Five years ago to the day on Monday, Matt Prior and Monty Panesar salvaged a Test series draw for England at Eden Park in Auckland.
Oh, what the tourists would have done for a repeat.
There wasn’t to be any deja vu this time and England didn’t deserve anything of the sort.
If the North Island’s weather gods had not interrupted proceedings for the best part of two days, then there was no way this first Test in the two-match series would have gone the distance.
A belligerent batting effort only put-off the inevitable as hosts New Zealand claimed an emphatic win by an innings and 49 runs.
The ball-tampering scandal may have enabled England to bury the bad news of a woeful first-innings batting performance, in which they were skittled out for 58 in their sixth-lowest Test total ever, but Joe Root’s men have no hiding place after suffering their tenth loss in 12 away Tests and fifth defeat in six matches.
The list goes on: one win in their past eight aways series, four wins in 32 Tests on the road since 2013. It’s the travel sickness that just isn’t going away.
Test Match over on Day One
This game was done early on.
Kiwi pacemen Trent Boult and Tim Southee are excellent, but they didn’t need to excel to take 10 wickets between them and prolong a winter of discontent for England.
Pitch it up outside off-stump and you’ll get your reward. A pretty basic formula at all levels of cricket, although one which works time and time again against batsmen from the British Isles.
Lack of foot movement, poor shot selection and inability to bat with a mindset that your wicket is your most-prized possession at all costs, seems beyond England.
In New Zealand and Australia, the conditions aren’t completely alien. Technique, at times, has made many question whether any of these English batsmen actually learnt their trade on pitches at home.
Individuals will be picked apart in this latest post-mortem, with the second Test coming up fast on the rails and starting in Christchurch on Friday. But this is a collective problem.
Ben Stokes’ final-day stand with Chris Woakes was only the fifth England batting partnership all winter to have lasted more than 180 balls.
Test matches are not won when you fail to occupy the crease for long periods. Is there no pride in gritting some teeth and making the opposition work to get you out?
England have lost their knack of doing just that and it’s worrying.
After all, isn’t Test cricket the beacon of success for the nation? The pride of place on the mantelpiece.
Sadly, this proud tradition seems little more than a concept of the imagination. There’s been a cultural shift, whether England planned for it or not.
How can England fix their woes in Test Cricket?
Not easily, is the honest answer. Moving on from coach Trevor Bayliss – a man who has transformed fortunes in ODI cricket certainly – is a necessity in the five-day format.
The Australian has said he will finish his all-form contract after the 2019 Ashes series and while it’s too much to comprehend at the moment what state Australia will be in next year, England need some new impetus in the age-old format.
When you are out of the team, you are always a better player. A cliche that always rings true in cricket when someone has a bad game.
England have been short of alternative options with bat and ball for a while, but that’s not to say the current crop aren’t good enough.
Many of them are outstanding cricketers – but just aren’t producing. Is someone like Liam Livingstone, one of the next batsman in line to get a chance, better than a Mark Stoneman or Moeen Ali for example? It’s chalk and cheese.
The experienced players, aside from James Anderson, are woefully short of form and confidence. Indeed, the bowling attack is one dimensional and but for the heroics of the 35-year-old, you wonder where the wickets, let alone 20 needed to win a Test, are going to come.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record following the Ashes thrashing, no variety, pace or freshness is evident.
Failure to foresee impact of white-ball cricket on England’s Test side
For too long there has been a bit of a thought-process that things will just come good in English summer conditions and the winter can be just forgotten about.
Director of Cricket Andrew Strauss has enforced changes in the selection and scouting of talent to ensure England are more well-travelled and all-rounded but that takes time and ultimately the focus on limited-overs cricket, with the World Cup looming in 2019, has shifted England’s priorities.
You can’t blame them for wanting to do well in that tournament, but the balance needs to have an equilibrium across the board.
Add in the noise around players like Alex Hales and Adil Rashid – two men who could genuinely force their way back into the Test reckoning – who have instead chosen to pursue white-ball contracts for the coming period, and it says it all.
At no other point in the past decade has there been so many places up for grabs in the Test side. Yet, at the moment, it’s hard to give them away.
Theoretically, an opener’s berth, top-order batting slot, spinner’s role and up to two pace positions are available for someone who steps up. Unfortunately, the vibe at the moment is that players’ are better off pursuing ambitions elsewhere disregarding first-class matches and a future in Test cricket.
Of course, it’s a problem the global game is facing but who would have thought that would ever really be the case for England?
In a match which had been massively curtailed by rain, the Kiwis overcame a spirited England response in the second innings to grind out the win on the fifth day to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.
We look at the good and the bad from the final day of the maiden day-night Test in New Zealand.
STOKES DIGS IN TO RESIST KIWIS
Playing in his first Test since his return to international cricket, Ben Stokes’ innings on the final day gave England a glimmer of hope of pulling off a remarkable escape. The all-rounder curbed in his naturally attacking tendencies as he produced an uncharacteristically dogged display to resist the New Zealand bowlers for long periods.
The southpaw battled a stiff back and a determined Neil Wagner in his 188-ball vigil at the crease. He reached his 13th Test fifty off 128 balls, the slowest of his career. He stitched together a 83-run sixth wicket partnership with Chris Woakes and the pair were close to completing a wicket-less second session for the Kiwis before Stokes was dismissed off the last ball before dinner was taken.
WAGNER BREATHES LIFE INTO KIWI ATTACK
New Zealand’s pace trio have been impressing with their consistency for some time now. While Trent Boult and Tim Southee had showed their prowess with the swinging ball in England’s first innings demolition, Wagner showed what he brings to the triumvirate by bowling his heart out in the second innings.
Through sheer persistence and an incredible work-rate, the Kiwi pacer bounced out three of England’s four half centurions in the second innings.
With New Zealand’s bowlers looking flat as Stokes and Woakes dug in, Wagner summoned all his strength in a terrific spell before the dinner break. He was rewarded with Stokes’ wicket as the England batsman attempted to cut the short-ball over point. If that wicket hadn’t won it for New Zealand, Wagner’s net definitely did as he ended Woakes’ vigil with a sharp bouncer aimed straight for the face.
Neil Wagner is such a great role model, not just for sport but for life in general. The dude never gives up. Ball after ball he charges in. He is relentless and he gets results because of this.
— Nicholas Ross Smith (@1NRSmith) March 26, 2018
Jonny Bairstow had started well on the final day and was forming a solid partnership with Stokes before he was given a big reprieve by Boult. New Zealand spinner Todd Astle bowled a rank short hop which Bairstow pulled straight to the Kiwi pacer at mid-on but Boult put down the simplest of chances.
That let off, didn’t seem to wake up the England batsman as he committed the same mistake 11 deliveries later. Astle delivered another poor short delivery which Bairstow pulled straight into the hands of Kane Williamson at short-leg. The New Zealand skipper made no mistake on his part as the Englishman was left kicking himself for throwing his wicket away.
MOEEN ALI’S LACK OF FOOTWORK DOES HIM IN
After Bairstow’s dismissal, Moeen Ali had come in and provided ample support to England’s cause along with Stokes. He survived a testy period as Wagner unleashed a barrage of bouncers. One of them even struck the all-rounder on the chest as he failed to get his body out of the way in time.
However, Wagner’s assault had succeeded in getting Moeen on the back-foot and when Boult pitched one up with the new ball, the Englishman’s lack of forward movement did him in.
Moeen was trapped on the pads and was dismissed after a successful review by the hosts, right at the stroke of tea.
Ben Stokes’ brave and admirable defiance was in vain as England subsided by an innings and 49 runs against New Zealand at Eden Park.
Joe Root’s men, who fell to a 10th away Test defeat in their last 12 attempts, had scant chance of recovering from the moment they were bowled out for 58 in only 20.4 overs of the first session in this pink-ball series opener.
Almost two days of rain gave them a glimmer of keeping the Kiwis at bay for an improbable stalemate – but after their captain fell to what became the last ball of day four, hopes gradually dwindled on the way to 320 all out in the 127th over of 146 Kane Williamson’s declaration challenged them to bat out.
Stokes (66), in his first Test for more than six months following his enforced Ashes absence this winter, provided most resistance – defying increasing discomfort from his stiff back and needing pain-killers to do so as he dug in for an untypically stoic 13th Test half-century, by far his slowest from 128 balls.
But then, one ball after taking England to 300 in a sixth-wicket stand of 83 with Chris Woakes (52), Stokes’ protracted and theatrical duel with Neil Wagner (three for 77) ended with a mishit attempted uppercut at another short delivery and a crucial, running catch by Tim Southee at point.
It was another case of England undoing some much-improved work in their second innings, and a third instance in succession too of a hammer-blow wicket falling to the final ball of a session – this time leaving Woakes with only the tail for company for a further 31.3 scheduled overs.
Unsurprisingly, despite his fourth Test 50 from 109 balls, it proved too much.
Dawid Malan had perhaps represented the most plausible rearguard contender at start of play but, sadly for England, he got no further than the fifth over following an afternoon resumption under sunny skies.
After the left-hander was caught at second slip off Southee to leave England four down and still 227 runs adrift, the tourists ground to a halt for much of the next hour – but did not lose a wicket.
Stokes and Jonny Bairstow both batted against type, refusing to take the bait from a series of wide and full deliveries, as nine overs contained just two runs – and one scoring shot.
Bairstow was fortunate to get off the mark from the 15th ball he faced, and avoid a pair in the match, when he leg-glanced Southee too close to the wicketkeeper – only for BJ Watling to put the chance down.
He was even luckier not to go for 21 when he pulled a Todd Astle long-hop straight to mid-on, where Trent Boult was the culprit this time.
But he failed to heed his warnings, and in the leg-spinner’s next over pulled to midwicket where Williamson leapt high to hold a good catch.
England lost their next big wicket – to the last ball before the break, of course.
Stokes, who had faced the very first ball of the day following Root’s departure, continued his impressive self-restraint.
But Moeen Ali fell lbw to Boult with the second new ball when New Zealand went to DRS which demonstrated pad was hit before bat.
There was increased belief for much of the middle session that England might just grind out an unlikely stalemate, exactly five years to the day since they hung on with nine down at this venue for a famous draw and 0-0 series score.
This time, though, it was not to be as Woakes eventually fell to a short-leg catch off Wagner and then Anderson was last out, poking Astle (three for 39) into the hands of mid-off.