England signed off a memorable winter of Test cricket with a nerve-shredding one-run defeat in Wellington, squaring the series 1-1.
Here, the PA news agency looks at what cricket fans can take away from England’s time in New Zealand.
Stokes’ fragile fitness
As much as England would like to wish away the problem, Ben Stokes’ left knee is now a major worry. He has struggled with it in the past but things are trending in the wrong direction as it stands. He missed the warm-up match entirely, bowled only nine overs on the tour and struggled to run well by the end of the second Test. England’s team is built not only around his inspirational leadership but also his skills as an all-rounder. England fans would be forgiven for watching his IPL stint with Chennai Super Kings from behind the sofa.
Bairstow’s comeback conundrum
When Jonny Bairstow suffered a freak leg break on the golf course at the end of last summer, it brought an abrupt end to a career-best run of form for the Yorkshireman. That would appear to guarantee him a place when he returns, but where? Harry Brook has excelled as his stand-in at number five and slotting him in as wicketkeeper would be harsh on Ben Foakes, who has proved the worth of his peerless glovework. Dropping the out-of-form Zak Crawley and rejigging the batting order is another option but, put simply, there is no easy solution. By the time Australia arrive at Edgbaston in June, England need to find one.
Brook is destined for the top
Some of these @Harry_Brook_88 shots need to be seen to be believed 😱
🇳🇿 #NZvENG 🏴
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 26, 2023
It is hard to remember an English batter make himself at home in Test cricket as quickly or as comfortably as Harry Brook. He may have still been waiting had it not been for Bairstow’s ill-fortune but now he already has the look of a generational talent. In just six Test appearances he already has four centuries, averages 80 and has left old hands like Stuart Broad, Joe Root and Stokes searching for superlatives. With his solid technique and wide range of attacking options, England will hope to build their batting around him for a decade.
Rest is best for pace attack
England went with the same XI in Mount Maunganui and Wellington, meaning back-to-back outings for pace bowlers James Anderson, Broad and Ollie Robinson. In the end, the workload caught up with them as all three flagged during the Black Caps’ follow-on fightback. Expect things to be different in the summer, with England likely to mix and match during a tightly-packed five Test series. Stokes has already said he wants eight quicks vying for selection and with Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes, Matthew Potts, Olly Stone, Sam Curran and the Overton twins all pushing, there is no shortage of options.
England walk the walk as entertainers
England’s rousing form last summer came with plenty of optimistic rhetoric about having fun, providing excitement and being willing to lose along the way. That was easy to say during a huge purple patch, but there were cynics who wondered if fun would give way to pragmatism when the crunch came. In New Zealand it became increasingly clear that this team lives by the credo. When Stokes enforced the follow-on at Basin Reserve, he resisted the conservative option of batting New Zealand out of the series in the hope of raising the chances of a 2-0 win. The sanguine reaction to the plan imploding suggests no real regrets and no change of direction.