England capitulated. In a stark demonstration of how far there is for this team to travel before they are the finished article, they lost by 199 runs to New Zealand.
That the tourists deserved their victory to tie the series at 1-1 there could be no doubt. Throughout the five days of the second Investec Test they played in an aggressive, marauding style, before which their opponents wilted.
England’s bullish insistence that they were determined to make a bold push for victory and score the unprecedented 455 runs required was seen to be hot air and poppycock before the first hour of the final day was out. True, they could hardly say otherwise considering the unflagging spirit in which this mini-series has been played, but it was still a humiliating comeuppance.
In some ways, this match duplicated the first Test. The side batting with abandon in the third innings carved out an irrepressible advantage which wore down opponents – England at Lord’s, New Zealand at Headingley.
Still, it was difficult to reconcile this tame exhibition by England with the approach of the side who won that thrilling victory barely a week before. Batsmen did not perish by the sword. They may as well have waved a loofah in their opponents’ faces, shouting “yah, boo sucks” while daring them to do their best. Only Alastair Cook and Jos Buttler offered any prolonged resistance.
New Zealand needed no second invitation. It was their fifth victory in England in 54 matches, their second at Headingley, where they broke their duck 32 years ago.
Their estimable left-arm swing bowler Trent Boult made the early incisions, their unsung off-spinner Mark Craig added two important wickets quickly and the barely thought-of Kane Williamson proved lethal. By lunch it was all but done.
Perhaps this sort of performance is to be expected from an England side still finding its way. There will be clarion calls for immediate change – and why not? – but that ignores the fact that six of this team, five of whom have scored international hundreds, are still in the fledgling stage of their Test careers having played fewer than 15 matches each.
With the Ashes looming it is impossible to be optimistic, but introducing a whole raft of newcomers is probably not the answer. Australia would devour them.
Part of the reason for selecting many of the present bunch last year was to allow them time to settle before the blue-riband series of this summer. Others have been picked now precisely so that they might have a semblance of experience before encountering Australia and in the hope that they might have a sweet taste of success before then.
There are weaknesses, most patently clear being the failure to come to terms with what was required to negotiate 98 overs. But the seam and spin-bowling departments and the middle-order batting all seem brittle to the point of potential disaster.
If it will not be repaired by wholesale changes now, at least two places are under close scrutiny – Gary Ballance at No 3 and Moeen Ali as the spinner – while Ian Bell is hardly the shoo-in that he once appeared. Both Ballance and Bell need rapid repair work to their approach, Moeen may need something that cannot be amended in time. Of course, it is possible that all are keeping their powder dry for Australia.
It became evident early on Tuesday that England had no realistic aspiration of forcing victory – unless the opening pair of Cook and Adam Lyth were merely surveying the scene before launching the charge. Watching them, you knew what the New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum, meant when he said last week that he was not sure attacking cricket was England’s natural way of playing.
Lyth, who had looked as well-appointed as in the first innings, was the first to go in the day’s fourth over when he edged a ball on off stump which curved away belatedly. Boult is excellent against all batsmen but against left-handers he is particularly potent.
He accounted for Ballance shortly after producing a full-length delivery which darted in and bowled the batsman off his pads. That made England’s position parlous; soon it became impossible.
Bell turned the off-spin of Mark Craig innocuously to backward short leg. There have been plenty of times in a superb career when Bell has played shots ill-befitting his class and talent but this was the contribution of a man who has played too much and been on the road too long.
He needs a county game or two but he could also do with a restructuring of his mind and his batting, as well as some rest. There probably is not time for it all.
Two balls later, Joe Root pushed firmly to short leg where Tom Latham clung on to the catch after the ball hit him in the midriff.
For almost the hour before lunch, Ben Stokes played in his attractively uncluttered way. But on the stroke of the break he went back to cut Williamson and edged thinly behind.
It was a matter of when not if now. Too soon in the afternoon, Cook, who had watched all this while wielding another steady bat, was lbw pushing forward to Williamson’s top-spinner. The review upheld the verdict but if anything has been heartening in this match and series it has been Cook’s positive recovery of form.
He has an amended stance with which he is now comfortable and he is leaving with a solidity that had been beyond him for 18 months. In Test cricket nothing is more the batsman’s friend than the well-judged leave.
The ill-judged leave, however, can be embarrassing as Moeen Ali showed when he shouldered arms to a full -length ball from Matt Henry operating round the wicket. It hit his off stump. Mooen, the hero of last summer, has had a series to forget.
The tail hung around awhile but New Zealand were not to be denied and at just before 5pm Buttler was lbw to Craig. The review was rejected, the result too was correct.Reuse content