New Zealand v England, third Test: Matt Prior form cannot mask England's mystifying lapses

Timid deficiencies in New Zealand show how far the side has slipped since beating India with such panache and courage

Auckland

Sometimes, as England’s plight grew more desperate in the third Test, the mind went back to late last year. All was right with their world then. They had defeated India away from home with a display of panache and courage after falling behind.

Now here they were on a rugby ground at the other end of the world performing with a stunning ineptitude and timidity. New Zealand were supposed to be a cakewalk – and therein, unfortunately, may have resided the trouble – but instead they have made much of the running in the series and in its decisive match.

The contrast has been both startling and worrying. If England were still in the match by the end of the third day, it was probably because of New Zealand’s mistake – their biggest one of the past fortnight – in declining to enforce the follow-on. It could not disguise the tourists’ deficiencies of approach and style. They trailed by 239 runs on first innings, after having asked their opponents to bat, lest it be forgotten, which had risen to 274 by the close.

New Zealand were as superb for the first two sessions of the third day as England, the second ranked side in the world, were clumsy and apprehensive. The Kiwi bowlers found appreciable swing, which they used wisely. The plumbline has not been devised which was straighter than the bowling purveyed by England’s trio of quicks.

The lack of application was not as dire as on the opening day’s play in the series but England still found themselves in the mire. Two down overnight, they lost another three in the morning and although there was then a period of resistance led, almost inevitably, by Matt Prior, the last four wickets went down for four runs.

New Zealand’s decision not to impose the follow-on seemed strange in the circumstances. If it did not open the door to England victory, it left it slightly ajar and it was a wicket-taking day, for which England immediately offered further compelling evidence. They reduced the home side to 8 for 3, which meant seven wickets had fallen in all for 12 runs.

Throughout this trip, England have regularly insisted that they were not taking New Zealand lightly. The opening day, when they were bowled out for 167 amid a litany of crass shot-making, suggested otherwise and the manner in which they have played this match, a cup final in everything but name, has been befuddling. It was clearly a mistake to ask New Zealand to bat – though everyone who saw the pitch on the first morning would have chosen that option – but that does not explain the course of the match. England have never won a Test with such a first innings deficit having chosen to field – that was the measure of their task after their first innings.

Perhaps it has been a subliminal kind of weakness in these three matches. Perhaps they are saving something for the two Ashes series later this year without knowing it. But truly accomplished sides – the Australia of the 1990s – put their foot on their opponents’ throat and never let it off.

And if it has not been caused by an inadvertent failure to treat the opposition with appropriate caution, it is more worrying. The time on the road, the weeks in India, the weeks in this country, for all its innate pleasantness, may have taken their toll.

It was gruelling and mystifying to watch England bat on the third day. The ball was suddenly swinging and the tourists were unable to cope. Two wickets down overnight, they lost another three by lunch, all leg before, two after reviews by New Zealand.

Poor Jonny Bairstow hardly had a chance. In the side only after  Kevin Pietersen’s knee protested too much and forced him home, he was horribly short of match practice and almost certainly the trust in what are these days called the processes that brings. His pain was made worse by the fact that he was given not out initially. The replays showed that Trent Boult’s inswinger was hitting the stumps. At that moment Bairstow may not have been alone in wondering if Pietersen and his bruised knee could have beaten the pain barrier one last time in England’s hour of need.

Prior was blissful as usual. His stock as a cricketer rises almost every time he goes out to play for England. He had taken five catches in New Zealand’s first innings, two of them beauties, and he scored his seventh half-century in his last 15 innings.

He adapted his usual bustling approach to the needs of the occasion, though he never allowed himself to be becalmed. Joe Root kept him extremely sedate company during a partnership of 101. Root scored 73 from 229 balls in his maiden Test innings in Nagpur and here he made 45 from 176. It a was a testament to his belief.

There is something wrong with England now. “It’s not as if people are going out there and thinking they are a walking wicket,” said the estimable Prior, “but we have played two bad days of cricket. It’s something we’re aware of and will address.”

The moment cannot come too soon. Nagpur and Auckland have almost nothing in common and yesterday they seemed a world apart for England.

News
people

Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
News
peopleLynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance moves audience to tears
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'
art
News
news

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
music
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voices

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
News
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee
people

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

News
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London