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Cricket news - England undone by lure of the drive
In all, six of England's batsmen were caught behind the wicket, playing away from their bodies
Nothing summed up how New Zealand made England's batsmen do things on day one at Edgbaston, that they didn't want to do better than Olly Stone having a big waft outside off-stump to Trent Boult's hat-trick ball.
Rory Burns had done the same two deliveries before, edging to second slip. Then James Bracey followed his lead, playing an expansive drive to his very first ball but only edging to third. Clearly, Stone didn't want to play a big, booming drive with England having just lost two wickets in two balls and in the mire. But Boult floated it up and Stone took the bait regardless. The only difference compared to Burns and Bracey was that he missed it.
During that passage of play after tea, it seemed as if England's batsmen were on commission, paid by the drive. Certainly, the wickets of Burns and Bracey added to a catalogue of indifferent dismissals. Stone was nearly added to the list too. In all, six of England's batsmen were caught behind the wicket, playing away from their bodies. On a day like today, when the ball swung prodigiously throughout and with the presence of Boult in the New Zealand team, one of the world's best swing bowlers, that is a recipe for disaster.
Perhaps only Dom Sibley will feel like he got a good ball - even then, he probably could have left it - but the rest of England's top seven, the unbeaten Dan Lawrence aside, will reflect on their poor shot selection. Of course, that is sometimes going to happen. It's an occupational hazard for batsmen. Worryingly, though, it seemed as if a number of England's top seven had doubts midway through the shots that dismissed them. Like a child who is presented with a chocolate bar but told not to eat it, they knew they really shouldn't dabble. Yet they couldn't resist.
Zak Crawley's indeterminate prod off Boult was the effort of a batsman who knew the drive was not the right shot to play but couldn't help himself. Joe Root clearly tried to pull out of his open faced forward defence well outside off-stump but did so too late. Ollie Pope edged a long-hop behind without ever fully committing to his cut shot as if he thought maybe he shouldn't after all. Bracey's hands followed the ball even though his body was trying to leave it. England's batsmen clearly knew the shots they shouldn't be playing. But most of them played them anyway.
That uncertainty was a product of the quality of New Zealand's bowling and the pressure a number of England's younger batsmen are under. Boult, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner are high-class operators. They found movement all day and had their rewards early in the second session after a wicketless first two hours, taking three for not many. On the back foot, Sibley was hussled out by one from Henry that just left him and then Crawley was gone, caught at slip for a four ball duck. Root followed soon after.
Crawley's dismissal looks the worst of the three in isolation but the ball before, Wagner bowled him a hooping in-swinger. The wicket ball was then thrown wider, outside off-stump. Crawley will wish he had left it but the previous delivery had created uncertainty over whether to play or leave. A batsman in good form, with runs behind him, may not have given it a second look. Crawley, out of form, short of runs and searching for some quick relief, couldn't resist. It was a canny piece of bowling.
Pressure, a constant companion for Test match batsmen but far more intense when a player is struggling for runs, clearly played a part too. Crawley averages nine since his double hundred against Pakistan last summer and he will know that he cannot retain his place in the team for much longer with that run of form. Bracey's shot, from his first ball, after registering a duck at Lord's, was clearly the action of a man feeling that pressure too. Root was feeling for the ball as well, seemingly on edge after New Zealand had picked up two quick wickets.
England owe much to Burns and Lawrence, who made a half-centuries, and Sibley, who batted through the opening session. They have a creditable score after winning the toss and electing to make first use of a good, if slightly slow, batting surface. It may even prove to be a very good score if the ball continues to move as much as it did on day one when they get a chance to bowl sometime tomorrow, particularly given New Zealand are missing two of their first-choice top six. Even so, England's batsmen will no doubt be rueing their dismissals. In cricketing parlance, they left runs out there.
Burns will be one of those who feels disappointed, even though he played better than he had during his century at Lord's in the first Test, timing the ball crisply and playing with minimal error despite the movement on offer for the bowlers. He looked in a good space from his first delivery. Boult pitched it perfectly - full and tight to a fourth stump line - and Burns calmly watched it go by. Judgement is an opener's most precious commodity, and he got it right from the very outset. He may wish his judgement had been sharper for the ball he was dismissed by.
Lawrence had a skittish start against Boult and was nearly LBW third ball, still moving as it thudded into his pads. But once he settled, he raced along, hitting through the off-side with his trademark flourish. A back foot punch off Ajaz Patel, taking the ball off middle stump to thread it through fielders at point and cover, was exquisite. As was a flamingo whip off Boult through square leg late on. It is the way Lawrence plays but the situation demanded it too. At 175 for 6 and with England's long tail, he had to get on with it.
Root has asked his bowlers to contribute more runs this summer and Stone and Mark Wood did their bit to keep the Essex man company. Stone played out 52 deliveries while Wood has so far faced 58, with the chance to add more tomorrow. England have added 83 vital runs since the sixth wicket fell, a fine recovery which could be crucial in the context of the game. In a wider context, Lawrence's runs have put Crawley and Pope under serious pressure. With Ben Stokes to return, someone in the top six is going to miss out against India. On this form, it can't be Lawrence.
Batting in Test match cricket is often about keeping control. Control of emotions and of technique, of shot selection and the game plan. Perhaps most importantly, it is often about keeping control of your opponents, making them dance to your tune rather than the other way round. Today, many of England's batsmen ended up doing exactly what New Zealand wanted them to do. They didn't keep control. They got sucked in. It may well not cost them in this game but it will cost them at some stage down the line. It is a lesson they must heed.
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