This is perhaps the greatest New Zealand side of all time. A World Cup Final. A solid push up the Test rankings. A captain who farts rainbows.
For generations even with the class of Sutcliffe, the poise of Turner, the villainy of Hadlee, the pureness of Crowe and the charisma of Cairns, New Zealand have never been much more than the Little Engine That Could of international cricket.
Now they are the sparkleponies of world cricket. With Brendon McCullum screaming and hollering upon his jeweled horse, there are times when they feel unstoppable. Today they had an hour of that. At 30 for 4, New Zealand were sparkling, England were shaking. There was one ball from Tim Southee that looked as if it was being remote controlled it hooped so far. It seemed to be travelling towards slip before it curved so dramatically that just for a second it looked like it would go around the stumps, make a hairpin turn, and come back to the bowler.
Trent Boult got the ball to swing both ways, he got it to seam as well. Had he wanted to, he probably could have got it to come round his house and do a bit of painting. Matt Henry bowled full enough to get his swing on. His ball to Ian Bell was the sort of ball young boys dream of when they think about their first Test at Lord’s. Angling, pitching, straightening and hitting.
McCullum had six men in the cordon at times. The athleticism and desperation stopped easy runs. They resisted the urge to waste early reviews. They worked on plans, kept their pace down looking for movement, and for 12.2 overs it was the best of the new New Zealand. The problem was that the day didn’t end there. There wasn’t a rain break, or a meteorite shower. It kept going. All except the wickets. And then when the ball wasn’t doing magical things, New Zealand didn’t sparkle. And they certainly didn’t contain.
With Root and Stokes coming at them, New Zealand couldn’t find anything special, and they couldn’t find a way to stop them scoring. It wasn’t a panic. They weren’t bowling wide half trackers. McCullum never put in an experimental seven short-midwicket field. They just failed to contain.
The one thing you expect of a New Zealand team of old was to reign it back in, to settle it down, to bore with medium pace, to restrict with accurate spin. Instead everyone bar Boult went along at four an over, and none ever looked like they were trying to stop runs. And rarely did they look likely to take wickets.
The bowlers did bowl maidens. There were dot balls. But neither were strung together, at no stage did they look life suffocating England. They wanted to bowl them out. They didn’t, and went at four an over because of it. McCullum used any opportunity to bring the field up, to bring another slip in, to stop easy scoring. Mark Craig does a lot of things right as a spinner but accuracy and consistency are not really among them. Yet McCullum had all of his men up for one over. That over went for 12.
There were plenty of times Corey Anderson could have been brought on to bowl defensively and slow the scoring. But he wasn’t brought on until the last few moments of the old ball. And even then, he bowled around the wicket short balls at Moeen Ali, with a leg gully in. Hardly drying it up.
It was another day of McCullum gambles. He gambled on the toss. Gambled on his bowlers. Gambled on his field. They stormed the fort at his command, but didn’t take enough prisoners and ended up in a bloodier battle than they were equipped for.
They will attack again tomorrow. They will attack again the day after. The Test after. That is what they do. Tomorrow, they just have to do it better.