When England’s Test squad assembled in New Zealand, their top-order batting was their major doubt. Only one innings remains before England go home with the same doubt in tact.
As England have to name their party for South Africa only a day or two after this Test series, the scope for structural change is limited. Even with the immigration authorities working overtime in the run-up to Christmas, England will be hard pressed to rush through David Warner’s qualification, not least because he has so little time to fill out an application.
Dominic Sibley has been worked out by New Zealand. At the start of this series their pace bowlers bowled straight and let him feed off his legs. Now they keep the ball outside his offstump until they slip in the straight one to surprise. So eager was Sibley to score off it on this latest occasion that he aimed to hit through square-leg a ball which in the first Test he would have hit through midwicket.
Rory Burns was dropped twice during the new-ball salvo mounted by New Zealand after they had reached 375. England needed to take a leaf out of the home team’s scorebook by scoring 600, so they required a solid base, and it was not forthcoming. Although Burns survived, after being missed by first slip and midwicket, Joe Denly was dismissed by his ex-Kent teammate Matt Henry, and there was nothing much he could do about it.
New Zealand’s opening bowlers have made the batsman play more than England’s have, and they have swung the new ball more than England’s have, both at Mount Maunganui and here. Lateral movement with a Kookaburra is not so lavish that it can be wasted.
It was a century partnership between two Hamilton lads which turned the match New Zealand’s way. Bradley-John Watling and Daryl Mitchell not only scored 124 runs but put another 54 overs into England’s legs, on top of the 201 overs at Mount Maunganui.
Watling arrived in Hamilton aged ten with his mother. Cricket, in his father’s absence, offered a surrogate family. One Northern Districts administrator recalled how Watling would train in the gym twice as long as anybody else. Aged 13, he was put up against first-class bowling in a net and acquitted himself: no quicker way of revealing the character of boys then pitting them against men - bowling quick.
Watling was ND’s opening batsman when the New Zealand coach John Wright was searching for a keeper who could bat. Watling had kept wicket in his youth and was persuaded to do so again, down the order. So it is the watchfulness of an opening batsman that has made Watling into such a brilliant leaver of the ball, equipped with the concentration to add 55 off 192 balls to his 205 off 473 in eleven hours.
Mitchell slotted seamlessly into the boots of Colin de Grandhomme, scoring 73 off 159 balls on his Test debut, which suggests that New Zealand have a greater depth of resources than traditionally. Seddon Park is Mitchell’s home ground but he has been to other countries as a consequence of his father’s job as a rugby coach.
Daryl moved to England aged five when his father John coached Sale, then becoming Clive Woodward’s assistant with England, “Daryl didn’t play any cricket in England,” recalled his proud mother Kay as she watched. “Manchester United was his team and he was going to play for them.”
From 10 to 14 Daryl was back in Hamilton playing for his school first team at cricket and rugby before moving to Perth, where his father coached Western Force. The son played alongside Justin Langer for Scarborough when they won a grade title, so he would have learned about positive attitude, and it showed in his debut Test innings as he hooked and drove confidently. His rugby career, as a fly-half, ended in Perth when he dropped a kick from the halfway line in his last game before returning to Hamilton to pursue cricket. As a young boy Daryl had a rather useful kicking coach, Jonny Wilkinson.
This Hamilton pair were dismissed by short balls - Watling could not evade a Broad bouncer that kicked, while Mitchell hooked to long-leg where Jofra Archer was not distracted by a drunken spectator who had been shouting his name. Whereupon the short balls multiplied against New Zealand’s tailenders - Ben Stokes having bowled plenty earlier when he struggled gamely through a spell of five overs and another of six.
Archer unleashed rockets, although the speed-gun is not programmed to supply evidence: a fast half-volley, which does not lose pace on contact with the turf, is always quicker than a very fast bouncer. Several rockets soared over a leaping Ollie Pope and his gloves, while Mitchell Santner swotted one for six and hooked another, before being caught at deep square-leg to give Archer his second wicket of this series: not due reward for his labours, but he could have pitched fuller.
The second six which Santner hit illustrated the dangers of small grounds, to go with their counter-attractions. It hit a steward on the head so hard that Sam Curran flinched at the sight as he ran towards the ball. Fortunately the impact was slightly cushioned by the steward’s thick hair and floppy hat.
In New Zealand especially this problem is urgent: spectators are in danger of being injured and killed by the cricket ball. Before every game of England’s T20 series here, the message for spectators to watch the ball - from NZ captain Kane Williamson - was repeated on the electronic scoreboard, but paying attention is not enough. At one international England’s Pat Brown was fielding at deep mid-on and one hit burst through his hands and knocked off his cap.
Spectators should be given a choice: sit in an open part of the ground and take the risk, or sit in the area where netting will slightly obscure the view but protect you.