“HAVE the Russians hacked the scoreboard?” wondered someone on Twitter.
How else to explain an England total of 58 all-out – actually a recovery from 27-9 – before New Zealand ended day one of the first Test in Auckland on 175-3.
There were no nerve agents at Eden Park, only a lack of nerve from England’s batsmen.
Neither proactive nor reactive, they were stuck on the crease as though someone had poisoned them with superglue; “it looked like we were rabbits in headlights”, said coach Trevor Bayliss, parroting from the handbook of sporting cliches.
Another cliche asserts that “the opposition are allowed to play well”, and for all that England were hesitant and lacking in mental application, New Zealand did play well.
Specifically three of their four big guns – Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Kane Williamson – delivered with only Ross Taylor failing to fire.
If Williamson’s display was music to the ears of Yorkshire, whom he is rejoining this season, then it was less than tuneful to those of Joe Root, his county colleague.Chris Waters
Boult took 6-32 and Southee 4-25 as England fell in just 20.4 overs after Williamson sent them in.
Although conditions were challenging they were by no means excessively weighted in bowlers’ favour, as Williamson showed with an unbeaten 91 that was a master class in how to play the ball late and to counter swing by driving only when right to the pitch.
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If Williamson’s display was music to the ears of Yorkshire, whom he is rejoining this season, then it was less than tuneful to those of Joe Root, his county colleague.
During the Ashes, Root’s nemesis was his captaincy counterpart Steve Smith, who scored 687 runs at 137 compared to the Yorkshireman’s return of 378 at 47.
Now it is Williamson, the New Zealand captain, dishing out punishment with the Kiwis overwhelming favourites to win the first day/night Test played in their country.
Root’s contribution after moving up to the No 3 position he dislikes – part of a reshuffle caused by Ben Stokes’s inability to bowl at 100 per cent due to a back injury – was a sixth-ball duck followed by a dropped chance.
In contrast, not only did Williamson bat on a different planet to the rest, but he pulled off a catch that belonged in a different galaxy, diving one-handed in the gully to remove Stuart Broad as England hit rock-bottom at 27-9.
At that point they had only just staggered past the lowest Test total in history, New Zealand’s 26 all-out against England at the same Eden Park ground in 1955.
England’s own lowest Test total, 45 against Australia at Sydney in 1887, then still seemed as far away as that match itself.
Only an unbeaten 33 from Craig Overton helped them past it, the No 9 adding 31 for the last wicket with James Anderson – more runs, you will notice, than the first nine wickets combined.
Five players made ducks as the innings ended amid ironic comments such as “bring back James Vince” and “not even the Ashes was this bad”, with only Broad’s 400th Test wicket later alleviating the gloom.
On Test Match Special former England spin bowler Graeme Swann seemed out of sync with the public mood as he went on and on about how it was simply a bad day at the office and that these things can happen.
No blame should be attributed to Bayliss or the coaches, he added, while denying that a lack of meaningful preparation – if you can call four days of Mickey Mouse cricket “preparation” – had any great effect.
In Swann’s defence, Williamson had not batted in a first-class game since December 11, while he was quite right to blame the England batsmen.
But Bayliss looks increasingly like a busted flush pending his already announced departure next year, and he had no answer to what he had seen other than to say that England will have to look at why their batting keeps misfiring, something you would have thought they would already have been doing.
Although such collapses can, of course, happen inexplicably, the problem is that England’s capitulation was, in all honesty, no great surprise. Granted, no one would have expected them to be routed for 58, but there is unlikely to have been widespread shock.
Other factors such as the sameness of the seam attack must be looked at, but this was a display that raised questions about the Test team’s direction of travel.
In the final analysis England flirted with the lowest total in the 141-year history of Test cricket, a sobering reality.