Players are always talking about the brand of cricket they’re looking to play, trying to make it sound like there’s some lofty aesthetic ideal with which they should be associated. No-one ever talks about playing a squalid brand of cricket and more’s the pity. Squalid, low-scoring cricket that’s decided by fifties and run-outs and thick edges to third man is marvellous stuff.
Hard-fought fifties used to be a thing. This was because they contributed something valuable. However, in recent years, the hard-fought fifty has been replaced by the ‘missed opportunity’. The numbers are the same, but the perception is different. In many Test matches, 50 or 60 runs feels neither here nor there.
In this Test, 50 or 60 runs from someone could potentially swing the match. This struck us yesterday when Brendon McCullum was batting. People perceive McCullum as being a man well-suited to his time because he’s an attacking batsman (as if that’s a modern phenomenon), but he’s an attacking batsman who tends to make quick fifties rather than whopping great hundreds. Once upon a time, he would have regularly tipped the balance and secured New Zealand Test wins with his scores. In this era, the same contributions tend to be something more akin to light relief. They don’t affect the story. They’re just pleasant distractions for a short period of time.
We rather like the fifty taking centre stage. More of this kind of thing.5 Appeals
We generally approve of England’s somewhat one-dimensional approach to top order batting. However, the fact that it’s highly appropriate for the current era doesn’t mean it’s always the best approach. Against equally patient bowling attacks, it can result in stand-offs less spectacular than when two cats spend three-quarters of an hour looking everywhere but at each other.
Many fielding sides have grown weary and moved to Plan B in the face of the numbing barrage of obduracy delivered by the England top order, but New Zealand aren’t like that – we’re not entirely sure they have a Plan B. The nature of their bowlers means Plan A can be delivered consistently. Cut from the same hardwearing grey cloth as England’s batting line-up, the Kiwi bowling attack doesn’t scythe through batting orders, but nor does it try to.
What do you do in the face of this? Fight lukewarm water with lukewarm water?
While it’s comforting to see your nation’s cricketing representatives taking their job seriously, sometimes you need a bit of irresponsibility to open a match up. Not too much; just a touch. In fact just enough to keep full-blown, overcompensatory irresponsibility at bay (Nick Compton, we’re looking at you).
There are times when a little proactivity is required, but Kevin Pietersen is the only upper order England batsman prone to trying to set his own field. The others play according to what they are presented with.
Today, a slow outfield reduced the likelihood of boundaries and run-scoring was further stymied by the fact that this allowed more fielders to be placed saving singles. So perhaps today wasn’t the day for proactivity. Perhaps watchfulness was the correct approach and 160-4 is less underwhelming than it seems. Perhaps open-ended closing paragraphs are unsatisfactory.23 Appeals
If you haven’t already seen, Jesse Ryder is in an induced coma after being assaulted. He has a fractured skull.
We aren’t going to write too much about this, because the site is the wrong tone for that kind of news and therefore it just doesn’t seem appropriate. For similar reasons, we’d like to ask that news outlets refrain from using Twitter updates instead of actual quotes when reporting on this story. It’s a habit they’ve got into when covering cricket, but sport can accommodate the throwaway nature of a tweet far more comfortably.
We’ve read several reports of the Ryder incident which have republished tweets, such as this one from the official New Zealand Cricket Twitter feed:
The whole NZC team’s thoughts are with @dijaryder this morning.
— BLACKCAPS (@BLACKCAPS) March 27, 2013
It really undermines the message when you see the stupid Twitter handle. Plus, it just doesn’t seem sufficiently earnest to use Twitter at all. When players tweet that their thoughts are with him, it almost feels like an advert for their compassion because they’re broadcasting their feelings, rather than sending them more directly.
We’re sure that’s not the intention; it’s just the nature of the medium – which is precisely why it’s better to keep that jarring tonal shift away from news reports.19 Appeals
Talk of an England win has been unjustifiably common during this Test. You never know what’s likely to happen in a match, but you can tailor conversation according to likelihood and at no point has an England victory seemed probable. Even talking about how they could possibly engineer a winning situation from the difficult positions they’ve found themselves in has been to remain wilfully blind to reality. A draw was appearing a fairly lofty aim from quite early on.
We’re fond of saying that averages only tell you what has already happened and that certainly applies here. Brendon McCullum only averages 30-odd with the bat, but he’s made England miserable all series without reaching three figures. Peter Fulton’s average has only reached the thirties thanks to a hundred in each innings of this match, but that kind of a contribution is a great deal more meaningful in terms of the series than what Ian Bell did against Pakistan in 2006.
We’re increasingly feeling like Ian Bell is a kind of barometer of form for England. We often talk about a team winning when one particular player performs well, but when Ian Bell plays badly, England are terrible. Or is it the other way round? It’s almost as if he responds to the pervading air of underachievement and thinks: “Right, time for eight off 89 balls.”
Bell’s still in, of course, but his obduracy seems less like resilience and more like the foreshadowing of a collapse – a contributory factor, even, if it brings unwarranted nervousness to the young batsmen who follow him.
Good luck to Bell and good luck to England, because they’ll need it. Whatever their averages, New Zealand’s bowlers have threatened England’s batsmen almost all series.32 Appeals
He has one of our favourite nicknames in international cricket, so we’re secretly slightly pleased that Peter Fulton scored a hundred against England because it means he should get a few more matches. Set against that is the fact that he was averaging 23 before the first day’s play, so you can’t say it was a particularly good day for England after opting to bowl.
There have been worse insertions, but ‘insertion’ is a noun which covers some unsavoury concepts, so that’s not saying much. That said, wiser men than us have highlighted the fact that drop-in pitches such as this often get flatter as the match wears on, which doesn’t bode particularly well for the weekend’s entertainment. Or maybe England were just crap and wickets will tumble when they come to bat.
However things pan out, Peter Fulton didn’t put a foot wrong. And with seven of them at his disposal, that means he’s still got plenty of room for manoeuvre.10 Appeals
You see what happens? You see what happens? This is what happens. This is what happens when you goad Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god who loves Test cricket.
Tlaloc has really been looking forward to the series between New Zealand and England, but then he found out about the schedule and flipped out.
“Four days between Tests?” said Tlaloc. “We’ll see about that.”
He’d been planning on holding out just a few more days before ending the drought that has bedevilled North Island but when he found out that the gap between the second and third Tests was again just four days, the same as between the first and second Tests, he moved things forwards.
Tlaloc likes to have time to dissect one Test match and then some more time to anticipate the next.12 Appeals
Some believe that Brendon McCullum’s decision to bowl in Wellington was partly as a result of his decision to bat and then bowl on the first morning of a Test against South Africa at the start of the year. If so, he’s an idiot.
The other alternatives are (1) that it was a reasonable decision that was in no way vindicated by his bowlers, who may as well have been bowling in wellingtons as in Wellington or (2) that England batted well.
Bearing in mind that Jonathan Trott and Nick Compton both scored hundreds, maybe it’s the kind of pitch on which steady, watchful batsmen score runs, in which case it probably wasn’t wise to insert England with their top three.
It’s not so much that Trott enjoys batting – which is what everyone always says about him. It’s more that he enjoys being at the crease. He’s perfectly happy to deny himself many of the more enjoyable aspects of batting if it will allow him to be at the crease for longer.
Trott will be sleeping well, not because he has scored a hundred, but because he knows he will be at the crease from the first ball in the morning. As far as he’s concerned, life is perfect.
For his part, Brendon McCullum is probably enduring a nightmare in which he sees a double-headed coin spinning through the air shortly after he has called ‘heads’.7 Appeals
There’s a lesson for everyone here. Hamish Rutherford has just middled we don’t know how many deliveries for four through the covers in one of those clean, brutal innings you can’t help but admire. And yet a year ago, he couldn’t even get a game for Otago. How did he turn it around?
“There were a few dark times, things go through your head. But I started working in a coffee shop and doing some bar work and started to find more enjoyment out of playing cricket as opposed to looking at it solely as a job.”
You see – coffee and beer is the route to success. Or maybe the lesson is that motivation can be forged through having a really shit job. Either way, something for us all to cling to there.
On a slow pitch with little movement, Hamish Rutherford has looked magic. There’s a great deal more to Test batting than that, but it doesn’t apply in this match.6 Appeals
Brendon McCullum’s captaincy was soiled at birth due to having arrived via the feculent womb of Mike Hesson, but just because Hesson’s man management skills are staggeringly inept, doesn’t mean McCullum is a bad captain.
Commentators always talk about asking questions of a batsman. This is rarely a verbal thing (and even when it is, the questions are usually rhetorical). Instead, we infer the questions the bowler appears to be asking using the ball. They’re usually things like “Can you judge when a ball’s going to hit your off stump?” or “Have you learnt to defend or dodge the short ball?”
It’s hard to judge field settings on TV, because half the time you can’t always see what’s going on, but we got the impression that New Zealand’s questions derived from the field settings more than what was being bowled. The bowlers did much the same thing with each delivery but McCullum tinkered with the field to alter the balance between risk and reward for the batsman. He would add a gully or leave an inviting gap and he seemed to change things frequently so the batsman was forever having to recalculate what they should and shouldn’t do.
It’s the kind of approach you use when the opposition are 200-0 and the ball’s doing nowt. It’s not Plan A.
It’s not Plan A because an intelligent, switched-on batsman should always be able to weigh that risk-reward balance and play appropriately. That England manifestly failed to do this says a lot.
Learning to answer questions
Andy Flower admits that England weren’t properly prepared when they arrived in the UAE last year. Supposedly, they learnt from this and we’re meant to believe that the series victory in India is proof of this. But is it?
Maybe they learnt to play spin better, but did they also learn how to prepare properly? The lesson from the UAE wasn’t ‘prepare properly when you’re about to face spin’ it was ‘prepare properly’.
Maybe it’s unfair to make these judgements at this early stage, but we feel like we’ve just seen a combination of one-day batting and rusty thoughtlessness. Test cricket isn’t just about facing fast bowlers and mystery spin. Challenges come in many forms, as McCullum has shown.
It’s not enough to think your team is full of ‘class’ and that this is all you need. When good players play badly, your team will be soundly beaten and in a three-Test series, you don’t really want to go one down – if only because that makes Mike Hesson look good and nobody’s happy about that.11 Appeals
Are you a cricket writer working for a national newspaper? Are you struggling to find something to write after day one of the first Test between New Zealand and England was washed out?
Have no fear, after spending almost a full minute looking at photos on Cricinfo, we can exclusively bring you all the gossip.
- Kevin Pietersen was spotted travelling on the most selfish form of transport in the world, spurring rumours of further ructions in the England camp.
- Brendon McCullum was seen spending time with his family. The existence of an actual family raises serious questions as to whether McCullum feels that the New Zealand cricket team are ‘like family’ – something all captains are obliged to think. This revelation is even more damning when you consider that the New Zealand cricket team frequently features his brother.
- There was a rare sighting of reserve umpire Chris Gaffaney. Everybody was thrilled.
Finally, in related news, this happened.10 Appeals