England have spent five months and six days touring this winter – 21 weeks in total. Personnel obviously chopped and changed throughout formats during the lengthy three-month stay in Australia and more recently, the stint in New Zealand – but still, it’s been a gruelling period away and Joe Root‘s men couldn’t be blamed for wanting to spend a night’s sleep in their own bed.
Christchurch draw symbolic of winter struggles
The Three Lions came close to finishing a grim period on a relative kind of high at the Hagley Oval but failure to take 10 wickets on the final day (five second innings dropped catches didn’t help) was actually symbolic of the team’s nose-dive plight away from British shores.
England have now gone 13 Tests away from home without victory – setting a new unwanted record – with 10 of those Tests seeing defeat. Even in a era where sides the world-over are finding it hard to land a glove overseas, this return is woeful and exasperated England’s inability to play well in anything but seaming and swinging conditions – although day five offered just that.
There were a handful of positives to take from the second Test as England did certainly have a fresh look about them with the inclusions of quick Mark Wood and frontline spinner Jack Leach injecting much-needed new blood – but why was change left right until the final match of the tour? A placid, one-dimensional attack needed derailing much sooner.
Ultimately, the 1-0 series defeat told the full story of a team in decline and England could learn a thing or two from Kane Williamson‘s shrewd outfit.
Plenty to ponder
Starting at the top of the order, all-time run-scorer Alastair Cook averaged just 5.75 against the Black Caps and was dismissed for under 20 in 10 of his 13 innings across the winter.
The 33-year-old’s role in the side will continue to be questioned but time looks to be catching up with a man who has opened the batting in 154 Tests. Failure to score consistently this coming summer against Pakistan and India, as well as address his tendency to nick-off outside off-stump against line and length seam, could mean the end of the road for the left-hander – putting pay to hopes of a 2019 Ashes swansong. Meanwhile, Mark Stoneman and James Vince’s batting hardships have only served to accentuate the spotlight on Cook.
Captain and coach
Critics have also happily weighed into skipper Root. It’s been a testing time for the Yorkshireman, no doubt, and his failure to convert any one of his past nine fifties into 100s is a real problem. Watching the 27-year-old field on his knees at silly point showed his dedication but nothing is going for him. He is still the right man to lead this team forward though.
A more immediate issue which the England and Wales Cricket Board are set to resolve is the future of Trevor Bayliss. The Australian deserves credit for keeping his cool and managing a mammoth workload since October, but the time has surely come for him to relinquish Test duties and focus on limited-overs cricket. England have certainly regressed on his watch.
Broad boost and Anderson heroics
Eleven wickets at just under 19 for Stuart Broad in New Zealand felt almost like his second-coming in international cricket. The pacer’s rejuvenation following a poor Ashes is just as important as Jonny Bairstow‘s continued excellent form with the bat and behind the stumps. The presence of Ben Stokes – who has not hit anywhere near his best form yet – is absolutely vital moving forward.
James Anderson set a new record on Tuesday, becoming the most worked pacer in Test history when he bowled his 30,020th delivery. A staggering statistic which goes to he is still the most important man in an XI which needs rebuilding. He can’t go on forever though and is 36 in July.
Aside from Anderson and Broad’s 47 winter wickets at 29.82 between them, 34 scalps at 72.85 from other bowlers is a worrying concern.
Vernon Philander sent Australia crashing to defeat with a sensational spell of bowling on the fifth day of the fourth Test against Australia at the Wanderers Stadium on Tuesday.
Philander took a career-best six for 21 as Australia were bowled out for 119, giving South Africa victory by 492 runs, a record runs margin for South Africa.
South Africa completed a 3-1 series win, the first time they had beaten Australia in a home series since 1969/70.
It brought to an end a series of high-quality cricket and even greater off-field drama, culminating in a ball tampering scandal during the third Test in Cape Town which resulted in former captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and Cameron Bancroft sent home.
Philander struck twice in the first over of the day. He had Shaun Marsh caught at gully off the first ball. An inside edge looped off the batsman’s thigh pad to Temba Bavuma.
Vernon Philander rips through Australia with a career best 6/21 in a 492 run win, South Africa’s biggest ever win by runs!
— ICC (@ICC) April 3, 2018
Four balls later Mitchell Marsh was caught behind without a run having been added to the overnight 88 for three. It was Philander’s 200th wicket in his 54th Test.
Peter Handscomb was next, bowled off an inside edge for 24 as he tried to withdraw his bat – an almost exact replica of his first-ball dismissal in the first innings.
Tim Paine and Pat Cummins were unable to repeat their defiant stand of the first innings, with Paine caught behind for seven and Cummins bowled for one.
Chadd Sayers was caught at third slip off the first ball he faced. At that stage Philander’s figures for the morning were 5.2-2-3-6.
Morne Morkel, playing in his final Test, had been given a guard of honour by his teammates and support staff when he walked on to the field at the start of the day.
With nine wickets down, Morkel was given the ball but was unable to add to his 309 Test wickets. The final wicket fell to a run-out, with Nathan Lyon failing to beat Aiden Markram’s throw from point as he went for a second run off Morkel’s bowling.
South Africa 488 and 344-6 declared
Australia 221 and 119 (V. Philander 6-21)
Result: South Africa won by 492 runs
Series: South Africa won the four-match series 3-1
— ICC (@ICC) April 3, 2018
England‘s cruel winter ended on an all too fitting note as they extended their winless run of overseas Tests to a national-record 13 with a Christchurch draw and 1-0 series defeat to New Zealand.
Stuart Broad took two wickets with the first two balls of a glorious morning to renew belief that the 10 required might be possible on a flat pitch, and debutant spinner Jack Leach was soon in the thick of it too.
But the resistance of Tom Latham (83) and Ish Sodhi (56no), not to mention five dropped catches in New Zealand’s 256 for eight, left Joe Root’s men with too much to do as the hosts held on bravely for their fourth series success over England – who had to deal with further frustration on top of their 4-0 Ashes trouncing.
Broad providing an astonishing start to the final push here.
England’s rejuvenated ‘enforcer’ could take limited credit when Latham’s opening partner Jeet Raval poked a catch straight to square-leg before the majority had taken their seats, or laid the rugs out on Hagley Park’s grass banks.
SUPER SODHI TAKES NZ TO SERIES WIN!
— ICC (@ICC) April 3, 2018
But it will be fair enough if Broad dines out a few times on the moment he then got his next delivery in the perfect spot to see off Kiwi captain Kane Williamson for his first Test match golden duck in 116 innings of a great career so far.
To send Williamson packing at the first opportunity, caught-behind on the back-foot defence, was a huge morale boost.
Ross Taylor had not read Broad’s comic-book hero script, blocking the hat-trick ball, but he soon made up for it in the eyes of England followers by instead becoming Leach’s maiden Test wicket.
Dropped in the meantime by James Vince off Broad low at third slip, Taylor mis-swept the slow left-armer to the man who had just been brought up from the boundary to a catching position at backward square-leg.
Like Taylor, Henry Nicholls then fell for 13 too when the returning James Anderson had him feeling for the line pushing forward and edging to slip for Alastair Cook’s second catch of the morning.
England had to wait until after lunch and another 20 overs for their next breakthrough, and it was again a case of Root having his man in position as Mark Wood went round the wicket and struck for the first time in his comeback match when he had the determined BJ Watling flicking a catch straight to Anderson at leg-slip.
It was not until England got Latham, though, that they perhaps appeared to be on the home straight at last.
Vince had more than five hours of playing time in which to regret failing to hold a tough chance at slip when Latham had 23 the previous evening. But he clawed it back when he ran in from the deep to take an ankle-high catch from a mis-sweep at the start of a new spell as Leach switched ends.
Latham’s mistake came after he had kept England at bay for 207 balls, and it left the Kiwis six down with a scheduled 54 overs still left.
Two drops by Mark Stoneman off Leach set the tourists back again, Colin de Grandhomme low at cover on six and Sodhi crucially at silly-point before he had scored in a half-century stand which ate up 26 precious overs.
Wood returned to have de Grandhomme very well-caught low down by Leach this time at fine-leg.
But Sodhi, who dug in for a three-hour 50, and Neil Wagner then would not be moved for 31 overs, whatever England tried – including squad-player ball-boy boundary riders to speed up the over rate and close fielders on their knees to try to make catches out of nothing.
Root himself finally had Wagner caught bat-pad on review at silly-point, but too late from the final ball of the match before bad light had last word.