England “saved by the Bail” in New Zealand to complete a fantastic cricket March

Matt Prior

Matt Prior’s defiant test century prevented a series defeat against New Zealand yesterday, as the sun set on a fantastic month of cricket. Rana Malook looks back at how England and Australia got on in their respective series ahead of the upcoming back to back Ashes.

When England romped to a historic Test series victory in the Indian’s back yard 3 months ago, I was rather enthusiastic in pointing out the home side’s weakness’. However the importance of not underestimating the significance of England’s achievement was emphasized by George Dobell in my interview with him soon afterwards. In the wake of Australia collecting a clean sweep of four successive Test defeats in India, Dobell’s assertion holds firm.

But how significant is Australia’s failure in India with successive Ashes series on the horizon? At the risk of rattling a few invisible fences I’d say, fairly insignificant. Whatever events that have or will occur before the first Ashes test will be moot as soon as play is called on the first morning. At the first drop of blood will begin a chase between two hungry sharks to see who gets to the prize first.

Having said all that, it’s difficult to see the Australian jaws coming away with anything more than an empty stomach. Whilst their seam bowling attack is a decent one, the batting carries little promise. Skipper Michael Clarke aside, four matches is a long time for the top order to go without scoring a century, even on the dust bowl, turning wickets of India. Like gremlins, questions plague the Aussie batting line up.

Will Warner cope with English seamer friendly conditions? Will Watson’s bad form haunt him some more? Is Hughes worth sticking with given his previous failings in England? Is Cowan good enough given one century in 30 innings, averaging less than 33? Like a Hollywood time travel movie there are far too many plot holes in this Australian tale for it to be considered for the Ashes Oscars. Jimmy Anderson is England’s Roger Ebert lying in wait, sharpening his pen, ready to expose narrative failings in the Australian script.

But let’s not get carried away with Aussie bashing just yet. After that triumph in India, England haven’t exactly had a ball in New Zealand and found the trip to be anything but a congratulatory holiday they hoped for post India. But as he does so often, Andy Flower has somehow pulled another Fergie. The resilience shown by England to avoid defeat despite severe underperformance draws parallels to the Scotsman’s Manchester United side in recent times. But to focus on England’s shortcomings on this tour would be unjust to the efforts of the hosts.

While India’s spinners led by Ashwin running riot was a bit of a given against Australia, New Zealand’s performance in the series demands extra credit. McCullum’s side not only dominated most of this series but have fired a warning shot to all top Test playing nations. This is a good young side that has the potential to go further than any other side in their recent history. Rutherford’s debut innings which bossed the England attack in a way many established batsman have failed to do in recent times was a clear example of emerging Kiwi talent. Alongside the rejuvenated Fulton, ever present Taylor, Kiwi boom boom McCullum and the impressive youngster Williamson the top order looks solid for many years to come. Add to that an impressive bowling attack and weight begins to accumulate in favour of the above prediction.

For England it is now time to recuperate, something that Swann and KP have been forced to do for the next month or so given their respective injuries. The knee injury to the latter comes as a blessing in disguise for the ECB. KP’s absence from IPL 2013 means he will be fresh, ready and hungry for the contest against Aussies.

Conclusively then, a great Month for Indian and Kiwi supporters but for Australian and England fans the bitter appetizers will have been long forgotten once the first main course is served come early July Notingham. So start fasting my fellow Ashes following comrades for a fine five course meal lies ahead in what promises to be a glorious English summer of cricket.

Key Moment

Prior on 28 took a vicious bouncer from Neil Wagner which cannoned off his bat + helmet onto the stumps. Astonishingly the Bails failed to dislodge and Prior went onto complete an innings that may well be a career highlight.


image: © somethingness