The last day’s luncheon at Lord’s produced a wave of excitement as New Zealand seamstresses in their white robes crossed the picket fence in front of the old pavilion and began their warm-up exercises.
It meant that after a morning in which tourists had added 107 runs to their overnight hideout for the loss of four wickets, Kane Williamson had declared 169 for six, putting England 273 runs for the win in 75 overs and thus , hanging something resembling an attractive carrot.
Williamson’s global stocks were already through the roof after the way he and his team reacted to that irritating loss in fine print in the World Cup final two years ago. Now, apparently, he risked losing in pursuit of a 1-0 lead, setting up a potentially devastating finish to a test that had lost an entire day due to rain.
But at 7:05 pm the two sides shook hands in the draw with five no-bowling overs. Joe Root’s hosts had barely considered the goal a realistic option, instead progressing glacially to 170-for-three over the course of two sessions as the handful of viewers waited for a load that never came.
Dom Sibley was undefeated with 60 of 207 balls, having delivered a typical RBI based on a clip to the hips here, a shove there, and plenty of firm defense along the way. This was the Warwickshire starter’s eighth score of fifty or more in 20 tests and, after taking 20 balls for a pair and after some struggles in India, certainly a relief too.
At the other end was Ollie Pope, who emerged during an hour of winless hitting for an undefeated 20 after Root dropped lbw to the tireless Neil Wagner by 40 of 71 balls. Root had been four out of 38 deliveries at one stage earlier. a flurry of limits late in his stroke and thus completely behind this approach to the task at hand.
Here it would be easy to call this last sunny but sleepy afternoon a case of round heads and gentlemen, but the truth is not that extreme. It is true that Williamson’s statement was bolder than most modern captains would have ventured, and England lacked ambition, but both were informed by key factors.
Root aside, England’s batting lineup is short on experience and long on the tail. Without the likes of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, it also lacks proven bullies. Three of the top seven went into the fourth inning in a pair after his 275 with all firsts and while Rory Burns made 132 in that disappointing performance, the left-hander’s innings were honed over eight hours of grafting.
In fact, until Ross Taylor emerged swinging on the final morning with a slightly agricultural 35-of-31-ball, no batter had been able to truly untie. New Zealand’s Devon Conway looked more at ease during those memorable 200s on debut, what a story is he, but the collapses on both sides up to this point signaled a surface where it wasn’t easy to start.
By the fifth day, he was starting to throw off a seriously inconsistent rebound, as seen when Tim Southee hit Burns twice on the gloves. The thick conditions had the ball rocking generously, both before lunch, when Ollie Robinson, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood hit, and then when Southee and Kyle Jamieson resumed their burgeoning new ball partnership.
Southee was the most prominent spiker on display in this test match, his sublime figures of six for 43 in England’s first inning followed by a seventh in the match when, for the second time in the match, Zak Crawley attacked a ball with hard hands. and minimal footwork to give Gully a gift in two.
Wagner’s elimination of Burns followed, Southee this time the catcher on the second slip with a low, fine effort as the left arm landed one to throw a hoop and extract something more from the court. Wagner’s default approach of sending one goalkeeper after another isn’t as effective here, but past spells with Northamptonshire, Lancashire, and Essex have seen alternate plans perfected.
The two sides are now heading to Birmingham and Edgbaston, previously a stronghold for English cricket until their most recent test in 2019 saw Australian Steve Smith play the role of Joshua and tear down the walls; As they continue to talk about their mission of revenge at the end of the year, Root’s men should focus squarely on rebuilding them.
A batting lineup deemed good enough five days ago is unlikely to be shuffled, but with the ball there are changes underway. Wood is a lot tougher than some give him credit for, but after sending 34 overs, during which time he underscored his 90+ mph power, Olly Stone may be on the road.
Then there’s Robinson, who under normal circumstances would expect to be retained after an excellent performance on the field that saw him harvest seven wickets, extract more movement than his superior colleagues at times, and hit 42 vital runs with the bat. Instead, the 27-year-old will be retired, his debut overshadowed by his use of Twitter as a teenager.
New Zealand has its sights set on the World Test Championship final against India and after Williamson avoided the first few handshakes, pushing England near the end and handing over late Southee, Jamieson and Wagner, they might have put one or two on ice. Either way, they leave London in better shape and certainly with less to deal with off the field.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism