England produced a stunning fourth day performance to take the first Test of the series against New Zealand, somehow turning disaster to triumph in a frenetic three hours of play.
For three days and about 45 minutes it was a pretty even match, with the balance of power shifting frequently between the two sides in difficult conditions to bat in. There was a point after tea on the third day, as Jonathan Trott and Joe Root put together the only hundred run partnership of the match, where England appeared to pull away from their visitors, but an inspired spell of bowling from New Zealand’s Tim Southee produced four quick wickets and at the start of Sunday’s play the game was evenly poised, England 180-6 and not yet 200 runs ahead.
The last four England wickets went down in a frenetic Sunday morning session. Southee took three more and then caught last man James Anderson off the bowling of part time spinner Kane Williamson. With a lead of only 237 going into the final innings of the match, things looked bleak for the hosts.
Not for long, though. Stuart Broad dismissed Peter Fulton with the ninth ball of the New Zealand innings and it was all downhill from there for the Black Caps. When the lunch interval arrived after little more than an hour of their innings they were 29-6 and headed for the lowest every score at Lord’s. They managed to avoid that ignominy, but were bowled out for 68 in the hour after lunch, losing by 170 runs.
The match leaves questions to be answered by both teams, though. For England, there is a need to add some impetus to their batting. The opening partnership of captain Alastair Cook and Nick Compton is probably set for the summer and worked fine in India on slower pitches - and there is arguably no finer batsman in difficult English conditions than Compton at the moment - but it gives no impetus at the start of the innings. Moreover, with Kevin Pietersen still out injured and Ian Bell a doubt for the second game at Headingley with tonsillitis, there could be no-one to provide that spark until Jonny Bairstow at number six in the order. England may have to rethink their batting order, if not the personnel, although they are unlikely to do so before the next game.
Quite what they will do if Bell is unfit is an interesting proposition. The temptation will be to do a straight swap and bring in either James Taylor of Nottinghamshire or the more experienced (but less dependable) Ravi Bopara of Essex. A more interesting option would be to play all-rounder Tim Bresnan on his home ground and bat wicket-keeper Matt Prior higher up the order.
New Zealand have injury concerns over their wicket-keeper, BJ Watling, who injured a knee during the Lord’s game and will struggle to be fit for the second game. Captain Brendon McCullum will take over if need be, but a more serious problem is that left arm spinner Bruce Martin could be out for the series with a calf injury. They have no other spinner in the party apart from Williamson and may elect to go into the next game with four seam bowlers instead, even though the Headingley pitch spun vigorously in last year’s game against South Africa.
Another big issue for them is the top of the order, where Peter Fulton has yet to make a score in England. He was dismissed for 2 and 1 at Lord’s, both times falling to an old vulnerability to the moving ball. His aggregate from five innings on this tour is 34 runs and it might be that he gives way to the world’s favourite two-toed cricketer Martin Guptill, who has a lot of experience batting in England, having played for Derbyshire (among others).
England are now just 4/7 to win the next game with William Hill and 1/12 to win the series. New Zealand are 10/1 with SkyBet to level things up. There are some discrepancies in the market that you can take advantage of, though. For example, a draw in the next game is priced at 9/4, but that would give England a 1-0 series win, which is a better price at betting odds of 11/4 with Boylesport. It is those little margins that you have to be alert for when a series has such a strong favorite.