26 March 2013

England should take plenty of positives from tricky New Zealand series

Photograph from Wikipedia Commons
Colin Cowdrey, Michael Atherton, Ricky Ponting, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Paul Collingwood. Add Matt Prior to the list of batsmen who have all stood in the face of extreme adversity to see their teams to unlikely draws. Today was a day that saw England muster all the fight and desire in the world to hang on against a determined New Zealand side. 

While Prior's innings was magnificent, Ian Bell set the tone with a near six-hour vigil reminiscent of Collingwood at Cardiff in 2009. 

Today was an excellent day for England as very few thought, at 90-4 and with an inexperienced middle order, that they stood much of a chance of saving the series. 

What resulted was a day of thrilling Test match action that made many watching at home wish that they were filling up an empty-looking Eden Park.

The Kiwis did not have their share of luck, although they did waste a couple of good chances just before the lunch interval. The bails not coming off despite the ball hitting the stumps twice, after it had ricocheted off Prior's throat, was a sign that this was to be the away team's day. 

Even though Alastair Cook's side produced the great escape needed to draw the series 0-0 and stay at number 2 in the world rankings, they have come in for a lot of unfair criticism. 

Some pundits and former players have suggested that England make a lot of changes to various aspects of their set-up including preparation, team selection and even back-room staff. 

Most of this is complete nonsense being said by old players jealous of the current side's high standing in Test cricket. 

England have an excellent side, and at the moment a very settled one, with the only spot up for grabs the number six spot in the batting line-up. However Joe Root showed plenty of character in the final match and he deserves to start the First Test in May as very much part of the team. Jonny Bairstow was hung out to dry a little bit after only playing one first-class innings in six months and a couple of games with The Lions might have helped him. 

The fast bowling trio all looked in decent enough form after a tough winter, and going into a busy summer, on really flat pitches that offered hardly any assistance. Stuart Broad's pace was back up to nippy speed and he quashed any doubts that surrounded him during the India series, one that ultimately ended in injury. 

Monty Panesar was offered no help from the pitches as the New Zealand batsmen tucked into him with regular ease. However overall the rather dopy left-arm spinner has had a good summer and Graeme Swann will come back in for The Ashes. 

Monty's Bale-esque dive:                                                                                                                                   

On a different note, the pre-Test warm-up matches were not poorly prepared, England just did not have an option but to play only one first-class warm-up match because of the timings of the One Day Internationals. 

Nick Compton's back-to-back centuries all but confirmed his Ashes spot at the top of the order and Jonathan Trott showed his dependable attributes in abundance. 

There is no doubt that England were not at their best in this series, but that was down to a number of reasons, one being the quality of their opponents. New Zealand made wholesale changes to the side that was drubbed by South Africa and it paid off, McCullum's captaincy a massive plus. 

Andy Flower's England team will take great heart from this heroic effort on the final day, and although they need to improve in a couple of areas, they will head into a very important summer of cricket full of confidence.

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