Mark Stoneman was going very well but in the end, he failed to covert his scores into big ones.
Over the course of the summer in the Oceanic countries, England have struggled in Tests in that part of the world. They first lost 4-0 in the Ashes Down Under against Australia and now are 0-1 down in the two-Test series against New Zealand. With three days done in Christchurch, England look in a comfortable position in a Test match, the very first time in the last few months. England scored 307 runs in the first innings before they bundled New Zealand out for 238 and on Sunday. By stumps of third day, the touring party were 202 for 3, with a healthy lead of 231 runs. After out of form Alastair Cook’s early dismissal, the duo of Mark Stoneman and James Vince took the charge in their hands.
After being dropped in the first Test in Auckland, it was Vince’s comeback and that allowed skipper Joe Root to return to his favoured position of No. 4. Vince and Stoneman shared a second-wicket stand of 123 runs and that brought back the momentum in England’s favour.
When England embarked their journey in the summer Ashes last November, it was the same pair of Vince and Stoneman that was in questions. England had picked an inexperienced pair and it was the perfect platform for these two to show their potential. Both Vince and Stoneman finished with two half-centuries to their name but did not have the end average in their favour. While Vince had scored 242 runs at 26.88, Stoneman had piled up 232 runs at 25.77. These numbers certainly were not convincing but since England still do not have a proper solution to their opening woes, they went ahead with Stoneman in the first Test against New Zealand last month; on the other hand, Vince was dropped for not performing in the Ashes.
The pattern in Stoneman’s dismissals has clearly showed his struggle against the moving ball. He throws his hands on the wrong deliveries and ends up being caught behind or at the slips. That has been the case in most of his dismissals. Prior to the New Zealand series, Stoneman had played two series – against West Indies at home and then at Ashes Down Under. He played three Tests against West Indies and out of which, he scored a fifty just once. In the five innings he batted at home, he reached the fifty-run mark only once, he remained unbeaten on 40 and rest other scores were below 20.
Coming into the Ashes, he immediately impressed everyone with an excellent knock of 53 off 159 balls against an in-fire Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood who were well supported by their lead spinner Nathan Lyon. In the next three innings, he did get the starts but could not convert those into a significant knock, did not even get to 50 runs. In the third Test in Perth, he scored his second and final half-century of that tour before he repeated his bad habit of being inconsistent.
Considering the Ashes and the first Test against New Zealand at Auckland, top-three of England, that includes Stoneman, have only scored 30.1 percent of the team’s runs. In the Ashes and New Zealand series, Stoneman has been caught 11 times, out of which eight times have been either at the slips, behind the wickets or at the gully. This repetitive pattern in his dismissals has also testified the fact that Stoneman must work on his batting against a moving ball. Even the slightest of the movement in the ball has been enough to undo the English opener. Apart from that, even his shot selection has been poor. For example, the balls that should have been left, he goes forward in an attempt to drive them.
The Australians had figured out this incompetence early in the Ashes and which is why throughout the series, they had attacked Stoneman with short balls and the batsman had consistently struggled. This has been hurting his side a lot, especially when his senior opening partner has been out of sync for a very long time now. England and Stoneman need the latter to deliver more knocks like his career-best 60 off 139 he registered at Christchurch on Sunday before it gets too late for him.