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Match Analysis

New Zealand demonstrate bench strength ahead of World Test Championship final

Will Young, Matt Henry ponder return to drinks duty despite starring roles in Edgbaston win

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
If you want to know what sort of shape New Zealand's Test side is in right now, just ask Will Young.
Young, a top-order batter from Central Districts who has had to bide his time for an opportunity in international cricket, came into this series on the back of two hundreds in three innings for Durham in the County Championship, having signed an early-season deal to help him acclimatise to English conditions. After missing out on selection at Lord's despite those runs, he came into the side this week with Kane Williamson resting his sore left elbow.
Young was the top-scorer in this Test, with scores of 82 and 8, and was unfortunate not to be named player of the match. He was given an early reprieve in the first innings, dropped by Joe Root at first slip on 7, and was visibly furious after chopping on with five runs required in the second, but his willingness to dig in during tough periods - notably probing spells from Stuart Broad and James Anderson on the second afternoon - marked him out as a player well-equipped to succeed at this level.
And yet he is almost certain to find himself left out of the side for the World Test Championship final against India at the Ageas Bowl next week. Devon Conway has made an irrefutable case to open the batting alongside Tom Latham, while Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls are immovable in the middle order and Williamson and BJ Watling are both set to return for the showpiece.
What would England give to have a player of Young's temperament and record running the drinks for them? His first-class average of 42.68 compares favourably with that of a generation of England batters; of the side they fielded this week, only Joe Root and Ollie Pope's are significantly higher. New Zealand have won four and drawn three of their last seven Tests against England; for a country of five million people, their strength in depth is remarkable.
Matt Henry is in much the same boat as Young. He took the new ball following the decision to rest Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson ahead of the main event next week, and pipped Young and Trent Boult to the match award thanks to three wickets in each innings - five of them top-order (if not top-quality) batters. He is, in many ways, an English-style seamer, with no great pace but immaculate control of line in particular.
But like Young, he has very little chance of retaining his place next week barring injury, with Southee and Jamieson both due to return. Even Neil Wagner, the joint-fourth best Test bowler in the world according to the ICC's rankings, is not guaranteed a spot, given New Zealand's instinct towards balancing their side with an allrounder - most likely to be Colin de Grandhomme - at No. 7.
Like Young, Henry has benefitted from stints in county cricket, in particular with Kent in 2018, when he took more Championship wickets than anyone in the country with 75 at 15.48. For all the fingers pointed in its direction when England lose series like this, the county game is still seen as a finishing school overseas which has shaped the careers of a number of the world's best players.
"[Henry] was fantastic," Tom Latham, standing in for Williamson as captain, said. "We've got a bigger group [with us] and through a mixture of injuries and guys being rested for next week, those guys that came in certainly took their opportunity. Matt has been with the group for a long period and probably hasn't got the game time he would have wanted. For him to come in and put a performance on the board, that was really important, especially the work that he did yesterday with that new ball.
"It was amazing from a personnel change of six guys. That hasn't happened for a long time in this group and it has been a hard team to crack into. For all those guys to get that opportunity, Young, Henry, [Ajaz] Patel, was fantastic. They performed their roles really well.
"It was a complete team performance. Different guys stood up at different times. A lot of these guys have been around the group for a while and probably haven't played as much as they would have liked, but I think those experiences around the group in different conditions has held them in good stead."
Since their last series win in England back in 1999, New Zealand's away record against the top teams in the world has been abysmal: two wins in 50 matches in Australia, England, India and South Africa ahead of this tour. Making six changes - some through injury, some through rotation - did not speak of a team desperate to address that record but it was testament to their strength in depth that the quality of the side hardly dropped off.
Sixteen of the 20 wickets they took were shared between Boult, Henry and Ajaz Patel, none of whom played last week. For all the success of their seam attack, Patel returned match figures of 4 for 59 in 23 overs, demonstrating the folly of England's refusal to field a spinner in either Test on dry pitches that have offered them some assistance. With some rain in the forecast next week, New Zealand may be tempted to follow suit, but will surely reflect that Patel merits retention.
Patel is the picture of economy in his action, with five short paces at walking speed, a jump into his delivery side, and a single-step follow-through, and his control of line and length made him a potent weapon. While there may be a temptation to pick Mitchell Santner against India, if the cut on his finger heals in time, and field a four-man seam attack alongside him, Patel is far and away the better bowler in this format; if he is included, it is a toss-up between de Grandhomme and Wagner as to who should be left out.
Given India's remarkable win in Australia at the start of the year and the numbers of proven performers that New Zealand will leave out, it is clear that the final will be played not only between the two best Test teams in the world, but the two best Test squads.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98