Sunday, May 24, 2015

New Zealand should win this Test. And they most probably will.

However, if they don't, the blame can be placed squarely on Brendan McCullum's irresponsible shoulders. On a day when Kane Williamson brought up his tenth Test hundred, and first at Lord's, through the novelty of batting sensibly, McCullum, meanwhile, was once again displaying his propensity for muddled thinking.

It all started out fine. It often does with the Kiwi Captain. Swaggering to the centre with the loss of his side's third wicket, he settled himself in for the long haul. Playing each delivery like it was an unexploded bomb at Wembley, the utmost care was taken to set the foundations for a long individual stay at the crease, and a team total in the mid six hundreds. Let's get a first innings lead of two hundred and sixty and let England sweat the nerves of even more rigorous public scrutiny.

Sounds good. But as many often point out, nothing about McCullum is conventional. You never know what is going to occur next. Well, not true. In fact, he is the most predictable player in World Cricket. After ten minutes it can be guaranteed that his mind will succumb to the urge to swing at anything and everything. There are swingers out there that would be proud of his natural aptitude to swing at the first thing in sight.

This usually seeps into his psyche when fifteen runs have protruded from his bat. The bulge of brutality saunters into his mind and suddenly he sees the bright lights of fours and sixes serenade his ego. He naively falls for it and a blistering barrage of bountiful riches ensues. Then, just when he has set himself up for life, he takes one gamble to many and loses the lot.

So predictable.

Sadly a majority then justify this idiom of rehearsed selfishness with "it's just the way he plays". Instead of holding a batsman that could be so much better than he is to account , they empower him to believe he answers to no one.

Perhaps McCullum doesn't answer to anyone. Mores the pity, because here is a player that has averaged nigh on fifty over the last two years that could be ten runs higher.

Interestingly, there are parallels in his case with Kevin Pietersen. The Exiled English star was regularly lambasted for losing his wicket needlessly with irresponsible shots that let his team down. And quite rightly he was criticized.

Sounds familiar doesn't it. On one hand Pietersen is dragged over the coals for his misdemeanours, and on the other, McCullum, a vastly more popular personality, is celebrated for his. Sounds a lot like double standards.

So, when McCullum swung wildly at a delivery from Mark Woods that was far too full to flay away at, skying the ball over the wicketkeeper's head down to Joe Root on the boundary, instead of for six on the on-side, he should have been pondering what words his apology to his teammates would consist of.

With a responsible attitude from their Captain, the kiwi's could have avoided having to bat again. And this pitch is showing signs of low bounce and turn. Not the sought of environment you want to be in chasing runs to win on the fifth day.

Yes, New Zealand still finished on five hundred and twenty-three. Yes, they have a lead of one hundred and thirty-four. And, yes, they have England struggling at seventy-four for two at the end of the third day.

It could have been so much better though. Much like McCullum's career.

Friday, May 22, 2015

You're a beauty England.

First you generate a day fit for the tropics. Glorious sunshine and a sweltering twenty degrees to see in a new summer of exciting Test Cricket. Add to this vista a pitch perfect for the first morning of a Test; A fine smattering of grass, but not too severe, allowing for generous sideways movement, and overhead conditions that contributed just enough swing to the potion to make the first session fascinating.

Sure, having the home side thirty for four after 12.2 over's wasn't part of the plan. Put into bat, Alastair Cook lost the toss but won the day. Like Britain's many battles throughout history, his batsmen took a pounding early on. Four good deliveries, four wickets. At times one must accept a foe has unleashed the unplayable. And Ian Bell, in particular, received a delivery fit for the heavens from Matt Henry. That Henry, who was on debut, and at Lords, the home of Cricket, made a ball seam just enough to hit the top of Bell's off-stump all the more remarkable. So much for nerves.

Adam Lyth, too, on debut, was sent on his way by Tim Southee, with a cherry picking up enough steam to swing the slightest and garnering the grisliest of thin edges through to BJ Watling. Not the ideal debut though there are still three innings left for Lyth to cement a place as Cook's opening partner against Australia.

The downfalls of Cook and Gary Balance may not have been quite as excusable as the aforementioned. Nonetheless, the batsmen were entrapped in the bowlers lair. One where good line and length was always going to be triumphant initially.

Thankfully, though, for England, like many of those great battles throughout history, they managed to slave away through the tough times and save enough troops to fight the good fight for Queen and Country.

Two of those troops, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, know a fight when they see one and know how to fight that fight. Now the battle had shifted from the bowlers lair into the batsmen's enclave of attacking defence. For the hour leading into the lunch break, the two newbie's blazed away at a run per ball. The hazardous conditions decreased and Stokes and Root ripped shots to all parts, having a hoot on this hallowed turf.

Not that there was anything extravagant about their play. Yes, they blazed, but they certainly were not crazed. Just the simplicity of playing each delivery on its merits. If only certain others in the very recent past could have learnt their lessons and comprehended this. That's bye the bye though, I guess, and anyway, not a risky shot countenanced and by lunchtime, 113 for 4.

This was a fightback to show England the way in this new era of attacking Cricket. Gone are the days where run rates of two runs per over are considered acceptable. Closer to four is now the norm. As it should be. Root and Stokes displayed what could be done once the conditions had settled and they returned serve with some pressure of their own.

Bowlers, like most others, don't like being put under pressure. Their utopia is that of the batsman blocking and blinking at balls firing just outside off-stump. Turn the tables on them and slash and smash wayward deliveries to the boundary and they'll lose their line and length and linger in doubt over after over.

Let them conquer, they'll conquer. Make them hurt, they'll hurt. Which is what Stokes achieved after the break. Though he came up short of a second test century by eight is no slight on his ability. Much like his maiden test century against Australia in Perth, this was an inning of a fighter. And, like in Perth, one up against a top line attack.

He was in good company, too. For Root also fell just short. By two. This guy though is fast heading toward being in the company of the all time greats. In the past twelve months he has averaged 96.76, all against respectable opposition. Sure, he has another few years to go to truly prove himself. There is no reason he won't. He can attack, he can defend, a calamity or two does not offend his sensibilities - He's a man for all seasons.

In this inning alone he showed the aptitude to change when needed. Before lunch it was attack, after the break he slowed his scoring rate down considerably and held up an end while Stokes took the attack to New Zealand. Often leaving he ball outside off, playing defence with the straightest of bat's but positively, and respecting a foe without cowering. That was his lot.

In the circumstances, two scores in the nineties were gold. That England finished the day on 357 for 4 displayed a team not devoid of fighting spirit.

New Zealand, for their part, are a very good team. And yet quite possibly the most overrated side in World Cricket. Let's put this in perspective: Here we have an English side that if they had gone any lower in recent times would have been residing in Antarctica. Yet, by the day's end, an average English side have come out on top against the World's third ranked team. Yes, it's only day one - Anything can occur.

Knowing this lot, anything probably will occur.