Derbyshire v New Zealand, Derby, 6th May & England Lions v New Zealand, Grace Road, 10-11 May 2013
Last week I took the opportunity to have a couple of looks at the New Zealand tourists, as they prepared for the coming Test series with one game against Derbyshire (effectively a sort of Derbyshire 1 1/2 XI) and another against England Lions (pretty much the England 2nd XI). I saw very little of New Zealand’s batting, but I’d say collectively their four seamers (Boult, Southee, Wagner and Bracewell) would make a very useful English County attack who shouldn’t really trouble a Test side – unless they happened to be playing in England in May, that is.
Before it became fashionable to insult Grace Road, the done thing was to complain about the County Ground in Northampton and, before that, it was usually Derby. Although this piece of publicity material is a little idealised (you can’t actually see Chatsworth or the crooked spire of Chesterfield in the background)
they have been making efforts to beautify the ground, with a new marquee and a temporary stand. If you can avert your eyes from the Pavilion and the ricketty old stand with ‘East Midlands Demolition Company’ on it and ignore the constant roar from the infernal ring road, it can, on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, be a very pleasant place to watch cricket. Unlike at Grace Road, which I’ll come to in a minute, there was a very decent crowd, many of them families with small children, who seemed to have been attracted by the chance to sit in the sun and eat ice-cream (the best on the circuit, incidentally) rather than any particular interest in watching New Zealand.
In the eyes of the press, the story was what one of them (rather melodramatically) described as a ‘shoot out’ between Wagner and Bracewell for the role of third seamer in the Test side. I’d agree with them that there wasn’t a great deal in it. What did distinguish the South African born Wagner was his Steve Kirby-style act of following through to within a few feet of the batsman and pulling faces at him. After Billy Godleman had hit one ball for four Wagner followed this up by first miming throwing the ball at him and then actually letting it go, knocking his bat from his hand. This would have been more impressive if he hadn’t been considerably shorter than Godleman, and earned him a warning from the Umpire, but may be enough to give him the edge over Bracewell in the eyes of the Selectors.
If the crowd at Derby was respectable, the attendance at Grace Road was frankly pathetic for a match featuring the full New Zealand Test side and an England Lions XI featuring one or two potential all-time greats. On the Friday the paying customers were outnumbered by a huge contingent from the ECB (there for a strategy meeting, apparently) including Giles, Flower and a smartly-suited Andrew Strauss. For some reason (perhaps they were afraid of an assassination attempt on Kevin Shine) this seemed to involve a massive security operation, including extra stewards, a draconian enforcement of the ‘smoking policy’ and Matthew Hoggard being ordered from his perch on top of the Fox Bar. And all for a crowd that was smaller than I’ve seen at some Second XI matches.
Much of the crowd was a made up of a group of what appeared to be full-time autograph hunters, who seemed to be stalking Strauss, in particular, with the cunning and avidity of a group of tweenage Beliebers.
I didn’t learn much about the New Zealand batting. This was my only sight of McCullum, who edged one off Onions when he was on one (imagine the roar if that had happened at Lord’s!)
– nor the Lions’ bowling. Rather like the New Zealanders, Onions, Woakes, Barker and Roland-Jones looked like a useful County attack, particularly in May, though it was Roland-Jones who seems to have the knack of picking up wickets.
The Lions’ reply got off to a flyer with three successive No Balls off the first three deliveries from Boult (a problem that continued throughout the afternoon)
– but the big story was, of course, the simultaneous appearance of Root, Bairstow and Taylor.
Root’s talent seems to lie in an iron determination to ‘execute his plan’ (as they say), regardless of any ideas the bowlers might have. His plan for the day seemed to be to make 50 by tea, which involved a lot of this
before moving from 44 to 50 with a six into the Pavilion, then accelerating to 100 by the close of play. In the two hours of play on Saturday his batting was positively Apollonian, and was supported very effectively by the low handed shovelling and slapping of Johnny Bairstow.
There was a reprise of the New Zealanders’ coconut shy routine, incidentally, with Boult, I think, banging the ball into the ground from close range so that it bounced over the batsman’s head and another chuck hitting Umpire Jeremy Lloyds on the leg with what purported to be an attempted run out (provoking an outbreak of tittering in the slips). Lloyds was responsible for most of the no-balling and had turned down a couple of appeals.
Once the rain set in, Bairstow (who seems a thoroughly likeable bloke) commandeered the TV in the Fox Bar and spent the afternoon watching Rugby League. James Taylor, however, who had been dismissed for two before I arrived at the ground, headed off for a session in the indoor nets, perhaps hoping that a win in the Cup Final for his team – Manchester City – might provide him with some consolation for a doubly deflating day.
I think there is a real danger of England losing a great talent in Taylor, though it is worth bearing in mind that he’s still only 23. He does have one flaw, and has always had it since is his days at Leicestershire, which is his tendency to play across his pads to balls pitched up on off or middle stump. Once he is set he gets away with it, but, in the first few overs he is in, he is terribly vulnerable to being out LBW. If he tries to compensate for this by playing straight he tends to get caught behind (as he was on Saturday). As I have to no pretensions to being a batting coach or a sports psychologist I’m afraid I have no advice to offer as to a cure, but I suspect a minor technical flaw may be turning into a mental block.
This would be a pity. I would always prefer to watch Taylor’s witty, inventive, brave batsmanship in preference to Bairstow’s jolly bludgeoning or even Root’s rather glacial classicism, which inspires awe rather than affection. And in a side with five established batsmen (including Prior) there must surely be room for a little self-indulgence.
But perhaps his omission for this series will work in his favour. Taylor is at his best against spin and real pace and his natural element would be a spitting turner in Chennai or a fierce lifter in Perth. His weakness is against the English county seamer in May, which, as I have suggested, is pretty much what he would be facing next week.