Monday, 17 March 2008

New-look atack - but too soon to declare a new era

So it seems England can play cricket after all. They performed commendably to square the series, but we should not lose sight of the fact this is a side England were expected to beat.

Nonetheless, there are real causes for optimism - at last. Tim Ambrose played a pugnacious and decisive counter-attacking innings of 102, displaying the temperament to thrive at international level. His keeping, typically and infuriatingly, did not match the standards he displayed in the first Test, however.

England's bowling was reinvigorated after dispensing with Messrs Hoggard and Harmison. Ryan Sidebottom gave another exemplary display, indefatigable, relentlessly consistent and truly incisive with the new ball. But he has performed so well since his comeback that such displays are now expected.

Of greater cheer were the showings of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. When conditions offered swing, as they did at Lord's against India last summer, Anderson was superb. But only for so long can he can get by on the occasional fine showing. On the flatter pitch that we will see at Napier, he needs to display improved control, so batsmen do not run away when wickets are hard to come by. Stuart Broad was not flattered by his figures but provided another sign of his readiness for international cricket, probing away and delivering the key wicket of Stephen Fleming.

Yet this was far from the perfect performance: for one, the fielding deteriorated alarmingly from the phenomenal catching on-show at Hamilton. And, yet again, the top-order displayed their depressing propensity for getting in then out - alarmingly, none of the top six have even hit 70 all series. Andrew Strauss probably did 'just enough' to remain in the side, but it is an indictement of the current set-up that a scratchy 40 every game, together with fast-fading memories of innings from the past, are sufficient for a man to retain his place.

One suspects England will not take the clear-sighted view that he patently looks no more like succeeding than he did when he was dropped. When he does go, the belated inclusion of Owais Shah may act as the catalyst for other batsmen to get out of the 'comfort zone' that seems to be afflicting them.

For England to seal the series on a pitch that will be less conducive to seam-bowling than this, more is needed from Monty Panesar, who averages 48 over his last eight Tests. It is now time for him to regain the vivaciousness and sheer joy he brought to his early Tests.


Richard Lake said...

Nice piece Tim. Personally I think both pitches have been much more difficult to bat on than anyone expected. Certainly Vaughan, who has one of the best conversion rates in world cricket, got two unplayable deliveries when well set. Ambrose rode his luck well for his ton, but no-one has looked comfortable batting on either side.

Napier promises to be a different proposition, which should tell us more about the new look bowling attack and whether the batsmen have the application to still score big.

Rob said...

I was really impressed with Broad on the final day. He bowled with pace and hostility to McCullum and pushed him back into his crease. I think he showed the way to bowl to him -- aggressive with no width.

You are correct though -- England should really trounce NZ, they don;t have a decent batter in the side (if you discount Vettori).

Tim said...

Yes Broad was very impressive, but Napier should be an even bigger Test.