One of the conceits of England’s last period of ascendancy in Test cricket (2010-12) was that so rich were its resources of fast bowlers that its reserve corps would be first choices for any other Test team. Finn, Onions, Tremlett, with Dernbach and Meaker still in the phase of getting ODI experience.
This difficult to falsify, but hard to validate argument was briefly put to some sort of test. Stuart Broad and James Anderson were rested/given injury relief for the third Test of a series against West Indies, that England led 2-0, at Edgbaston in June 2012. The match was ruined by rain. Batting first the West Indies scored their highest total of the series, with Dinesh Ramdin scoring a ton at seven and Tino Best a rollicking 95. England’s understudies underwhelmed.
The following year, over a sequence of six Tests against Australia, England brought in Woakes, Tremlett, Stokes and Rankin to support Broad and Anderson. Stokes had a successful game with the ball at Sydney, but none of the others looked deserving of a run in the England side, let alone their major rivals’ teams.
The point of recounting this recent history is to recognise the risk of lauding the strength in depth of a country’s cricket players when, by definition, those reserve forces haven’t had the chance to prove themselves at Test level. With that caution in mind, consider New Zealand.
As with England, their attack is led by a complementary pair: Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Chief support has been provided by Neil Wagner. At Lord’s, Matt Henry made a promising debut, weeks after his surprise World Cup Final appearance. Doug Bracewell, who took nine wickets in New Zealand’s first defeat of Australia in Australia in 26 years, is also in the touring party. Arriving for the short-form cricket should have been the Black Caps’ fastest bowlers: Adam Milne and Mitch McGlenaghan; Milne has had to withdraw due to injury. Fourth seamer duties can fall to all-rounders Corey Anderson, James Neesham and Grant Elliot. In the background, leading wicket taker in the Plunket Shield last season was 20 year old Jacob Duffy.
The absence of Southee or Boult would be a major hindrance, with perhaps only Bracewell offering anything close to their control and new ball penetration. But if their form and fitness holds, as established internationals in their mid-twenties, they have plenty of time to apprentice one or two of the younger bowlers and build a succession.
Three years on from Tino Best’s assault on England’s fast bowling reserve forces, that’s something England may only now just have under way with Ben Stokes and Mark Wood.