“To maintain the standard of Test cricket, sporting pitches are needed. Who else but countries like England, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand have always offered such! These teams have a lot to offer to keep the interest in Test cricket alive”

 

Both Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor knew very well that on the final day, inclement weather would show up from the west after the lunch break and won’t offer a contest anymore. Williamson and Taylor reached hundreds respectively after the game resumed, but there was rain in the air already. At one point, the match had to be called off and New Zealand’s brilliant record at home for the last couple of years remained unstretched. Both the teams could be separated after two Test matches, but does such a quality series deserve to be a 2-match affair?

Neither New Zealand nor England are low-ranked teams in world cricket and over the years have demanded a lot of eye-catching moments in white clothes. Thus, these two teams should contest in a 3-match Test series if not a 4 or 5-match affair. Moreover, surprisingly, this Test series had not been included in the World Test Championship (WTC) list, which many fans did not know. There are explanations about this exclusion, but still, such a quality series deserved to be a part of WTC.

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Nevertheless, in the second Test, England certainly played with the intent to turn things around. Especially, it had been a series where Joe Root announced loud and clear, he is not fading as one of the best batsmen in the world alongside Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, and Kane Williamson. Since that series against South Africa at home in 2017, Root’s credibility as Test skipper and batsman have come under scrutiny. The lean-patches seemed to have been becoming a permanent friend and doubts of captaincy taking a toll over his batting started to create buzz around the town.

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Under pressure, Root delivered. And, he was made to work hard as ESPNcricinfo stated, “No hundred had taken him longer – 259 balls – and at one stage, he went more than 30 overs without a boundary. More than that, though, it had been eight months since his previous Test century”.  Most importantly, England have lost just once in 16 Test matches where Root notched-up a hundred. This is how impactful the best batter in a team could be! Root, is by far the best batter of this English side and he knew, if England were to win this affair then he needs to bat big. He ended up scoring 226, which, all expect, has helped to erase the lean-patch and opened the window for more in coming days.

Root’s double ton and of course, Rory Burns’ grittiness raised the hopes, but England were undone by the surprising placidness of New Zealand deck and below-par fielding.

England’s fielding standard was certainly poor in this series.

Despite less response form the deck at Hamilton, the English bowlers did create breakthrough moments, but in the end, they were let down by some poor efforts by the English fielders.

On the final day, Williamson was dropped twice: At first when he was batting on 39 – a chance came off the glove down the legside, which Olli Pope Spilt and then on 62 at midwicket where Joe Denly dropped an absolute dolly. England lost their grip over the Test and then the weather did the rest.

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The Hamilton track surprised many. New Zealand has always been known as a very tough place to bat on. At least, the cricket fans from 80s, 90s, and 00s have grown up watching the testing decks back there. The surfaces are mostly bowling friendly and drawn Tests are a rarity and even if a Test match is drawn then they are never short of a nail-biting affair. But such things were not in offer this time around.

Famous cricket writer Scyld Berry wrote in The Telegraph, “…Mount Maunganui wanted a pitch to last five days for its inaugural test, and Seddon Park was its usual placid self: on both grounds, the captains seldom had more than one slip, so minimal was the carry off the bat’s edge, and sometimes none. England have never conceded more runs per wicket than in this series, 56, but their seamers can hardly be faulted”.

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England lost the series and for the first time since 1999, they would end a year without winning a Test series. I think, there should have been one more Test in this series and the final one would have generated a lot of thrills and chills.

Again, in this series, the English bowlers averaged 115.7 balls per wicket, the worst collective strike rate in a Test series in England’s history. Their collective bowling average had been 55.8 runs per wicket – England’s second-worst in history.

When anyone would see such numbers, they would only think, how poor England bowlers had been without even realizing, the effort of a half-fit Ben Stokes giving his all on a docile deck to script a breakthrough, two drop catches, and the dead-ness of Hamilton deck, which should never be accepted as an ideal Test track.

To maintain the standard of Test cricket, sporting pitches are needed. Who else but countries like England, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand have always offered such! These teams have a lot to offer to keep the interest in Test cricket alive.

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