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Cricket news - Old problems plague England in new dawn
This was supposed to be a fresh start. A new coach, a new game plan. Some new players and a new balance. A series victory against the number two ranked team in the world, away from home, where New Zealand had won ten of their previous 12 Tests was always going to be a tough ask. But if England couldn't get a win, some discernible improvement or a binning of their bad old ways would make up for it. Such has been their disastrous overseas record that expectations are so low. Instead, rather than a new beginning, England simply reverted to type.
That will disappoint new head coach Chris Silverwood most. There is certainly no disgrace losing to this fine New Zealand team but to do it in this manner, displaying the same frailties that have come to define this England side away from home, will not have been the way he wanted to begin his time in charge. Having been part of the coaching set up for two years, Silverwood would have known the task on his hands when he took over the job. This game will not have been an eye opener. It will simply have reminded him of the job ahead.
Aside from the first day, when England batted diligently to get to the close just four wickets down, this was the same old, the same old. A rash of poor strokes on the second morning undid all the hard work of the previous day and a total of 353 proved well under par on a surface which was, for the first four days at least, a belter to bat on. At home, when the ball moves appreciably for England's bowlers, a score of 300 to 350 gets them in the game. Overseas, on benign surfaces, that sort of score barely gets you a ticket to dance. England have still only passed 400 four times in their first innings since the beginning of Joe Root's captaincy.
The need to bat long away from home is not some remarkable new revelation. When Jos Buttler said at the end of day four that England needed to learn the lesson that BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner had given them - the one about batting and batting and batting... and batting - you wondered what England have been doing over the past four winters as the likes of Kohli, Smith, Holder, Dowrich and Nair have racked up massive scores. Why haven't England already learnt these lessons? How many times do they need to be reminded? The time for saying that England need to learn their lessons is surely over.
Once the advantage was given away with the bat, England's bowling was a caricature of their efforts of the 2016 series in India, or the 2017/18 series in Australia or last winter's trip to West Indies. Each of those series was defined by England's inability to take wickets and it led to some chastening days in Chennai, Perth and Bridgetown. To that list, can now be added Mount Maunganui.
In mitigation, the docile pitch certainly played a part. There was precious little in it on days three and four for quicks or spinners but can you imagine India's pace attack getting out of it as little as England's did? Or Australia's for that matter. Root's team spent more than 200 overs in the field for just nine wickets and even a couple of them were gifted to them as New Zealand looked for a declaration. With all due respect to Santner, for England to allow him to bat for 269 balls, no matter the state of the pitch, is quite something.
Despite the welcome variety in their attack, England lacked any sort of cutting edge. Jack Leach held an end up admirably enough but found hardly any turn and looked ineffectual as a result. There remain questions about the effectiveness of Sam Curran's medium pace when the ball doesn't move laterally. Jofra Archer's speeds were up and down. Stuart Broad, for all his toil, hardly looked like taking a wicket. There were some strange decisions too, such as not bowling Archer first up on day three or holding back Ben Stokes for much of the third day. Of course, England's bowlers might have fared better bowling to the more generous English batsmen.
And so then, to England's second innings. The nadir that was always coming. England have been in this situation time and time again, having to bat out the final day to save a game. They couldn't do it at Edgbaston or Old Trafford during the Ashes and they couldn't do it here either. But again, it was the manner of their implosion that galled more than the implosion itself. Of the top seven, only Joe Denly did not play a poor shot to be dismissed. Joe Root played his second of the game. So too did Ben Stokes. So too did Ollie Pope. Jos Buttler left a ball that was only ever going to hit the stumps. New Zealand bowled with excellent discipline and skill, and the pitch was not easy, but England threw wickets away, much as they had in the first innings.
No doubt England will want to take the positives from this game. But are there any? A few minor ones, perhaps, but they are in clutching at straws territory.
Admittedly, this is the first Test of a new era and so rapid development was probably always out of the question, although just a fraction would have been nice. The likes of Pope, Archer, Curran and Dom Sibley are trying to find their feet at Test level and need to be given time. There is certainly no shortage of youthful talent in the side. England also had a better balance than they have had for a while and they selected variety in the attack which has not always been the case away from home. The first day was fine enough, too.
But that is about it. And it is the general lack of improvement that renders this defeat so disappointing. If there were clear signs that England had learned their lessons from previous overseas series, a loss could have been accepted much more readily. That would be something to move forward with at least. Quite simply, for this team, at this moment, given their recent overseas struggles, it would have been enough. As it is, during yet another overseas loss built on the same old problems, England simply reverted to type.
New beginnings? Not yet.
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