England lack X-factor to combat flat pitches

Sam Drury

@SamDrury11

Another tough day in the field highlighted England’s need for a point of difference in their bowling attack but with them unable to rely on the fitness of their fastest bowlers, there is no easy solution for Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes as they try to take the Test side forward

Last Updated: 11/06/22 9:49pm

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Highlights of day two of the second Test between England and New Zealand from Trent Bridge
Highlights of day two of the second Test between England and New Zealand from Trent Bridge

This was never going to be a quick fix.

That much has been stressed time and again in the past month or so. But if victory at Lord’s had fooled Brendon McCullum or Ben Stokes into thinking otherwise, the first two days in Nottingham provided a reality check.

More than a day and a half, some 145 overs, in the field after putting the opposition in to bat shows that while the batting remains the chief concern, it is far from the only area in need of attention when it comes to the England Test side.

None of England’s bowlers could be said to have bowled particularly poorly, even if they might all acknowledge that there was room for improvement, but on a flat surface with minimal lateral movement to assist them, the limitations seen on overseas tours in recent years were on display again.

This is a bowling attack featuring two of England’s greatest ever bowlers, a youngster who took seven wickets on debut last week and their talismanic all-rounder. Or, put another way, four right-arm seamers bowling low-to-mid 80s.

Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, England vs New Zealand, Trent Bridge Test (Getty)
Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad, England vs New Zealand, Trent Bridge Test (Getty)

Of course, that is an overly simplistic interpretation and all four offer different things but, ultimately, it is hard to shake the feeling that when swing and seam movement is at a premium, it is all very samey.

Jimmy Anderson took full advantage of the couple of brief spells where the ball was swinging a little and continued to ask questions when it wasn’t, but even he was not as consistent a threat as he might have liked – and expecting others to bowl with the combined skill and control of one of the most prolific Test bowlers of all time will leave you disappointed far more often than not.

As Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell were piling on the runs for the second game running, England were crying out for something different – an X-factor, a point of difference, whether that be express pace, mystery spin or even just a left-arm seam option.

Injuries are undoubtedly part of the problem for England. The three express pace bowlers that have been used in the past couple of years – Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone – are all out with long-term ailments.

Jofra Archer has not played a Test match since February 2021 due to injury
Jofra Archer has not played a Test match since February 2021 due to injury

Sadly though, that no longer comes as a surprise. Given their injury records, having any of the three available for any reasonable period of time is now a hugely welcome bonus rather than something England can bank on.

Jamie Overton has previously been mentioned as an alternative, but he has struggled with injuries too. Beyond that? Well, there is not exactly a surfeit of 90mph-plus English bowlers knocking around in the county game.

The same goes for left-arm seamers and top-class spin bowlers. Sam Curran’s return to fitness and the prospect of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid being lured back to Test cricket to play under McCullum and Stokes should help in that regard, but all three have been in England sides who have toiled in much the same way as the bowlers at Trent Bridge the past two days.

There is no quick fix.

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Even if England were to unearth that X-factor bowler, there is only so much of a difference that would make if they continue to drop catches. After a near-flawless fielding display at Lord’s, five catches of varying degrees of difficulty went down in the first innings in Nottingham, with Mitchell given two lives – on three and 104 – before he was finally caught for 190.

Who knows what the state of play would be had those opportunities been gobbled up? But given the nature of the pitch, even restricting the Black Caps to around 400 would have England in with a chance of victory.

Fielding and, in particular, slip catching would seem like an area where it is possible to make a big gain and quickly. But given how long it has been a problem, perhaps not?

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England’s Chris Woakes explains his bowling technique and provides some tips for any young aspiring seam bowlers
England’s Chris Woakes explains his bowling technique and provides some tips for any young aspiring seam bowlers

At least, England can take solace in the fact that New Zealand have also shelled two catches – Mitchell proving the brilliantly infuriating nature of Test cricket by ending the day disappointed despite scoring 190 due to his two drops.

Even with their fantastically varied bowling attack, the combination of those drops and a batters’ paradise of a pitch meant England’s infamously fragile top order managed to reach 90-1 at stumps.

The Black Caps, though, have proven themselves capable of doing what is required to succeed on surfaces offering next to nothing for the bowlers and they are unlikely to be as generous on day three.

England are still learning. Anderson and Stuart Broad might be well versed in the importance of discipline and patience on benign pitches but it is understandable that a 23-year-old playing just his second Test might stray a little in his eagerness to make the breakthrough as Matthew Potts did at times.

Equally, Stokes is still very new to captaincy and while his instinct is to attack, as Nasser Hussain pointed out after the first day, he will learn when conditions or the situation dictate that a more conservative approach might be better.

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All the best moments from Day 2 of the second Test between England and New Zealand at Trent Bridge
All the best moments from Day 2 of the second Test between England and New Zealand at Trent Bridge

“These sorts of days will make English cricket better in the future,” Hussain added yesterday.

“There are days away from home where you have to work seriously hard – England have a tour of Pakistan coming up [in the winter] and we have seen those pitches.

“If days like this don’t break you, they will make you stronger. This is Test match cricket, it is hard work.”

A fit 90mph-plus bowler or a high-quality wrist-spinner wouldn’t half make it easier, though. As it is, England will be striving to get the best out of what they’ve got and the rest of us have to remember: there is no quick fix.

Watch day three of the second LV= Insurance Test between England and New Zealand, at Trent Bridge, live on Sky Sports Cricket from 10.15am on Sunday.

Source : Sky Sports