Jacob Oram can count himself unlucky not to have won the Man Of The Match award as New Zealand slammed the door shut on England’s slim hopes of forcing a result at Lord’s, with a superb hundred under pressure, two wickets in England’s innings (both of which were somewhat important) and having obdurately occupied the crease at the other end while McCullum had launched his offensive during New Zealand’s first.
Yet that’s not to say Vettori was undeserving, far from it; he bowled with an incredible intelligence and showed once again that the art of spin bowling doesn’t lie solely in how much you turn the ball. Few bowlers in world cricket have his control of flight and ability to beguile a batsman before the ball has pitched, and perhaps even more amazingly, he does it with very little discernible change in his action. Monty, take notes son.
Certainly a comparison between Monty’s contribution with the ball and Vettori’s stacks heavily in favour of the Kiwi captain, and let’s not even talk about the gulf between their batting and fielding. Yet Monty can count himself unlucky with a few umpiring decisions (certainly he could have had McCullum out before he’d had a chance to unleash the beast), and besides, it would be wrong to lay the blame for this result at Monty’s feet.
The light and weather conditions played a huge part, and mustn’t be discounted, but that happens with such regularity in England that you’d think they’d be used to it by now. Certainly light and weather scuppered England in the first Test against India at the same ground last year, and but for the weather in the second it’s unlikely India would have won the series. To say “the weather won” would be unfair on New Zealand.
If England simply shrug their shoulders and talk about light or weather they’ll be missing out on an opportunity to observe a crucial difference between England and New Zealand. Where the former has far more “star players” than the latter, the Black Caps actually play like a team. England play like a group of individuals, too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Speaking of Indians, it’s a similar problem to one the Indians had until very recently, and only changed with the emergence of good young players.
When the likes of Rohit Sharma performed so well at the World Twenty20, it put pressure on the old guard of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid to actually step up their games. Finding their quality in depth, in both batting and bowling, to be pretty good (with the likes of Praveen Kumar and Ishant Sharma bursting onto the scene in only the last year), they were able to create genuine competition for places in the team.
England are, actually, blessed with a great deal of depth, arguably even more so than India, when you consider that the seam bowling attack that blew through the Aussies during the 2005 Ashes are no more. Perhaps the batting depth isn’t quite as strong but there’s certainly the likes of Owais Shah, Ravi Bopara and Luke Wright who all show promise. Bopara and Wright are too raw for the Test arena right now but the only thing keeping Shah out of the Test side right now is stubbornness by the selectors.
With Collingwood out of form, Bell looking decidedly average and Pietersen not playing to his usual standard there’s got to be a case for giving Shah a chance at some point against New Zealand. This is supposed to be a weak opposition that England should be beating with ease and yet that much-vaunted middle order just isn’t firing. Of them perhaps Bell is the most expendable, given Collingwood’s ability with the ball and in the field, and Kevin Pietersen being England’s only genuinely explosive batsman.
Whatever they decide, it must be clear to anyone looking at the side that a team with so many match-winning batsmen isn’t winning enough matches. Perhaps, like the Indians did for a period, they’ve become too complacent, too sure of selection. Although KP denied that he’d ever turn down a central contract to play in the IPL, there were many touting it as an option as he was “certain” to be selected. Whilst probably true, as he’s an exceptional talent, should anyone ever be sure of being picked for the team?
Drastic changes in personnel aren’t needed. Drastic changes in attitude are.