England, VS New Zealand

The last time New Zealand won a Test series in England, back in 1999, England’s fans crowded the outfield and shouted “what a load of rubbish” and “we’re shit and we know we are” at the captain, Nasser Hussain, during his post-match interview. The mood was a little more forgiving this time, not because England were any better – they weren’t – but because the opposition were. In ’99 the result dropped England to the bottom of the world rankings. This time it pushed New Zealand to the top of them.

While England were settling down to the grim business of their postmortem, New Zealand’s plan was to take a couple of days to celebrate, then start preparing for the World Test Championship final against India in Southampton next week. As one of their journalists put it in a question to the stand-in captain, Tom Latham, the team “have bigger fish to fry”. Latham was too polite to agree with him, but the truth is this summer England find themselves in the awkward position of being the third-best Test team in their own country.

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They have just been thrashed by a team who were missing their captain and star batsman, Kane Williamson, their wicketkeeper, BJ Watling, and their senior bowler, Tim Southee. In essence they have been beaten by a Second XI from a country who have barely a quarter as many professional players, run by a board with a turnover around an eighth of what the England and Wales Cricket Board rakes in.

Joe Root said he thought his batsmen could learn from the way the opposition played their cricket in these past two weeks. They are not the only ones who could benefit from studying the way they are doing things in New Zealand. The coaches and administrators might take a few notes too.

After the match Latham summed up New Zealand’s approach as “keep it simple”. It is about “guys trying to perform their roles as best they can and always putting the team first,” he said, “and trying to go out there and play a brand of cricket that we’re proud of as Kiwis.”

Devon Conway’s application and resilience offers lessons to England.
Devon Conway’s application and resilience offers lessons to England. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

There is something refreshingly straightforward about it all. Play straight, play late, understand who you are and what you’re trying to do, worry about the game in front of you. In comparison, English cricket right now seems over-complicated.

One can see it in the bizarrely muddled techniques of their young batsmen, and the stark contrast between how they play and the way New Zealand’s more inexperienced players such as Devon Conway and Will Young went about their work.

It is there, too, in the incomprehensible rest-and-rotation strategy that left some of England’s best Test match players – Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali – playing Twenty20 cricket this week. Woakes is being rested even though he has bowled only 21 competitive overs in the past nine months, and Buttler has been turning out for Lancashire while the hapless James Bracey flaps around behind the stumps.

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And it’s in the team selection, which left their leading wicket-taker this year, Jack Leach (who has taken 28 in six games while no one else has managed more than 17), plugging away in the nets while Root and Dan Lawrence were filling in for him bowling part-time spin on a turning pitch.

It is there in the schedule, which has left their out-of-form batsmen with exactly two first-class matches before the start of the five-match series against India in August because the rest of the summer has been cleared out to make room for a new competition designed to appeal to people who don’t like cricket but might if only it was a slightly different sort of sport from the one it is. All of this seems unnecessarily complex. None of it makes much sense.

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Latham spoke with simple pride about the set-up back home. “The standard of domestic cricket we have back home allows guys to be challenged at first-class level and then come on to the international stage and perform straight away, and that shows our domestic cricket is in a really strong spot.”

He makes it all sound pretty straightforward. For the Test side he traced their success back to a decision made by the senior leadership team in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup. “We went through a bit of a change a few years ago,” he said. “It was six or seven years ago the leadership group sat down and decided that we wanted to try to play a brand of cricket that was true to us as Kiwis.” It’s about “trying to enjoy our cricket, enjoy each other’s company, and putting the team first, and that’s something we still hold true. So for us it’s been a massive shift”.

England could do with one of those too. And the World Cup in 2019 was their opportunity. Only two years later everything seems to be even more messy and confusing.

Source : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2021/jun/13/england-left-trailing-on-and-off-pitch-by-clear-thinking-new-zealand

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