It’s a stormy night. You’re in a strange house. The power goes out. You’re phone won’t work. You hear a door open. Followed by footsteps. What do you do?
At Lord’s New Zealand ran up the stairs.
England set them a target of 239. It was on paper a number you could chase. But in reality on a pitch where England had only one batsmen in their last seven who scored double figures, the chase was going to end for New Zealand in much the way it does for the thousands of young actresses who runs up the stairs.
Sixty-eight was a bloody way to end. But on a pitch with movement, the ball swinging, a fragile top order, a fired up Stuart Broad, an unplayable James Anderson and injuries, New Zealand could have almost been forgiven for not handling the pressure. It was bad, but bad with reasons.
On the third day at Headingley the reasons and excuses are harder to find.
The easiest is Graeme Swann. Swann drifted the ball away, landed it in footmarks, and made batsmen look stupid. Yet noted ferret Trent Boult managed to hump him around the field. In fact, the whole bottom order seemed to handle Swann far better than any of the so called batting experts. It takes a skillful offspinner to rip the ball through bat and pad. But no offspinner in the world can manufacture the gap in the first place.
Before lunch Headingley was cloudless. The sun was shining about as much as the Yorkshire Gods will allow. The pitch was coming on beautifully. The outfield was not slow. Anderson couldn’t get anything to happen. Broad’s performance was very sub Lord’s.
It was as if New Zealand had ordered the conditions for themselves.
Hamish Rutherford was picking which part of the offside boundary he wanted to hit. Peter Fulton was flicking the ball easily with his awkward tall-guy style. New Zealand skipped to a 50-run opening partnership without any real concerns. They even shut up the West Stand.
It was such a good start that it meant some people started wondering if England would even have a first innings lead.
Then on this clear day, out by the beach with friends, with good mobile phone coverage, and no one else around, New Zealand found a way to still end up dead.
Fulton, who had been waiting for full balls to flick away, seemed to completely misread the length of a Steven Finn delivery, and flicked it off a leading edge straight up in the air.
Rutherford who looked like he could boss England on a pitch this flat, was super-bossed by Finn. Rutherford was beaten for three successive balls, and then still decided to try a no-footwork drive on the up to the second last ball before lunch.
Their opening partnership was 55. Their last wicket partnership was 53. They made 174. Something is desperately wrong with these numbers
Finn hit Ross Taylor first ball. And then a few overs later cramped him up and hit his stumps.
Dean Brownlie and Martin Guptill left Swann-sized gaps in their defence, Guptill providing a passable impression of Robocop playing a forward defence. Kane Williamson over compensated. Once that had happened, New Zealand had been killed by an axe wielding maniac in their own mind.
Their opening partnership was 55. Their last wicket partnership was 53. They made 174. Something is desperately wrong with these numbers. And while a fired-up Finn and a suped-up Swann were good, they don’t explain or excuse how only 174 was scored.
With one less day in this match, the follow-on target moved 50 runs further from New Zealand, which did them no favours.
New Zealand deserved no favours. Considering how well New Zealand have fought for the majority of this cross-continental five-Test series, they would be embarrassed at how they played with so much in their favour.
It was only England who seemed to help New Zealand. If you didn’t know Alastair Cook or Andy Flower, you’d assume the decision to not enforce the follow-on was a pity move, and not a professionally thought out conservative decision based on the matches to follow.
At 116 for 1, England they showed that this pitch, and the conditions in general couldn’t be much better for batting. They also forced New Zealand’s overworked bowlers into the ground. Boult went off with a side strain. Doug Bracewell came on as third change and only bowled six overs. Tim Southee looked like a man who wanted the follow-on to be enforced.
They couldn’t even rely on the demon footmark that Swann had used, as Williamson could hit it, and get some spin, but Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott dead-batted everything that was dangerous with the sort of techniques that New Zealand only dreamed for. At the other end Cook showed it was also easy to score. Not that England needed to show New Zealand that, they’d proved it themselves.
Boult will be getting more treatment tomorrow. He probably won’t bowl again in this match. But with an unbeaten 24 and a five-wicket haul, he’s already done more than most of his team-mates.
Much like New Zealand’s chances, not much can improve by him playing tomorrow.