Sport New Zealand's mantra of keeping things simple shows England way to go
England and New Zealand play out draw in the first Test
PAUL NEWMAN AT LORD'S: The Lord's stage was set in the sunshine and New Zealand had set up a potentially thrilling final day. Trouble was, England were in no mood to join in the fun. It did look as though New Zealand had given England every chance of victory against all the odds when Kane Williamson surprised everyone, including Sky’s Kiwi commentator Simon Doull, by pulling out at 169 for six and setting a target of 273 in a minimum of 75 overs.
As England agonised over one of their worst performances in a home Test in years, two vignettes said much about their opponents.
First, it was confirmed that– a country of 5m and barely 100 first-class cricketers – had quietly returned to the top of the Test rankings. Second, the match award went to seamer Matt Henry, who is unlikely to play in Friday’s World Test Championship final against .
It was quintessential New Zealand: unobtrusive excellence on the one hand, enviable depth on the other. But how do they do it? Their stand-in captain, Tom Latham, was characteristically modest as he tried to put his finger on a national cricketing philosophy.
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‘It’s been about keeping things pretty simple, and the guys trying to perform their roles as best they can and putting the team first,’ he said. ‘We play a brand of cricket that we’re proud of as Kiwis.’
A mantra of ‘keeping things simple’ wasn’t aimed at England, with their complex rest-and-rotation policy, their plethora of odd batting techniques, and their obsession with the Ashes when there are important Test matches staring them in the face. But it might have been.
Latham might also have added that New Zealand take Test cricket seriously. In January 2013, they were bowled out for 45 by South Africa in Cape Town, prompting a period of soul-searching by captain Brendon McCullum. New Zealanders, he concluded, needed a Test team they could take pride in.
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England's batting woes have continued on day one of the second Test against New Zealand in Birmingham.It was a day of fluctuating fortunes, with England having a 72-run opening partnership, New Zealand taking three wickets in four overs to make it 3-85, and then Lawrence helping the English regain the initiative in the evening session with an unbeaten 67.
They have not wavered since, an approach helped by a relatively uncluttered schedule. The game at Edgbaston was their 70th since Cape Town. In that time, England have played 106.
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So when fringe players come into the side, they know they have a limited opportunity to make an impact. Over the last few days, Henry has taken six wickets, and left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel four. Will Young, in only his third Test, has scored 82, while Tom Blundell has kept neatly and Daryl Mitchell bowled tidily.
It’s sobering to think that Neil Wagner, a South African-born cricketer who has almost become more Kiwi than the Kiwis, and whose left-arm bouncers say something about the unpretentiousness of New Zealand’s approach, may miss out against India.
England, by contrast, say they take Test cricket seriously, but do a good impression of having other priorities. Not once in eight Test matches in 2021 has Joe Root had his first-choice side available. After a good start in Sri Lanka and the first Test in India, they have lost four out of five.
BUMBLE ON THE TEST: Zak's been framed as it was a catch all day long
DAVID LLOYD: That old chestnut - the foreshortening lens - cropped up when England thought they had Devon Conway caught in the slips for 22. Zak Crawley appeared to get his fingers under the ball and Stuart Broad was convinced he had his man. the umpires gave a soft signal of not out, and Michael Gough upheld that decision. © Provided by Daily Mail England thought they had New Zealand opener Devon Conway caught in the slips for 22 It was a clean catch all day long. Back in the day, the batsman turned to the fielder and asked: ‘Did you catch it?’ That was a far, far better system.
On Sunday, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali were up against each other in a county T20 game at Worcester, while Chris Woakes was in the squad for Birmingham Bears. On Friday, Jonny Bairstow played for Yorkshire.
England have pleaded rest after the IPL, yet New Zealand’s Trent Boult recently played for Mumbai Indians, missed Lord’s so he could spend time with his family, and still found time to get ready for Edgbaston. He took six wickets.
And if you think Zak Crawley can go back to Kent and score plenty of red-ball runs before the first Test against India on August 4, forget it: between now and August 30, Kent and the rest of the counties have two four-day matches each. So much for prioritising Test cricket.
But back to ‘keeping things simple’. Take the opening batsman Devon Conway, whose first Test innings was a double-century and third was 80. A left-hander, he repeatedly ignored anything outside his eye line, and waited for England’s bowlers to come to him. When they did, he clipped them through midwicket.
Young, too, didn’t feel the need for flourishes, and Ross Taylor was prepared to give the bowlers an hour on Friday evening, shelving any extravagance and focussing on survival as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad made the ball swing and seam under lights. These were the deeds of a team comfortable in their own skin.
And if slip catching is indicative of a side’s state of mind, New Zealand have excelled their too, holding a higher percentage of their chances than any team in the world since the start of 2019. England are towards the bottom of the pile: Root’s blunder to reprieve Young on seven was symptomatic of the malaise.
As for New Zealand, it’s perfectly possible to imagine them keeping things simple all the way to becoming Test cricket’s first world champions.
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