The last 18 months have been an extremely tough ride for England. Ever since the pummeling they received from Australia in the last Ashes it has been a series of problems for England. From a loss to the Netherlands in the 2014 T20 World Cup to their early and unseemly departure from the 2015 World Cup.
However it was time for a fresh start. Time to put their one day woes behind them and look ahead to the 2015 Ashes series at home. England began their journey with a 3 Test series against the West Indies. A series that was supposed to be a breeze for England according to ECB Chairman Colin Graves who labelled the West Indies as ‘mediocre’. It was far from that as the series ended 1-1. England had pursued with an older and more experienced side and it had backfired. It was time for change, time for new blood as England’s next adversary was possibly the most aggressive cricketer and his ten men.
It was only a two test series but it was expected to be thrilling. Regardless of the format being played, Brendon McCullum had only one gear, attack. A gear that generally eluded Alastair Cook.
The first test began poorly for England, their top four batsmen fell for just 30 runs. Was this just a taster for what was to come in the Ashes? If England could not face up to New Zealand, how did they expect to deal with Australia and their Mitchell’s? England were saved from an embarrassing collapse as their younger players came through. Joe Root and Ben Stokes scored 98 and 92 respectively with Stokes going at almost a run a ball. Half centuries from Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali saw England to a respectable first innings score of 389.
New Zealand however, made scoring look all too easy. Unlike England, their top four batsmen all scored half centuries with Kane Williamson scoring a fantastic 132. New Zealand scored 523 and left England trailing by 134 runs.
What came from there though was not expected. Cook found form and scored 162, Stokes scored a century at a strike rate of 110 and England set New Zealand a target of 344 to score in less than a day. England still had their work cut out for them but their bowlers shone through. New Zealand were 0-2 in two overs and 12-3 in six. Whilst Williamson was at the crease there was always a chance, but that soon changed. Ben Stokes came on to bowl the 24th over and within two balls the game had swung drastically in England’s favour. Stokes removed Williamson and McCullum in consecutive balls. Corey Anderson and BJ Watling put on a stand but New Zealand fell 124 runs short.
It was a fantastic test for England. Not only did they perform well but they looked to play aggressively. Even their field settings were uncharacteristically threatening. The series was shaping up to be an interesting one.
The second game of the two test series was just as intriguing. At the end of the second innings, scores were equal. Both teams had scored 350 runs. It was as though the test was starting again from scratch as a very long ODI. Or so it seemed from the way New Zealand batted. Eight of their batsmen smashed sixes. They all played as though they were channeling their captain Brendon McCullum. Oddly, the only man who played a real test innings was Brendon McCullum himself. New Zealand went on to score 454 runs at almost five runs an over.
The rain cut down England’s time to make the runs by almost two sessions, their day five target was near impossible. Had the roles been reversed there might have been some hope that New Zealand could pull off a stunner but this was England. They played the only way they knew how and fell 199 runs short.
The series ended 1-1 with fans wanting more. It was a fantastic series and a real challenge for England. Alastair Cook and his men will need to learn to be much more aggressive against Michael Clarke.