England’s refusal to consider chasing New Zealand’s generous target costs them credit in the Test bank

New Zealand 378 & 169-6 dec (Robinson 3-26)

England 275 & 170-3 (Sibley 60*, Root 40; Wagner 2-27)

After the travails of India – not to mention the first innings here – it was probably expecting too much for England to look to chase a generous target once New Zealand had laid down the gauntlet earlier than anticipated.

That they showed no inclination at all, from the word go, was a disappointment.

It is entirely in keeping with the New Zealand approach that they should have made the brave declaration call at lunch to give themselves a realistic chance of bowling England out a second time – leaving them 273 to hunt down in 75 overs, a rate of 3.64 runs per over – rather than put the total completely out of reach.

True, not too many teams score that many to win in the final innings of a match in any case and England will argue that they had to factor into the equation that they are an inexperienced team with plenty of players still fighting to tie down a regular place. What might injudicious strokes in a losing cause do to the fragile confidence of a team still with one Test to play against these opponents and five-Test series to come against India this summer and Australia in the winter?

Cynics might say too many play injudicious shots at the best of times – you only have to look at the strokes Dan Lawrence and Zak Crawley got out to in the first innings.

But take Dom Sibley, for one. After a desperate winter in which he had managed only two Test fifties in 12 innings at an average of 17.81 and an injury-ravaged county season in which he has only played twice so far – was he to be asked to sacrifice himself for quick runs now when surely getting him back into some semblance of form, or at least a degree of comfort at the crease, was most important? (He got his fifty – ultimately – but will his 160-ball sojourn, painful as well as painstaking, have given him that?)

Others, such as Lawrence and Ollie Pope, have had success already this summer in the county championship but they will also need a substantial innings or two at the highest level to completely shrug off inconclusive winters.

Rory Burns’s winter was no better than the others – in some cases worse as he missed the Sri Lanka tour due to impending fatherhood and was dropped after two Tests in India – but he has significant county runs under his belt and a first-innings century that ended up, because of others’ shortcomings, being mainly about survival before three figures lifted the shackles.

Also, playing for the draw is coming back into fashion in an era when a far greater proportion of Tests produce a definitive outcome: we even have a refashioned county championship points system to encourage that rather than acceding to the inevitable when one team is seriously on top.

That said, England fans would surely be happier to see them get their heads down when they have two days to save a match rather than an outside chance of winning it, as they had at Lord’s – bookies had them at 17/2 to pull it off at the start of their second innings, which is by no means outlandish.

Another way of looking at it is that this was one of the greatest compliments Joe Root and Chris Silverwood could have paid the New Zealand attack.

Tim Southee still appears as lithe and athletic as he did when he made his Test debut as a teenager in 2008 and his skills have only developed over the course of 78 Tests; Kyle Jamieson is freakishly good already and with his extra height and an ability to swing the ball both ways, is unlikely to be mastered by too many batsmen even as they became more experienced against him. Neil Wagner, who has earned himself recognition and a huge rise up the world rankings in his role as a short-pitching enforcer, reminded us of his first incarnation as a swing bowler by removing Burns with a perfectly-pitched outswinger in the second innings – and he was unlucky to have him missed in the slips when on 88 in the first as well.

Crawley may be the most mixed-up kid among England’s callow middle order. Everyone has seen his class as a strokeplayer and you make a rod for your own back to some extent by hitting a daddy double century in only your eighth Test. But it has to be impressed upon him by the management that to profit properly from those dazzling drives, to make centuries a repetitive exercise, you have to be at the crease for some time to do so. Having thrown his wicket away to Southee in the first innings before he’d had a chance to settle he was watchful for more than 20 balls against Wagner and Jamieson in the second. Cue Southee. Three balls later, he drove an outswinger to gully. Why stick when you can twist?

A further point of view is that England would have been more up for the chase had they had a full-strength team at their disposal and there probably is a case to be made that New Zealand might not have been quite so kind with their declaration had they had to bowl at Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, who so confidently took control of that push for victory in the first Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford last summer – a match that decided the series.

But most worrying is that England didn’t even make an effort to raise the profile of Test cricket on its re-emergence from under the Covid blanket; that they didn’t have the self-belief to chance their arms initially knowing they could shut up shop later. There is a time when the fear of losing needs to be put in the perspective of providing a product that people want to watch: the credit they would have got from trying would surely have been bankable as the delayed but pending European Championship football is about to push them off the back pages.

As it is, New Zealand will feel they have not just cricketing superiority to take up to Edgbaston later in the week – they will have the moral superiority as well.

Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 2nd Test, Trent Bridge
18th July to 22nd July
Start time: 11:00 am BST
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST