Instances of New Zealand doing well in test cricket are rare, so attributing the cause of their success is always difficult. It is tempting to trot out the usual cliches about turning a corner, turning the page, turning over a new leaf. To a degree it seems to be true, there does seem to be something different about this New Zealand team. Three and a half games worth of parity against England would suggest that there is.
But the pessimist in me disagrees. New Zealand are playing well, but they are being flattered by a frankly mediocre England team. There may still be world class players in the English setup, but they are playing a very lacklustre brand of cricket. The batsmen, so effective at churning out centuries when they last played Australia, have lost their formidable, undismissable aura, even though it is largely the same players on the team sheet.
Not only is it evident in their painfully slow scoring rates, it shows in the way so many of them have been getting out to Bruce Martin. Really, if he is dismissing you, you aren’t trying hard enough. Martin takes wickets through enticing stupid decisions from batsmen, and the English have repeatedly obliged.
Are they missing Pietersen? Perhaps, but given that nobody seems to like him probably not. Is it the inexperienced middle order who are letting them down? Root and Bairstow have failed to turn their county form into test success, which is odd given that on paper New Zealand has the bowling attack of a good county side. Bell, bar one fantastic defensive innings in Auckland, has been atrocious, as bad as when he was Shane Warne’s bunny. Even Trott hasn’t been his usual obdurate self.
To put it simply, don’t bet the farm on England in the Ashes this year. If they play like this the Australians will walk all over them. England’s ranking of No2 in the test world is starting to look in doubt, and perhaps soon they won’t even hold it anymore. England need to rediscover their motivation, their fighting spirit, before they lose a team that took a decade to build.