England vs New Zealand | Friday 29 May - Tuesday 02 June | Headingley | 12:00
A remarkable turnaround at Lord’s saw England record a momentous victory that seemed impossible after the first three days of play. It also seemed to mark a transition in English cricket from pacifists to protagonists. Instead of retreat, both sides slugged it out from the first ball bowled and the Test was anything but tame. In fact, pundits are happy to label it the best Test ever played at Lord’s - a bold statement indeed. Although a massive opportunity to take the upper hand in the series escaped New Zealand, McCullum and his charges expressed some pleasure at being part of a fantastic game of cricket. The Black Caps continue to be an advert for adventure in all forms of the game.
To Win Match
New Zealand 24/10
England’s return to home soil following a disappointing tour of the Caribbean could not have began with a worse start. England found themselves at 30/4 on the opening morning and a long and painful summer seemed certain. A middle-order fightback allowed the hosts to post 389 in the first innings with Joe Root and Ben Stokes racking up nineties, followed by half-centuries from Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali. However, mid-way through the third day New Zealand were poised on 403/3 and looked set to bat England out of the game. Finishing 523 all out, England had recovered slightly but still faced a 134-run deficit. From here, somehow, they managed to win the match.
Alastair Cook’s captaincy was undoubtedly its best since 2012 in India, as was his marathon second-innings knock. He batted 540 minutes for his 162 and set a platform for the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes to score quickly and move the match forward. Stokes took the opportunity with both hands, racking up the fastest century ever seen at Lord’s. Stokes scored 193 runs from 186 balls over the course of both innings and picked up the crucial wickets of Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum in successive deliveries to break the back of New Zealand’s second-innings resistance. It was a Botham-esque performance from the all-rounder and although it may be premature to wax lyrical about Stokes’ talents, he has all the ingredients necessary. Consider this; he rebuilt the first innings on the brink of collapse, took the game away from the opposition with a record-breaking ton and bowled a ferocious in-swinger to dismiss New Zealand’s captain for a Royal Duck. It was so un-English in its passion and aggression that it added bite to a side who has struggled to be imposing for almost two years. Youngsters Joe Root and Mark Wood also enjoyed fine displays but England should be wary. It takes consistency to turn a corner and the series could still be squared.
For the Black Caps, saving a memorable Test was a mere 9.3 overs out of reach. Despite the fanfare associated with being part of a truly great match and McCullum’s post-match positivity, it will always be remembered by the Kiwis as a game that got away from them. It is not often that a side scores over 500 runs in the first innings and loses the match. Losing early wickets in the chase, BJ Watling was promoted to five in the second innings to soak up the pressure - a trait fast becoming a trademark for the wicket-keeper - and McCullum envisaged a second onslaught in an attempt to chase 345 and win the match. Only some sort of extraordinary visionary could imagine winning a Test match chasing that total after being reduced to 12/3. The tables had well and truly turned but McCullum’s steadfast aggression remained.
There were many positive aspects for New Zealand to take from Lord’s. Trent Boult was simply sensational with the ball. He picked up nine wickets in the match including a five-for in the second innings. Matt Henry made a promising debut and, along with Boult and Southee, seems tailor-made for early English summer wickets. New Zealand put on a 148-run opening stand in the first innings which dovetailed into a magnificent century from Kane Williamson. Even Corey Anderson’s aggressive 67 in what was fast becoming a losing cause showed the mentality required from a side led by McCullum. However, going into Headingley, New Zealand have a couple of concerns. BJ Watling has knee and neck issues while Anderson nurses a back problem. All three of New Zealand’s frontline quicks bowled more than fifty overs in the match. With turnaround time scarce, all face a race for fitness.
Headingley in Leeds plays host to the second and last Test of this series, yet another tour in desperate need of more Test cricket. Of the past six Tests played at the ground, England have won only one, losing to South Africa, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka which includes a drawn Test against the Proteas. Their solitary win during this period came in a 247-run thrashing of New Zealand in 2013. Joe Root and Alastair Cook scored centuries while Graeme Swann twirled his way to ten wickets. Rain is predicted on three of the five days with cloud cover making a constant appearance.
VERDICT: Draw 22/10
I’m not generally one for reading too much into weather reports but the outcome looks fairly bleak at present. Lord’s experienced a couple of brief delays but otherwise needed almost every over to force a result. With the prospect of losing at least a day or so to rain, It’s tough to imagine any side taking twenty wickets here. Keep a close eye on the weather reports in the lead-up to the match but don’t miss out on the value. 22/10 is a great price, get on.