It is one of the eternal sporting truths that a team can only beat the opposition with which they are presented. Never mind the quality, feel the victory. This is precisely what has increasingly befallen England this summer and they duly set about dismantling New Zealand again yesterday in a clinical, sometimes snarling fashion.
The tourists were simply not up to the job of Test cricket. Their first innings predictably folded and their second was soon in a shape limp enough to make a wet rag seem like Mount Cook. It was pitiful to watch. At least, at last, when Brendon McCullum and Daniel Flynn came together, a passage of resistance began gradually to assume an air of durability, to show the cussedness and bloody-mindedness which is the stock in trade of New Zealand touring sides.
But it was not enough. Nothing has been enough for New Zealand this summer so far and both fell late in the day, victims, like so many of their colleagues, of misjudgement. All that could be said for the Kiwis is that they took the match into the fourth day, five wickets in hand, 64 runs behind. It is not much to put on the credit side of the balance sheet. They are a team who clearly cannot wait for the one-day stuff to begin.
When New Zealand were last in this country in 2004, England won 3-0 but though this team drew at Lord's and fashioned a winning position at Old Trafford they are palpably weaker. It is not that they are spineless exactly but, to reverse the bodily position, there have been too many times in this concluding match that they have lacked the stomach for battle.
It seemed over-zealous of England to be quite so vocally angry. The world gurning champion, Tommy Mattinson, met the Queen last week in Cumbria but he ought to look to his laurels if he wants to retain the title for long. The way that Ryan Sidebottom contorted his face in a most unprepossessing fashion to give Jamie How what is known as a send-off in New Zealand's second innings would seem to indicate that he is already in serious training.
Sidebottom was in something of a frazzle for much of the day and Stuart Broad was not utterly exempt, expressing disbelief in his face when an appeal for a catch behind was turned down by Darrell Hair. The umpire spoke to him about this immediately (he might have been right, he might not, but it was a diabolically difficult decision to give).
The charmingly affable way in which Hair dealt with this dissent showed that the counselling he received before being readmitted to the elite list of umpires might have done some good. Since it was the International Cricket Council who insisted on the course, this in turn demonstrates that the ICC get some things right.
There was the impression that England, in their understandable desire to win and win well (which would entitle them to adopt a yah boo sucks attitude to their critics), were again adopting a hard-man stance. Maybe it is time for their white line fever inoculations once more, since it was at Trent Bridge last summer that the jelly beans controversy erupted. Maybe they think they will all need all the machismo they can muster for the challenge of South Africa which lies ahead shortly. Maybe they are right.
The day began late because of that combination of murky light and mild drizzle which has blighted much of the early summer. When play eventually resumed after lunch New Zealand's main target, indeed perhaps their only realistic aim, was to save the follow-on. For England, it was a point of more than passing interest to see if Jimmy Anderson might take all 10 wickets in the innings, having taken the first six the previous day.
The answers to both these posers were given in the day's seventh over and "No hope" sufficed for both. It was Sidebottom who obtained the breakthrough when Daniel Vettori drove haplessly at a swinging ball which went as far as first slip. This was not the shot of the world's best No 8.
Most of the runs were extras, such was the strokelessness. Broad struck twice in an over, having Kyle Mills caught by Kevin Pietersen above his head at point and then utterly bamboozling Iain O'Brien with one that swung in and cut away, and was a wholly unfair proposition for a No 10.
Anderson rounded matters off by having the resolute Gareth Hopkins leg before to finish with 7 for 43, his best figures in Test cricket. Is this the return of Jimmy Cricket?
There were 60 overs left in the day and on that showing a finish was distinctly possible. The manual on shot selection has been mislaid by the tourists; they might have forgotten to pack it. The opening pair, How and Aaron Redmond, were again offering the air of permanence of a mayfly.
As it happened, it took until the ninth over (it had been the second in the first innings) before Redmond, whose father made a Test century on his only appearance, drove wide outside the off stump and was pouched behind by Tim Ambrose.
How was living beyond his means for a while, which was clearly annoying Sidebottom who rarely stopped chuntering about some perceived piece of luck or misplaced stroke. Eventually, inevitably, How pushed outside his off stump and edged to third slip. Sidebottom let him know that his presence was no longer wanted.
When Ross Taylor played a fairly grotesque shot across his pads and was given out leg before (the shot alone deserved punishment given the circumstances) deep trouble loomed. Taylor had been the hero of Old Trafford and the incoming batsman Flynn had been the sad casualty, having had the contents of his mouth rearranged.
Flynn had looked a bag of nerves in lasting three balls in the first innings. Now, however, he was stoic, playing himself in determinedly and unbothered at first about scoring. He and McCullum, both possibly a little high in the order, put on 94 for the fourth wicket and the three-day finish receded. But late on, McCullum got an inside edge on to his stumps – another for Anderson – and later still Flynn cut wildly in search of his maiden Test fifty.
England have been efficient after the woeful sight of the scoreboard reading 86 for 5 on the first day – and prompting the grittiest of Pietersen's 12 Test hundreds – but the rejoicing should stop short of dancing in the streets. They are beating what is in front of them.Reuse content