How did things change so fast? From three tests in New Zealand, which the plucky Kiwis came so close to winning, to two tests in England, where they were quite simply plucked. Somewhere along the way the English remembered that they were meant to be the 2nd best team in the world, and behaved accordingly.
This article will attempt to sort through the debris, and work out what the pertinent statistics are that show how the 2nd half of the series was won. There were a few areas in the New Zealand leg where the hosts outplayed the English. Their batting was more positive, their bowling more restrictive and they started matches better. Did this happen in the return series? As we will see, not in the slightest.
The run rate was not an issue for the Black Caps in the matches in England. From scoring at 3.20 runs per over in New Zealand, they then scored at 3.16 in England. However, that is a misleading figure for two reasons. Firstly, the average runs per wicket was way down, from 42.16 to 16.72. Secondly, New Zealand’s relatively good RPO mostly came courtesy of a few quick innings, notably from Ross Taylor.
The English, by contrast, picked up the pace. After scoring at a miserable 2.60 runs per over in New Zealand, they scored at a much more jaunty 3.05 in the England tests. Partly this was a function of their bowlers and top order putting them in strong positions, and many of their quick runs were scored in ferocious middle order attacks in the second test from Root and Bairstow.
They showed they could still grind when it mattered though, crawling to a total of 232 in the first innings of the series at a rate of 2.06. As it turned out though, this was a winning score, as New Zealand decided to collectively hurl themselves off a cliff in the 4th innings. What had appeared to be New Zealand dominating the English was actually more to do with tough batting conditions, and smart tactics from Cook and co.
Speaking of that collective suicide from New Zealand, it was one of those ridiculous events in cricket that makes collecting and collating statistics slightly pointless. The strike rate for the English bowling attack was skewed significantly by the innings, even if it was fairly good otherwise. The English bowlers took a wicket on average every 32.5 balls, compared to every 61 balls for the New Zealanders. In New Zealand, England took a whopping 78.4 balls per wicket, compared to more than 80 for New Zealand.
Clearly the conditions played a part in this. While the climate, pitches and weather is roughly comparable between England and New Zealand, the time during the season that the matches were played was not. In New Zealand the teams faced off at the end of a long hot summer, with flat pitches that David Saker famously complained about. In England, the decks were green and the ball swung alarmingly.
Swing wasn’t the only factor in the English demolition of New Zealand though. A certain mercurial spinner also played an understated, but important role. Panesar had been ineffective in New Zealand, taking 350-5 over three matches. But Swann, who had a blinder in the second test especially, returned far more respectable figures of 151-10. Clearly his presence made life uncomfortable at one end for the Black Caps batsmen, as opposed to Panesar who offered up gentle dollies that were comfortably handled. Of course, Broad, Anderson and Finn also played a potent role, snaring 30 wickets between them. The collective success of the bowling unit bodes well for England’s upcoming Ashes campaign.
Getting a lead in the first innings is one of those factors in test cricket that is hard to overstate the importance of. It was clearly demonstrated in the New Zealand tests, where in every game the Black Caps got close to winning they did so through building a strong lead. In England though the English took control early in matches, putting far too much pressure on the fragile New Zealand batsmen to respond. A lead of 25 at Lords may not have seemed like much, but in a low scoring game those runs constituted a big psychological advantage. By contrast, a lead of 180 at Leeds was a massive obstacle; one that New Zealand was completely unprepared to overcome.
As a final thought, there is one statistic that will be almost unchanged from the start of the five tests compared to now. That is the number of points each team has on the ICC Test rankings. Neither will move from their ranking of 2nd and 8th respectively, and as New Zealand is ranked so far below England, not many points will be given or taken from either team as a result of two predictable wins. However, the few points that New Zealand earned through scoring draws in the first three matches will be wiped out by these losses.
And that, perhaps, is the best measurement of this five-test period. England took a long time to get into their stride, but when they did, they were very, very good. New Zealand showed glimpses of the team that they could be, but over time regressed back into being the team they actually are. Little has changed from when these tests started, either on the points table or in the minds of cricket watchers. These matches must count as a missed opportunity for both teams to show improvement and development.