For the first time in seven years, the England men’s cricket team suffered a series defeat on home soil. This proud record was blown away by New Zealand, who themselves hadn’t experienced a Test series victory in England this millennium. Kane Williamson‘s Black Caps played with heart, discipline and quality – all qualities Joe Root‘s England, especially his fellow batsmen, failed to show.
Yes, it was only a two-match series, and yes, England chose to rest their IPL stars, but every Test match is important to England fans who pay their hard-earned to go and support their side to the hilt. With 18,000 fans allowed back in at Edgbaston thanks to its status as part of the government’s Events Research Programme (which aims to monitor the spread of coronavirus among bigger crowds), it was somewhat of a surprise that England crumbled to a second innings score of just 122 on a fairly placid pitch in front of a vociferous home support.
Whether that was simply a demonstration of the gap in quality between the two sides, or whether something deeper can be drawn in the ECB’s handling of this Test team in the last few years is open for debate. However, if you look at the raw numbers behind this England batting line-up, nobody other than Root gets close to looking like they belong in England’s top six.
The balance of the side without the likes of all-rounders Ben Stokes, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes was always going to be a challenge, but head coach Chris Silverwood, in his new role of head selector, made the wrong decision to leave a frontline spinner out of both matches. This wouldn’t have changed the result, but adds further nagging doubts to the competence of the entire England setup, not just the 11 players that take the field.
This England lineup is young and of course hasn’t reached its full potential at Test level yet. But England don’t accept defeat after defeat in order to accommodate the improvement of young players. They demand success in every format, and every failure will be furiously scrutinised, and certain players vilified.
You can find Britwatch Sports’ analysis of England’s individual performances this series below (vilification definitely included).
The Surrey opener has been captain of his county for the recent spell of County Championship fixtures, and he is growing in confidence at this level. I’m sure the added responsibility at Surrey has helped Burns grow in stature. His technique can look awkward at times, and his loose drive to the second ball of England’s second innings at Edgbaston set the tone for an ugly performance, but his century at Lord’s showed the determination and discipline required at Test level which many of his teammates lack.
Dom Sibley – 5/10 Runs: 103 High Score: 60* Average: 34.33
Although his unbeaten half-century at Lord’s prevented a defeat, and his opening partnership with Burns in the first innings at Edgbaston lasted longer than a session, which is now considered a minor miracle in English conditions, Sibley only scored nine boundaries all series. He does not gather momentum for his side, and his style sets a very cautious tone. Would Michael Vaughan‘s England side have picked such a defensive opener? What’s more, his Test average of 30.78 in 20 matches does not exactly justify his approach.
Since the Kent batsman plundered a potentially career-defining 267 against Pakistan last summer, England’s no.3 is averaging under 10. A single figure average is what you expect from your bottom three, but certainly should be nowhere near your batsmen. Crawley did not exactly get out to great deliveries either – his attacking qualities were meant to complement England’s opening pair, but are now only increasing the pressure on the entire side.
Joe Root – 4/10 Runs: 97 High Score: 42 Average: 24.25 Wickets: 1 Average: 99.00
One of the most commonly attributed cliches to England’s captain is that you look up at the scoreboard and suddenly Root is on 20*, without anyone really paying much attention. His ability to accumulate runs without any pressure is why the Yorkshireman used to be considered as one of the world’s four best batsmen. But now, whether ground down by the pressure of the position or the last 18 months of Covid-related issues, Root’s performances have looked out of character. His strike rate of 38.49 across this series was the lowest of any Englishman in the top six, bar Sibley and Crawley, who hardly scored a run. Root was defiant in the defence of his team, suggesting now is not the time to “rip up all the hard work we’ve done”. However, the fruits of his labour have not exactly been plentiful, with England now on a run of five Tests without a win.
Ollie Pope – 4/10 Runs: 84 High Score: 23 Average: 28.00
Pope has often had to deal with comparisons to Ian Bell, who was in attendance at Edgbaston last week, largely because of his attractive stroke play, diminutive figure and positioning in England’s middle order. However, despite piling on the runs for his county this season (he has amassed 555 runs at an average of nearly 79), Pope looked frenetic and played without discipline as he made promising starts in every innings, only to be dismissed just as he should’ve been settling in. He hasn’t imposed himself at this level yet, and at 23 still has plenty of time to do so. However, Pope has has over three years’ worth of experience playing for England and is averaging just over 25 at home. Bell averaged the best part of 48 in England and Wales.
Dan Lawrence – 5/10 Runs: 81 High Score: 81* Average: 40.50 Wickets: 1 Average: 16.00
With England missing the balance that Ben Stokes offers to their side by batting in the top six, it allowed an extra batsman to be placed in the top six. However, Lawrence sandwiched an unbeaten 81 – which creeped England up to a still under-par score of 300 in their first innings in Birmingham – with two ducks, and made it feel like an opportunity missed for the Essex man. However, he is only seven matches into his Test career and deserves more of an opportunity to build on some encouraging performances which have shown plenty of intent, if not a solid technique. Part-time off spin broke a crucial partnership at the end of Day 2 of England’s defeat.
James Bracey – 3/10 Runs: 8 High Score: 8 Average: 2.66
If Gloucestershire’s star man never plays another Test, his average of under three runs must be one of the lowest in Test history for a batsman. Initially in the squad to bat in the top three, a freak injury to wicketkeeper Ben Foakes meant Bracey had to keep wicket in his first ever Test match, an unexpected additional responsibility which clearly clouded his mind when it came to doing what he got in the England side to do – score runs. Two ducks to two loose drives was followed up by ironic cheers from the Edgbaston crowd when he finally got off the mark in his third innings of the summer, only then to walk across his stumps to spinner Ajaz Patel trying to play an ambitious sweep and had his stumps rearranged. It was a sorry end to a sorry series for Bracey, who dropped a few chances behind the stumps too.
Even the one bright spark of England’s series defeat is clouded in disappointment. On the biggest day of Robinson’s life, a Test debut at Lord’s, historic tweets dating from over eight years ago, when the Sussex seamer was still a teenager, showed racist and sexist tendencies. Despite a brilliant debut, with runs at no.8 and enough wickets across both innings to rank Robinson as England’s top bowler of the series, the ECB decided an investigation was needed and a suspension handed to the 27-year-old. Whether that was the right decision is up for debate. What isn’t up for debate is, if cleared of any wrongdoing, Robinson should be in this England side for the India series coming up in August.
Wood’s ferocious pace and ability to offer something different from England’s usual modus operandi of swinging the ball from a fullish length means the Durham bowler has probably already sealed his place on the plane Down Under this winter, barring injury or suspension. However, Wood only offers moments in Tests. Moments where you feel he can take the game by the scruff of the neck. Certainly, when England were in a lull at Lord’s after Devon Conway‘s brilliant double hundred, Wood sparked them into life. However, in bowling short spells because of the strain he puts on his body to drive his speeds above 90mph, he cannot dominate matches like Broad and Anderson have so often done for England. His Test bowling average stands at 33.50, which rises above 40 in England alone. Does Wood really answer the questions England will be faced with in their next two Test series, which could define Root and Silverwood’s careers?
Although Broad’s batting has regressed dramatically since his first England cap 14 years ago, Root can always rely on his blonde-haired compatriot, who turns 35 before England’s next Test, to deliver with the ball. Despite New Zealand’s dominant start to their first innings in Birmingham, Broad still returned figures of 4/48, and was one of the main reasons why an innings defeat was avoided. Although Anderson has often been picked ahead of the Notts seamer when rotation is deemed necessary for England’s two highest wicket-takers in history, Broad certainly out-bowled his partner in crime this series.
James Anderson – 4/10 Wickets: 3 BBI: 2/83 Average: 68.66 Runs: 12 Average: 12.00
It is not very often England’s most successful bowler of all time comes up wicketless with the new ball across a whole series, but that’s what happened to Anderson against New Zealand. The 38-year-old had no answer to New Zealand’s obstinate top order who played with control and discipline. All three of Anderson’s wickets came in later spells, which shows he still has the hunger and fitness for Test cricket. In fact, Anderson broke Sir Alastair Cook‘s record and became England’s most capped Test player last week. He deserves one final swan song in Australia this winter, but must work hard to earn his place with a top performance against India in August.
Stone battled hard on his home ground in Birmingham, but England were outplayed in all departments last week. There was a point during the first session in Day Three where he looked the most threatening of England’s attack, despite being the junior man. He can also crank the speed gun up towards 90mph when he finds his best rhythm, so could certainly be a contender when England tour Australia later this year.
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