Lunch: New Zealand 346 for 4 (Williamson 168*, Blundell 8*, Roach 2-71, Gabriel 2-74 vs West Indies
Control your game, you control the game. That is Kane Williamson in a nutshell. Every defining trait of his batting -the obsession with playing late, the aversion to hitting in the air, the freakish ability to never ever follow a swinging ball – is an effort to put his team in the best possible position to win a Test match and he did just that, while also scoring the 22nd century of his career.
West Indies couldn’t hold a consistent line and length at the start of play on day one, but since the first break in play at Hamilton, they’ve been able to settle into better rhythm. They tested Williamson with a fuller length in line with the stumps. But most of all, they were getting better at hitting the same spot on the pitch over and over again. That is key on this pitch.
Williamson recognised the danger and adapted accordingly. He shelved the expansive shots. He steeled himself for periods when he wouldn’t score any runs. He was so precise especially with the deliveries that he was comfortable attacking. If they were full and wide, and he could reach the pitch of the ball, he went for the drive. And even then, he wouldn’t let the bat follow through away from his body. If it was short and wide, he stood tall and smashed ’em square on the off side.
One of those trademark back foot punches was how he got to his century in the third over of the day. Then he just kicked the heck on. His third fifty came off just 82 balls. His fourth already beckons.
While Williamson’s decision making enabled him to score, his unyielding technique protected him from being dismissed.
Kemar Roach was able to conjure several dangerous deliveries, routinely going wide of the crease in search of the outside edge. Thanks to his remarkable ability to straighten the ball away no matter how steep the angle is into the right-hander, he is a constant wicket-taking threat.
Williamson faced several jaffas like those and although he was beaten more than once, he never looked like nicking off. It isn’t the first time the New Zealand captain has exhibited such slipperiness. For some reason, he seems immune to the very human instinct to follow the ball, especially when it threatens to move late. If you’re even a half decent batsman, you want to feel bat on ball. If you’re a great one, you just know better.
Still, in a five-day game, mistakes are bound to happen. Unfortunately for West Indies, they would only come at the other end. Shannon Gabriel secured the outside edge of Ross Taylor’s bat in the second over of the day. Roach had Henry Nicholls flashing outside his off stump. Those two wickets in the first hour of play threatened the notion that West Indies would be able to limit the damage they let happen on the first day. Instead, they ended up feeling like the villains in a Scooby Doo cartoon. “I would’ve gotten away with it if not for that meddling Kane.”
England vs NZ 2021 – Joe Root admits England were ‘outplayed in all three departments’ by New Zealand
But England skipper says now is not the time to “rip up all the hard work we’ve done”
The series defeat was England’s first at home since 2014 and Root’s first at home as captain. It was also New Zealand’s first Test series victory in England since 1999.
But while Root accepted it had been a “disappointing performance” from his side, he insisted it would “be the wrong time to start panicking and trying to rip up all the hard work we’ve done for such a long period of time.”
“It’s been a frustrating and disappointing performance this week,” Root said. “I don’t think we’ve given a fair account of ourselves. We’ve been outplayed in all three departments, particularly the batting.
“We didn’t get the runs [we should have done] in the first innings. We missed chances in the field and didn’t help our bowlers in that respect. And with the bat [in the second innings] we were poor.
“Sometimes in Test cricket you can have a poor session with the ball and you’re still very much in the game. But a session that like can cost you a Test. That’s where we find ourselves. It’s cost us the series and we have some hard lessons to learn.
“We have to look at where we can get better individually and collectively. We need to be honest about that. We have to have some hard conversations and move forward.”
But while Root accepted improvements were necessary, he defended the techniques of his players and suggested England must not abandon the investment they had put into these players ahead of major series against India and Australia. And he took responsibility for failing to lead from the front in a young batting line-up.
“We have to front up, look to get better and learn some hard lessons sometimes,” he said. “We’ve all underperformed this week.
“But we have to be constructive. I think every single one of those guys has proven they can score big Test runs. I think it would be the wrong time to start panicking and trying to rip up all the hard work we’ve done for such a long period of time. It’s something that historically we’ve done going into big tournaments and big Test series and it’s made things even worse.
“There’s a huge desire to keep getting better as a team. We know there’s talent and ability in the group. Sometimes you really learn about a group of players, going through a difficult period like this. We have had a poor week, a poor series, and have got to front up to that. But it doesn’t make them bad players.
“There’s been a lot of talk about technique and batting. My view is batting is very much an individual thing. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Look at the best players in the world: they all have different methods of how they play. How they stand, their bat paths, where they score their runs.
“For me it’s more of a metal thing. It’s about clarity in their own game and managing passages of play. Managing different bowlers, different angles and conditions and doing that consistently well over an innings and a series. We can be a little bit smarter on occasions. It’s somewhere that throughout my career I’ve got that horribly wrong on occasions.
“As the leading run-scorer within our squad currently I feel like I’ve put a lot of pressure on those guys by not performing myself. As a captain you pride yourself on getting big runs and leading from the front and I’ve not managed to follow through on that. So I’ve probably compounded that situation slightly.”
Despite his disappointment, Root refused to blame any sense that his side had been discombobulated by the furore around historic social media posts in the run-up to the game or the absence of those players who had appeared in the IPL
“That [the social media issue] would be a bit of an excuse, to be honest,” Root said. “I actually think that once the game came round and the training days came round, we managed to focus solely on the cricket. I don’t think that’s dripped into the way we played.
“As we have spoken about so many times, we find ourselves in these Covid times and things aren’t perfect. They are not ideal. Yes, the whole thing is frustrating from time to time. You want your best players available for every Test. At the minute that’s not quite a possibility. That’s part and parcel of the world we live in right now. The sooner it can get back to normal the better for a number of reasons.
“We’ve five more Tests to come this summer and I’d like to think for those Tests we’d have our first XI if all fit. And that’s a really exciting prospect as a team and something to look forward to.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
India Women in England 2021
“You never want to get an England cap by default, you want to really earn it”
After three rounds of the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, competition for places in the England squads ahead of home series against India and New Zealand in September, was keen. Before Saturday’s fourth round, the 17-strong squad for next week’s Test against India in Bristol had been trimmed to 15, with legspinner Sarah Glenn and seamer Freya Davies returning to their domestic teams.
Elwiss, the allrounder who is hoping to add to her career tally of three Test when the final XI is decided, has “one hundred percent” noticed an increase in the quality of matches – and therefore the number of players pressing for selection – since the introduction of full-time domestic contracts this season for players outside the ECB’s centrally contracted list.
“I was asked if that brings more pressure and I think yes, it does definitely, but I think it’s a good pressure,” Elwiss said. “You’re always competing with yourself and I think people around you going for your spot playing well means you’ve then got to raise your game.
“You never want to get an England cap by default, you want to really earn it, and I think that’s what you’re going to see. You’ve seen already the last couple of games, people have put their hands up and it just makes you be on top of your game, and put in those performances, which is how it should be.”
Elwiss, who has retained her central contract, was – on paper – a predictable selection for the longest and, for the women, rarest format, having played all three Ashes Tests from 2015 onwards. But contending with injury for a considerable part of the past two years, she has had limited opportunities to gauge her form at international level.
When Elwiss was troubled by back pain on England’s ODI tour of India in February 2019, scans revealed a small stress fracture. She was out of action until the Ashes Test nearly five months later and played the second T20I against Australia 10 days after that.
It was her last England cap as a back problem also ruled her out of England’s five hastily arranged T20Is against West Indies last summer and she was an unused member of the white-ball squad which toured New Zealand earlier this year.
In the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy, Elwiss had a modest start to the season for Southern Vipers with 55 runs and two wickets from three matches. Elwiss has obvious ambitions to remain in the international set-up and, as the domestic 50-over competition is the only indicator of form for any of the players involved, previous experience of Test match conditions will come into consideration. But she has a more pressing aim too.
“My main goal this summer is to stay fit and stay on the park,” Elwiss said. “Playing for England is the ultimate goal but I’m under no illusion that I need to be playing well to do that.
“The athleticism of the girls and the fitness levels of the girls have really improved and I think that’ll keep us playing a lot longer as well”
“I’m really pleased that girls around me are doing well and pushing me on because it’s going to make me be a better cricketer as well and I suppose if I can do the best I can do in the games that I’m playing then the selection is sort of irrelevant, it will take care of itself, hopefully. Yeah, that’s the ultimate goal but I think it’s not something that I focus on a lot.”
“Now you can pretty much go for as long as you want to as long as you’re fit and healthy and I think that’s been a thing that’s come in the last few years as well, the athleticism of the girls and the fitness levels of the girls have really improved and I think that’ll keep us playing a lot longer as well.”
Having just turned 30, Elwiss describes herself as an “old girl” but, with careful management of her back and another central contract, along with a deal to play for Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred, she is ready for a big international summer she hopes will start with a place in the Test team from Wednesday.
“I love playing Test cricket and I will always want to play Test cricket,” said Elwiss at an event earlier this month to mark 50 days until the Hundred starts on July 21. “It suits my game quite well… all I can do is play well in the games that I’ve got in front of me and hopefully that puts me in a good position.
“But for me the most important thing for me is playing cricket and enjoying cricket.”
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo
Cricket Hall of Fame – Andy Flower and Kumar Sangakkara among 10 players inducted into ICC Hall of Fame
Monty Noble, Aubrey Faulker, Learie Constantine, Stan McCabe, Vinoo Mankad, Ted Dexter, Bob Willis, Desmond Haynes also on the list
The new list of inductees shows a notable skew towards allrounders, with Noble, Faulkner, Constantine and Mankad counted among the great multi-disciplinary players of all time, and Flower and Sangakkara also fitting that bill as wicketkeeper-batters.
Constantine was one of West Indies’ two greatest players – the other was George Headley, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009 – between their inaugural Test match in 1928 and the cessation of international cricket due to World War 2. Known for his innovative batting, skillful fast bowling and electric fielding either at cover point or close to the bat, Constantine scored 635 Test runs at 19.24, including four fifties, and took 58 wickets at 30.10. He made even more of an impact off the field, perhaps, qualifying as a barrister, entering politics, and serving as Trinidad & Tobago’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom from 1961 to 1964. He was knighted in 1962, and in 1969 became the first black man to sit in the House of Lord’s.
Dexter was one of England’s most attractive post-war batters, a powerful driver who scored 4502 runs in 62 Tests between 1958 and 1968, at an average of 47.89. He was the Conservative Party’s (losing) candidate for parliament from Cardiff South East in 1964, when he was still playing for (and captaining) England. His post-playing career took him into journalism and broadcasting, before he returned to cricket in 1989 to serve terms as England’s chairman of selectors and president of the MCC among other roles. He continues to keep a close eye on the game, most recently bemoaning the techniques of England’s young batters in a letter published in the June edition of The Cricketer.
More to follow…
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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