Great opportunity for the Kiwis to break the jinx!
If the ball-tampering controversy created a ruckus in Cape Town, on the other side of the world, on the other side of the globe, the Test between New Zealand and England at Auckland had it’s own roller coaster ride. It was the 50th Test between the two sides and more importantly, it was New Zealand’s first pink Test at home. Prior to the Test, not much could have been predicted about what the pink marshmallow would end up doing on the New Zealand tracks but what actually happened on the first day will always be cherished for a very long time; not by the English, of course.
England, batting first, were left embarrassed when they were bowled out for a mere 58 runs, courtesy of New Zealand’s fast bowling duo of Trent Boult and Tim Southee. The Kiwis ended the opening day at 175 for 3. The played hardly happened in the next two days as the rain gods tried everything they could to ruin the party of the BlackCaps. The hosts finally batted on the fourth day and declared their innings at 427 for 8 sometime before the dinner break and when England came to bat for the second time, they were 369 runs behind the Kiwis.
An all-round effort from the New Zealand side handed them a win by an innings and 49 runs against England. It was special because it was New Zealand second highest Test win against these opponents. It was sweeter for the fact that it was BlackCaps’ only second win in 13 Tests against England. To give in more perspective, out of the last 13 Tests played between these two sides, England have won seven, New Zealand two and four have ended in a draw and these numbers have clearly suggested England’s dominance over New Zealand.
The last time New Zealand defeated England in a Test series was back in 1999 when Stephen Flemming’s side won the four-Test series 2-1 in England’s backyard. The 1983-84 series where New Zealand beat England 1-0 in the three-Test series at home was the last instance when the BlackCaps sealed a Test series against this opposition at home. Majority of Test teams have dominated at home but New Zealand have been an exception who somehow have not managed to beat the likes of South Africa and England even when they have played at home.
Hence, Kane Williamson and his boys will be desperate to either win or even a draw the final Test against England, that starts on Friday. Going into the Christchurch Test, here are the main pointers for the hosts:
Their bowling depth:
While England’s first innings collapse was all about Trent Boult and Tim Southee’s attacks from each end, the final innings that wrapped up the match for the hosts involved the other characters too. The likes of Neil Wagner and Todd Astle stepped up in support of the fast bowling duo with three wickets each to their name. One of the major specialities of Wagner is that in second innings when nothing seems to be happening he has the ability to create chances for him and his side. And that was seen in Auckland last week.
Speaking of Astle, he made his Test debut five and a half years ago so it was great for him when he was picked for the Auckland Test as a replacement for their regular spinner Mitchell Santner. For the matter of fact, Astle turned out to be the perfect writs-spin replacement as he along with Wagner wrapped up England’s tail on the final day. He was given the ball only in the 69th over, although he took the wicket of Jonny Bairstow, he actually created problems in the even sessions when he attacked with his googly.
However, a setback for New Zealand happened when Astle was ruled out of the Christchurch Test with a side strain. Nevertheless, another wrist spinner, Ish Sodhi, has been added to the squad as his replacement. Like Santner, Sodhi also drags the batting line-up down the order with his fine ability to swing the bat. Moreover, a few days earlier, Sodhi had claimed a career-best 7 for 30 in the Plunket Shield and New Zealand will hope Sodhi’s current good form works in the Test as well.
Positives and negatives for batsmen:
Talking about the positives, New Zealand were very glad with their skipper finding the right form at the very right time. In the five ODIs he played against England, he scored a hundred in one game and did not even score a fifty in the other games and that was a matter of concern for the hosts going into the Tests. However, by registering his 18th Test century and becoming the first New Zealander to do so, Williamson once again showed why he is the best in the team – because he has always stood up whenever New Zealand have wanted their best man to do so.
Sharing Williamson’s scoring burden, middle-order batsman Henry Nicholls scored a superb 268-ball 145, piling enough runs for New Zealand and that allowed them to declare their innings on the fourth day and go for the win. New Zealand have been one of those sides which have not had many superstars. When batting is discussed, only the names of Flemming, Martin Crowe, Brendon McCullum, Ross Taylor and Williamson come up. For a country playing Test cricket for over 89 years, only a handful of names does not justify their worth. Also, it gets tough when the team begins to depend only on a couple of batsmen to deliver with the bat.
There are times when either of Williamson or Taylor or sometimes both fail so New Zealand will need other batsmen to stand up during those times. Nicholls with his second Test ton showed he could be that player. New Zealand will really need these guys to perform well in Christchurch in order to break the draught of 34 years at home.
New Zealand have not played much Test cricket this season – 2017-18 as they have played only two Test series – vs West Indies and England, both at home. While they easily won against the Windies, Williamson and Co will want to end their season on a high with a win in the second Test in Christchurch.