700 runs in the day
McCullum: coiled and ready to spring, but again not quite launching. Receiving more plaudits from a local crowd than anyone visiting here since a young Brian Lara. Admired for what he’s done for New Zealand and now drawing out of England.
Guptill: drumming everything over-pitched back past the bowler. The same clean, straight swing lifting the ball aimed at his pads high over the legside.
Williamson: Speed of hands and control of angle produce crisp, neat shots around the wicket. Working the scoreboard harder than he seems to work himself. No hint of a preference of where to score, until Stokes over-pitches and an off-drive of perfect shape and proportion, and just a little flourish, sends the ball skittering away. Three times.
Taylor: beginning, I sense, to revel in the shade of his teammates’ growing reputations. Feeding singles to keep Williamson stretching England all around the ground. The stoop and bottom hand controlled drive convinces me there’s a resemblance to a player I never saw bat: Cowdrey.
Elliott: out of touch, dot balls, a thrashed six and a few singles, putting first 400, then 350 out of reach. Transferring pressure to Williamson, who finally plays and pays for a couple of inelegant shots. Elliott stays put and at last applying muscle and a good eye kicks the innings back on track.
Santner: edging and bunting the ball as the innings comes towards its close would serve his team best back in the shed. Rashid returns and bowls a ball from the front of his hand to the left-handed Santner who detonates with the first of five middled shots in the over. Huge, flat-batted sixes over the long leg-side boundary, bring 350 back into view.
Roy: ten balls and still on nought. I can’t look to see what it’s doing to the required run rate. Roy decides it’s time to advance and crunches a four and lofts a six. The tailwind from Hales, pulls him smoothly through the powerplay. Roy’s tactic is to charge. Henry drops it short and Roy batters it through mid-wicket, like you know who, but without kicking up his right foot behind him. Another skip forward next ball and Roy buries it in Williamson, just 20 metres away. Fortunately, given the damage it would have caused, finding his hands.
Hales: unlike his partner, he hangs back in the crease, pulling and hooking over and past the fielders behind square. The culmination of his powerplay assault is ball lifted from his pads with a full swing from the shoulders that soars into the deep midwicket stand.
Root: just like Wiliamson earlier in the day, he takes runs with ease wherever they come, at a pace that suits him. Scorching straight drives and a cover drive, with right knee on the turf, adorn deflections to third man, and straighter balls punched out of reach of the legside fielders. There are cuts that send the ball screaming square and glances too fine for the boundary rider to reach. Not a single shot played that I’d caution a young cricketer not to imitate.
Morgan: still, even serene, at the crease. UnMorgan like as the bowler approaches and in his run-scoring too. Barely a paddle or reverse. Straight driving with high elbow and strong top hand. Backfoot defence equally orthodox. McCullum leaves long-off empty for almost the whole of Morgan’s innings. He saves a fielder neck ache as Morgan lofts sixes over that vacant channel. Before the half-way point, in partnership with Root, Morgan brings the required rate below one run per ball, and that’s the rate of progress for a few overs. But Morgan won’t win it the risk-free way and makes room to pan the ball off-side. When he returns to hitting high and straight, Henry claws at his own head after a full delivery is driven in a shallow parabola and into the long-off stands. A few balls later and a towering hit to our stand at mid-wicket takes Morgan beyond 100.
700 runs in the day
In their run-making at Edgbaston against New Zealand today (9 June 2015), Joe Root and Jos Buttler shared a unique feat that involves the two players not sharing the crease. Root came to the wicket in the first over with England yet to score. He was out in the 25th over with the score at 180. Buttler replaced him at the wicket and batted until the 48th over.
Root and Buttler are the only example in ODI history of twin century makers in the same innings who did not bat together.
A very similar feat was achieved earlier this year by Rilee Rossouw and AB de Villiers. The difference is that South Africa’s innings featured triplet, not twin hundreds. On 18 January 2015 at the Wanderers, Amla and Rossouw shared an opening partnership of 247 against the West Indies. After Rossouw fell, de Villiers joined Amla, putting on 192. Rossouw and de Villiers both scored hundreds, but didn’t bat together.
The list of twin century makers in ODI innings for England is reproduced below, with the partnership the batsmen shared.
Gooch (117*) and Gower (102) v Australia at Lord’s, 3 June 1985, 202 (2nd wicket)
Trescothick (109) and Hussain (115) v India at Lord’s, 13 July 2002, 185 (2nd wicket)
Trescothick (114*) and Solanki (106) v South Africa at the Oval, 28 June 2003, 200 (1st wicket)
Strauss (100) and Flintoff (123) v West Indies at Lord’s, 6 July 2004, 226 (4th wicket)
Strauss (152) and Collingwood (112*) v Bangladesh at Trent Bridge, 21 June 2005, 210 (4th wicket)
Cook (102) and Bell (126*) v India at Southampton, 21 August 2007, 178 (2nd wicket)
Strauss (154) and Trott (110) v Bangladesh at Edgbaston, 12 July 2010, 250 (2nd wicket)
Morgan (124*) and Bopara (101*) v Ireland at Malahide, 3 September 2013, 226* (5th wicket)
“Well..” I start to answer.
No.2 son, who’s posed the question, has tracked me down to a quiet corner of the house. I’m hunched over my iPad, watching the early stages of a Test match. In my head, I’m turning over possible answers. Responses that convey complexity and unpredictability, that don’t rely on formulations like, “you can’t tell what a good score is until both sides have batted.”
“Oh, 180-5. That’s a good score, isn’t it?”
“Well..” This one’s easier, I could remind him that a batsman once scored 400 in a Test match. Yet, on a tricky wicket, it could still be a ‘good score’.
“Is that bowler good?”
“Well..” It’s clear he’s a marginal international cricketer, although I shouldn’t decry someone who’s succeeded at every other level and will have a far more fulfilling playing career than I could ever have dreamed of. But he has just wasted three overs with the new ball.
“Do you like Alastair Cook?”
“Well..” Should I respond about the batsman, the captain, the straightforward man, the guileless interviewee that I’ve mocked on this channel?
“Will you play football later?”
“Well..” and no.2 son has gone. His father’s inability to answer a string of straightforward questions left hanging in the air. I sink back into the game on the screen. A game that defies easy answers, that offers many suggestions of meaning, lots of false trails and rebuttals of hasty conclusions.
The ambiguity of a Test match in progress qualifies and limits its appeal to the young who are accustomed to contests being settled by celebrity judges, phone-in votes or penalty shoot-outs. If I am left feeling hesitant and inarticulate by my failure to give clear strong answers, I have evenings of cricket like today’s at Headingley as justification for equivocation.
England 215-1 New Zealand 350.
“Well.. Ballance hasn’t looked very secure recently.. Lyth may find it hard to keep his concentration all the way to the close of play after the elation of a maiden ton.. the weather could close in to help the bowlers.. Root is in good form, but nobody succeeds in every innings.. the new ball is due.. but England do look set for 600.”
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.
New Zealand surged through the World Cup playing attacking cricket, stumbled in the Final, and picked up at pace again at Lord’s, even with a swap in format and hemisphere. Opting to bowl first, the New Zealand seam and swing bowlers dismantled England’s top order in the opening hour of the match. Two days later and the visiting side had passed the England total, with just three wickets down and scoring at four runs per over.
How will their defeat this evening, in a match in which they long held the upper-hand, affect their surging style of play?
Brendon McCullum is instrumental to their approach, and culpable in their defeat. On the first morning, to no-one’s surprise, he kept a populous slip cordon while Root and Stokes counter-attacked, giving the England batsmen the space to score runs quickly at a time when the pitch’s early devilry had abated. On day three, with the New Zealand lead building, McCullum continued to charge. A top edged swipe gave Mark Wood his first Test wicket with a catch on the third-man boundary. England’s bowling tightened and a lead that could have exceeded 200 was kept in check.
Of these two passages of play, McCullum’s batting was the graver mistake. England’s green middle-order was exposed on the first morning and the side could have folded for under 150 with another quick wicket. But on the third day, there was no equivalent benefit available from a rapid strike. New Zealand’s telling advantage would come from batting on, continuing to build a lead.
McCullum’s attacking conviction brings to mind another sports figure, from another decade in another sport. Kevin Keegan managed Newcastle United in the 1990s to play a kind of football that made the Geordies everyone’s second favourite team. ‘You score four, we’ll hit five’, was the ethos. But within a matter of months, without a trophy to mark their entertaining efforts, it became, ‘we score three, you’ll net five.’
Keegan was naïve. McCullum surely isn’t. As recently as February 2014, he batted for over 12 hours (scoring 302) to save a Test at Wellington against India when 200 behind on first innings. And his side has adhesive batsmen in Latham, Williamson, Taylor and Watling. The quick bowlers can also settle into long spells, building pressure through consistency, rather than gambling on unplayable deliveries.
What we have seen at Lord’s is McCullum’s deliberate approach, perhaps stirred by the praise he attracted during the World Cup. It’s what makes his next move so interesting. Will the chance of winning in a cavalier, popularity commanding fashion continue to tug, or will he sit back and allow the skills of his team to compete at a more conventional Test match tempo?
We may have found out the answer mid-afternoon today, when McCullum came in to bat, 280 runs from victory and four top order wickets down. How would he bat? But a stinging first ball off-cutter, from the player who benefitted most from McCullum’s determined offensive strategy on day one, struck the New Zealand skipper and deflected onto his stumps. Ben Stokes pushed England towards victory and kept McCullum’s next move concealed until Headingley.
Asked at the end of the second day’s play at Lord’s about the prospect of Brendon McCullum batting against the new ball on the next day, Moeen Ali said, “Yeah, he’s a bit of a hero of mine..”
Hasn’t the lad attended the ECB media management training?
What’s all this doffing the cap, mid-match, to the opposition captain’s style of cricket?
And the use of simple, clearly spoken words? It’s as if England’s whole vocabulary of performance development had been blown away.
It could be a watershed moment.
I am left to think that Moeen Ali is a bit of a hero of mine.
He didn’t even qualify the statement with an “obviously“.
I have been a Stokes sceptic. Muscles, tattoos and attitude, but never a telling or enduring contribution that would put him at the top of the county averages or even earn him regular use of the new ball for Durham.
His breakthrough at Perth was, I thought (ironically, as you will find, if you read on), just one of those things that happen. A bit of bold batting by a youngster on a day that things fell into place. But not a repeatable moment. Stokes’ bowling: the veering to the left in his delivery stride – a technical kink rather than an idiosyncracy from which he drew force or work on the ball. And the outcome was too predictable to bother Test batsmen.
Stokes’ 2014 made me feel sage.
Then yesterday, I switched. Above all, it was the on-driving: tight, measured and drilled to the boundary over and over again. Of the orthodox cricket shots, the most difficult to achieve because of the risk of imbalance: head in line with hands and ball, not tipping to the off-side to create the angle; top hand and bottom hand having milliseconds of dominance, with power exchanged from top to bottom at the precise moment of contact. Stokes’ muscle and attitude were deployed in controlled, balanced bursts.
The context was impressive as well. England four wickets down for thirty, New Zealand’s bowlers in the ascendancy. Stokes used the attacking field to his advantage, flaying short balls across open field.
This morning, thinking about all that Stokes’ innings meant for England, but most of all the future ability to pick the best four bowlers in the country, I remembered apophenia. Finding meaningful patterns in random data.
For all Stokes’ splendid, upright balance, why was he fed full balls on the leg-stump and long-hops? ‘The difficult first hour’ (itself a candidate for apophenic misapprehension) had passed by the time he came to the wicket, which showed itself to be true and good for strokeplay. Hadn’t there also been a few inside edges that could have seen Stokes fall before lunch?
Ben Stokes, apophenia and me: time will tell. I did, though, relish those on-drives.