Well, I didn’t see that one coming. Did anyone? When Joe Root was caught and bowled by Trent Boult with the score on 56, I would’ve bet my left testicle that New Zealand would win. It seemed like another inevitable England collapse. But then we witnessed a miracle. And this time Ben Stokes was the supporting act rather than the main attraction.
Jonny Bairstow, take a bow. He played one of the most ridiculous Test innings by an England batsman, ever. He took his white ball mojo into the Test arena and won the game through sheer aggression. I have absolutely no idea where that innings came from after three low scores in a row.
It’s funny, isn’t it? England kept persevering with Jos Buttler, the man who replaced Bairstow as England’s keeper, in the hope that the former would eventually play a great attacking innings like this. But he never really did. One wonders what trajectory Jonny’s Test career might have taken if he’d continued in his preferred role? He was always the better red ball player.
All the stars aligned for Bairstow, and the England team in general, in this game. A crucial ingredient, I suspect, was the Trent Bridge pitch, which remained very good for batting throughout.
Conditions for easy scoring, including a lightning fast outfield, made yesterday feel like an ODI chase in some ways. And we all know that England’s players feel rather comfortable (or certainly more comfortable) in such situations. Test teams rarely make 550+ and lose – unless they’re playing at Adelaide, ahem – so in hindsight New Zealand’s first innings total was probably worth a hundred less in normal conditions. And England’s target of 298 wasn’t quite as steep as it looked – not that it was easy.
The other star of the show, of course, was Ollie Pope, whose first innings century arguable eclipsed Root’s bigger hundred because, again, it was so unexpected. I’m not quite ready to declare Pope the answer at 3, as benign pitches can hide all kinds of flaws, but I was certainly impressed by his determination and stickability. His innings wasn’t always pretty – in fact, he looked quite scratchy at times – but this lad surely has the guts, not to mention the talent, to succeed at the highest level. I really hope he goes from strength to strength now.
So England have won their first series for, erm, I can’t actually remember. Yes, there are caveats – the absence of Kyle Jamieson was crucial, as was the injury to Colin de Grandhomme at Lord’s – but these two wins were still as encouraging as they were thrilling. Whatever Brendon McCullum is putting in England’s cucumber sandwiches is working. And all those who claim that a head coach in cricket makes little difference to performances will be eating their words. Thanks heavens we’ve seen the back of the anodyne Chris Silverwood.
Whether this is just a temporary boost, like we often see with new managers in football, remains to be seen. But let’s not worry too much about that for now. Analysis can wait. I doubt Jonny Bairstow did much analysis when he was smashing the ball to all parts.
Finally, a word about Test cricket itself: games like this demonstrate that the longest form is still the best form of the game. And it’s not even close. Administrators just need to show a bit of faith and prepare the right kind of pitches. I’m not saying that every game should be high-scoring – far from it – but we need more surfaces that give cricketers the opportunity to showcase their skills. In other words, no more low, slow, dull, boring, do everything to make the game last 5 days, turgid-fests. Is that really too much to ask?
Oh, and if you think that 4-day Tests are a good idea, then I politely suggest that you get your head examined. Maybe you got hit by one of Jonny’s seven sixes?