New Zealand’s bowling

Generated by  IJG JPEG Library 2 December, 1995 – Last over of the third day of the third Test was bowled by Shane Warne. The batsman facing was Basit Ali. Shane Warne didn’t seem too happy with the way Basit Ali faced him. He didn’t like the fact that he offered his pads as the first line of defense. On the last ball of the day, after a prolonged discussion with Healy on whether to eat Mexican or Italian for dinner, he pitched one outside the leg stump. Basic moved his front foot to the pitch of the delivery. The sharp turn was something he didn’t account for – not on the last ball of the day. The turn was enough to beat the pad and crash into the stumps. Richie Benaud, on air, said, “You wouldn’t believe it. He has done him between his legs.”

30 March, 2004 – Moin Khan was nervous going into the final over of the day. It increased with every ball that was bowled in the over. He faced up to the final delivery of the day and was done in by a googly. That proved to be the turning point in the game as the Pakistan innings folded up soon after and they lost the game after following on

21 March, 2015 – Buttler was on 67* as Boult came on to bowl the final over of the day. It was a day of varying fortunes for the New Zealand bowlers. They started brilliantly and had England on the ropes. But England recovered well through the efforts of their middle order batsmen. Buttler looked assured for most part of the innings. As the final over approached, he seemed to have relaxed his guard a bit. The assuredness with which he approached things was missing. In the final over, he left a couple of deliveries alone, played a couple to the leg side and solidly defended one. The final delivery was one which could’ve been defended too. He didn’t. He missed it and was plumb in front.

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Much talk in the lead up to the Test centred around how New Zealand players, especially the ones coming back from IPL, were going to cope the return to Test cricket. McCullum, their captain, proudly proclaimed that they were not going to rest on the achievements of the previous year – their best in Test cricket. He said that they would make the charge to the top of the tree. The first over bowled by Boult, backed his claims. He found swing immediately and on the final ball of the first over, he showed the batsmen that he could swing it both ways. Southee, on the other hand, was a bit off colour, as he found it difficult to find the movement and the swing found by Boult. He took the first wicket to fall. Henry, on debut, bowled a peach of a delivery to get rid of Bell – It pitched on the off stump and straightened just a touch, to hit the top of off. He hurried Cook into a pull and dismissed him. At the other end, Boult noticed Ballance’s to hang around on the backfoot and exploited it. He bowled one full outside the off stump, getting Ballance, on the backfoot, to drive at it. Expectedly, it found the edge and was caught at the third slip. After Cook’s dismissal, at 30/4, it seemed as if England were ripe for picking. That was when the seamers lines and lengths suffered. Mark Craig, the spinner, bowled well to Root. He had his wicket too, but the umpire, M Erasmus, found it otherwise. The seamers, probably bowling to a plan, concentrated on bowling it short to Stokes and the line, for most of his innings, was around the leg stump. The England batsmen counterattacked and the seamers wilted. With the second new ball looming, an England collapse was expected. South and Boult failed to find the swing and there was a drop in the pace as well. From the moment, Root came on to bat, the seamers weren’t as effective. The shoulders didn’t drop, but you could feel that the effort they were conjuring up wasn’t enough. Just when the crowd, England players in the dressing room and Buttler thought that they had seen the day off, Boult had enough to find a moment of inspiration. He fooled Buttler on the final delivery of the day. The wicket of the final ball speaks a lot about the mindset of the bowler. It speaks of his mental strength- the ability to keep thinking, on how to get a wicket, till the final delivery of the day. It also sends a message across to the opposition to never let their guard down. Whatever the position of the team, a wicket off the final delivery, more often than not, brings the teams to even level.

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As a team, New Zealand are cut from a different cloth. They were always not like this. Not this good, not this likeable. Therefore, an insight into what changed it all for the team would be brilliant. Not for them is getting into the face of the batsmen after taking their wicket. Their celebrations are more inclined towards the joy at taking a wicket. When Moeen Ali was rushing back to the dressing room after he came to know that his team were 30/4, he was greeted with a smile by Boult and, possibly, enquiries about why he got late. There were no sledges nor stares directed at him. They learn well. After the mistakes on the first day, they came back well to clean the tail up and set the game for their batsmen. The fact that England bowlers struggled on the same pitch shows how good the New Zealand bowlers were on the first two days.

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England’s middle order

At 30/4 the first thought to cross the mind was the number of balls that would be taken by either Martin Guptill or Brendon McCullum, though he wasn’t slated to open, to overhaul the England score.

Lord’s is a ground that has seen performances which can delight many. It’s a ground where the captain of the present England team averages not more than 2 runs per innings than the number 11 batsman of the present team. At 30/4, that’s not a stat you want. At 25/3, strode in a batsman whom many consider to be among the best today – Joe Root. The first scoring shot he played today was a picture perfect cover drive. That he has two centuries at Lord’s and averages close to 100 runs a game is the stat that England would’ve wanted to seek comfort in, at that moment.

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Ian Bell was cleaned up by the debutant – Mark Henry – with an unplayable delivery. It pitched on the off stump line and straightened just a touch to hit the top of off. That dismissal prolongs the horror run for Bell. He, now, has 1 run in his last three innings. At the fall of his wicket came Stokes. Stokes batting at 6 was an accident because Moeen Ali, confident in the batsmen above him, went to the nets and didn’t come back till the fall of the fourth wicket. Stokes had a horror summer last year at home. He didn’t trouble the scorers in each of the three innings he came out to bat in against India. His last two innings at Lord’s yielded him no runs – He got a pair in the last Test he played at Lord’s.

As he got confident at the crease, he looked like the force of nature England would need in the absence of Kevin Pietersen. His first authoritative stroke was a hook off Mark Henry. Though the pace bowlers failed to trouble him, his lack of scoring shots against the spinners might be an aspect he would like to improve. Perhaps the New Zealand seamers had his dismissal in the second innings v India at the same ground, last year, in mind as the kept on banging it short to him. Stokes, expectedly, fed off the short deliveries as he hooked and pulled with authority rarely seen in him. It was also baffling to see the line bowled by the New Zealand bowlers to him – a lot of the balls were pitched on the leg stump or outside the leg stump. No wonder then that Stokes got 70% of his runs on the leg side.

Early last year, Martin Crowe rated Joe Root as one of the four best young batsmen in the world. He bears no resemblance to the batsman who saw his average drop by 6 runs in 10 consecutive tests against Australia. After that horror run, he seems to have made the number 5 position in the batting order all his own. He has scored all but one of his centuries from number 5. It seems as if he reads the game well from that position. Today too, while Stokes was taking his time to get his eye in, Root went on the offensive and had the bowlers on the backfoot going into lunch. After lunch, Stokes attacked and he took a backseat. He had a good partnership with Buttler after Stokes’ dismissal. Buttler looked confident till the last over of the innings. In that last over, he looked like a man who would require the help of a nightwatchman for the rest of his career in the overs that bring the day to a close.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 21: Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler during the England v New Zealand 1st Investec Test match, day one at Lords Cricket Ground, on May 21, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Moeen Ali,Jos Buttler

Moeen Ali, looked assured in his stay at the crease. He chose the balls he wanted to attack and was solid in defence. Perhaps, the shot of the day was his cover drive off Boult. He would want to resume from where he left off tomorrow. A lot hinges on how he plays in the first hour on the second day.

The first hour today must have sent shockwaves but these four batsmen have proved that the middle and lower middle order is in safe hands in the years to come.

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