force, scrapping the batting powerplay, and allowing a fifth fielder outside the ring in the final ten overs. But, for exhausted bowlers in both sides, change had come too late. Both teams emerged with some satisfaction, and a drawn Test series meant neither suffered the injustice of dropping to seventh in the rankings. At Leeds,New Zealand had recorded their first Test victory in England since 1999, in the process extending their unbeaten run to seven series, which began after their defeat here in 2013. On this evidence, they deserved better than to provide the warm-up act in an English summer.
England, meanwhile, had beaten New Zealand at home in a one-day series for the first time since 1994.The fortunes of the captains formed a major subplot. McCullum was feted for his enterprising captaincy, but his eagerness to attack sometimes proved detrimental to New Zealand's cause (as it had in the World Cup final). When,for example, Stokes cut loose on the fourth day at Lord's, Southee was suckered into trying to bounce him out, and simply fed a strength. The next day, with 345 needed to win and 77 overs left, New Zealand's front-foot approach continued even after the loss of both openers for ducks. Even after McCullum was out first ball, Corey Anderson struck a breezy fifty.
When Boult was last to go, upper-cutting to third man, only 57 balls remained. Had they been less carefree, New Zealand might have saved the game, and left Cook facing questions about why he had not declared. Cook's own 162 in England's second innings confirmed that his runs in the West Indies were no fluke. At Headingley, he overtook his mentor Graham Gooch as England's leading Test run-scorer, then became the youngest man to reach 9,000. He conceded that his remedial work in the nets with Gooch and Gary Palmer, the former Somerset all-rounder, following his omission from the World Cup, had done him a lot of good. No longer needing to manufacture runs outside off stump, as he had been obliged to do in the one-day game, here accustomed himself to leaving the ball, forcing New Zealand's attack to come to him instead.His revival was mirrored by Morgan's, who rediscovered his best touch.Seemingly weighed down with worry at the World Cup, he now went for his shots like an ex-drinker who had fallen off the wagon.
His tally of 16 sixes was an England record for a one-day series or tournament. In private, Cook and Morgan might both have conceded that the change of coaching regime hadbenefited them.Nothing encapsulated the good spirit of the tour better than the warmth between the opposing captains. McCullum said he had texted Cook during his troubles in 2014 to wish him well, while he and Morgan had developed a close friendship at the IPL. They knew each other's games - McCullum set fields that almost parodied Morgan's favourite scoring areas, such as four men square on the off side - and chatted amiably at the end of the final one-dayer.
New Zealand left with reasons to be cheerful. Williamson's masterly century at Lord's confirmed his reputation as his country's next great batsman, and possibly their finest ever. Martin Guptill (whose Test scores were 70, 0, 0, 70) justified his recall after a two-year absence. Aknee injury to B-J.Watling at Lord's led to a hugely successful double change at Leeds: playing purely as a batsman, he scored his side's first century in eight Tests there, while LukeRonchi, who took over the gloves, treated his debut like a one-dayer and smashed 88 off 70 balls.Off-spinner Mark Craig recovered from a poor match at Lord's to show that England did not possess a monopoly in useful lower-order all-rounders, scoring 41 and 58, both unbeaten, taking three catches at second slip and returning match figures of 57.5-24-121-5. His tidy spell on the second afternoon at Headingley was one of the few moments of the tour when the batsmen did not have it all their own way.

Simon Wilde is cricket correspondent of the Sunday Times