England batting coach, Graham Thorpe, has urged those players in the Test set-up to keep focusing on how to improve their games as Chris Silverwood and Joe Root seek to build a team that can challenge to win back the Ashes in Australia.
A rain-affected draw in Hamilton extended England’s poor away record under the captaincy of Root – they have won just four times in 15 overseas Tests since he took over in 2017. But pointing to the inexperienced nature of the squad in New Zealand, Thorpe suggested there was plenty of scope for England to improve their performances in unfamiliar conditions, saying they would need “resilient cricketers” for the Australia tour of 2021-22.
The bowlers, in particular, faced some hard yards in Mount Maunganui and Hamilton. Sam Curran was England’s leading wicket-taker, with six at 39.66, while Jofra Archer, on his first overseas assignment, finished with two at 104.50. The decision to go into the second Test with a five-man pace attack also came under scrutiny, particularly after New Zealand batted their way to safety at 241 for 2 on the fifth day at Seddon Park.
“We’re still very much a developing team from a coaching point of view, we’re trying to identify those characters who can take us forward,” Thorpe said. “Jofra’s had a new experience; abroad, never been to New Zealand, first time he’s bowled with a Kookaburra ball, it’s a learning curve for him. As with more games under Sam Curran, the variety of our attack, what have we got? Have we got different performers which we can use abroad?
“Even playing without a spinner in this game, people might criticise it but you’ve also got to look at what you’ve got as well. Can you play differently from time to time? We’ve got to keep developing our players, no doubt about that. They have to ask themselves when they come away from a trip like this: where can I get better? Because the big picture is down the line in a couple of years’ time, we’ll need resilient cricketers going to Australia.”
England’s record with the Kookaburra ball remains a source of concern. Over the last four years, English seamers average almost 10 runs per wicket more in countries where the Kookaburra is used (Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the UAE), although their next assignment, in South Africa, may feature surfaces friendlier to pace bowling.
Thorpe highlighted the example of Neil Wagner, New Zealand’s Man of the Series and an expert at creating openings with short-pitched bowling, as something for England to keep in mind as they seek a sharper edge on their travels.
“Generally you’ve got a few plans as bowlers,” Thorpe said. “When guys first go to the crease, they’re vulnerable for a period of time and you need bowlers who can carry out different strategies at different times throughout the course of a Test match. Maybe it’s some different angles, some different styles of bowling. Wagner bowls in a certain way, [Ben] Stokes tried that, and it was against two good batsmen, and all of a sudden they can become a little ruffled in the way they play. That’s a style.
“How much can we do with the ball? We’ve got to work very, very hard to go off-straight as well, so taking care of the ball. South Africa has slightly different surfaces, a little bit more carry so again our players have got to look ahead.
“There have been some challenges, players might say they’ve been flat pitches but we know that on flat pitches there is pressure on batters to make sure they put big runs on the board and then there’s pressure on bowlers to make sure they find a way of having sometimes three tactical ways of getting batsmen out: one when they’re first in, one when they’re set and another one in terms of what can we do with the ball? Maybe to be able to get some movement with that Kookaburra ball. There’s plenty in the mix.”
One obvious positive for England was in the performance of their captain at Seddon Park, as Root recorded his first hundred in 15 innings and highest score overseas.
“It’s great to see Root come back and scoring some runs and how he is in the dressing room as well, that’s great for his confidence. He was already held in very esteem in the dressing room, so he’s just confirmed that and also that he’s a world-class player as well. Everyone goes through little dips in their career so it’s great to see him back up and running with the bat.”