Bad day at the office for England batsmen as debutant Rutherford shines

Bruce Martin and Hamish Rutherford shared memorable debuts as England’s habit of starting tours sluggishly continued. Rana Malook braved the graveyard shift to follow the day’s play at Dunedin.

New Zealand vs England 1st test at University Oval, Dunedin

Day two was extended as a result of the Day 1 washout and it turned out to be a very Long and forgetful one for England. Whilst majority of headlines will vilify England’s batting display, the bowling efforts didn’t fare much better for the tourists.

This was a day when most things McCullum tried, worked, and every poor decision England made was punished severely. The ball swung early on for the kiwis and the pace of the wicket was inconsistent at times, but a series of poor decisions by England batsmen meant they managed a below par score of 167. Unfortunately, the bowling was equally poor with too many bad balls and a couple of dropped catches, leaving the tourists firmly on the backfoot with new Zealand 131-0 at stumps. 

With back to back Ashes not too far away, it’s difficult for all those concerned with English cricket not to be distracted. Australian and English performances are being analysed and compared regularly and it must be difficult for players to focus, regardless of how much denial is offered.

England began the day badly when Compton was bowled by Southee in the third over, playing on after being beaten for pace. After that start, England lost wickets at regular intervals on a strange day when Kevin Pietersen and Nick Compton aside, every batsman could be charged guilty of poor shot selection and giving their wickets away. Pietersen's dismissal can be excused on the account of receiving an absolute gun delivery first up from Neil Wagner, one that swung late and had him plumb in front. But apart from that, it was a poor showing from the England batting lineup.

Earlier, Alistair Cook who normally swats short wide balls to the point boundry with ease, only managed to tamely feed Neil Wagner’s offering to debutant Hamish Rutherford at point. Ian Bell put up some resilience, compiling a 46 run partnership with Trott before he lazily drove a Wagner ball that wasn’t full enough and was caught at short mid off. The shot selection was even more puzzling considering McCullum had just moved a catcher there, Rutherford thankfully accepting his second catch in test cricket. England had been reduced to 64-4 inside 25 overs.

By the time young Root (4) nicked behind off Trent Boult, pushing needlessly at a short ball outside off, England were fast surrendering at 71-5. Prior and Trott then put another small partnership of 37 runs until Prior too fell guilty of the same sin as Captain Cook. After clinically punishing every short ball from debutant spinner Bruce Martin, the England wicket keeper had looked increasingly comfortable at the crease. So when the slow left armer offered another short one on off stump, the England wicket keeper inexplicably paddled it straight to Kyle Williamson at point. (England: 108-6 in the 39th)

My twitter timeline by this time was ablaze with collective passion, rife with condemnation. All hopes of reaching a respectable score now lay with Trott on 45. So when Martin induced a false sweep shot which ballooned to Trent Boult at short fine leg, all seemed lost. England were 109-7 in only the 41st and now in real trouble.

Hopes of all England fans now rested on Stuart Broad’s shoulders, many tweeting of that “huge ton” as Bumble put it at Lords against Pakistan. Other observers like @zaltscricket of the statistical persuasion seemed less enthusiastic. The fact that since that 169 Broad had managed only 546 runs in 27 innings averaging below 22 might have had something to do with that.

The days when Broad was compared to Freddy or Beefy have long passed. Broad these days considers himself more a bowler who bats occasionally. This unfortunately couldn’t hide the fact that his shot was arguably the most abysmal of the whole England innings. With McCullum having just sent Dean Brownlie to sweep on the square leg boundry, Martin served up a nice meaty pie half way down the track. Broad rocked back and somehow managed to hit the ball directly at the newly placed fielder with drone like accuracy, England now 119-8 in the 43rd.

Had it not been for a gritty 9th wicket partnership of 47 by Anderson(23) and Finn(20) England might have struggled to reach 130, they managed 167 in the end. Both Finn and Anderson got out playing false shots but it’d be grossly unfair to place any significant blame on them. England’s batting display was poor to say the least but on any given day that is a distinct possibility such is the nature of sport. It’s how teams respond to such scenarios is what separates them. England needed to come back fighting after the restart.

Unfortunately for England fans the visitors didn’t respond in the spirited manner required. The way England bowled and fielded suggested a visible dwelling on the fact they’d posted a poor score. With little movement on offer and wicket being moistureless by now, the bowlers needed to show discipline and patience with their lines and lengths. Especially since the opening pair of Fulton and Rutherford were both prone to capitulation earlier on with a high potential for nervy false shots. Fulton hadn’t played a test for over three years and Rutherford was on debut.

That didn’t appear to be the plan of action for England once the New Zealand innings began. Anderson and Finn bowled too full too often, perhaps complacently not expecting the opening pair to put the fuller balls away. Whilst Peter Fulton’s innings was scratchy and uneasy to say the least, debutant Hamish Rutherford thrived on his underestimation by the England bowlers. The composure shown by the young Kiwi was magnificent. He confidently put every Anderson half volley away and watchfully evaded all the short stuff from Finn. Fulton at the other end went about his business with a lot less grace but his methods were just as effective, if only helped by the resigned nature of the bowling on offer. Cook was also in a trance of his own as he was perhaps a little too slow in introducing Panesar to shake things up. It took him 20 overs to get Monty on, with New Zealand 69-0, Rutherford was well and truly in by this stage. Something the youngster showed immediately planting a huge six off Monty’s fifth ball over long on.

It came as little surprise given the pedestrian nature of England’s display when they surrendered two catches Rutherford kindly offered in the last session of the day. Both were from Broad’s bowling and the culprits were, the bowler himself from a caught and bowled and KP at gully. Both should’ve been taken, but it wasn’t to be and New Zealand finished the day on 131-0, very much on top.

England can still take heart from the fact that Finn was casually whistling them through to the keeper at around 150kph towards the end of the day. In addition to the guile of Anderson, the persistence of Broad and Monty, early breakthroughs tomorrow morning could yet change the complexion of the game.

In order to do that however England must put away the disappointment and get over the fact they posted a rubbish score. Good sides don’t let bad sessions affect them, England did let it affect them today and they suffered as a result. They’ll have to dust themselves off and start again, resilient in the belief that they have more than enough capability to fight back. They’ll certainly need a fresh attitude if they are to achieve that. That much is certain.

image: © mashfiq13