0-0 draws in any sport don’t tend to be exciting affairs and in cricket it usually means there has been a fair bit of bad weather. While bad weather did occur during the series between England and New Zealand, the main reason why this series was a 0-0 draw was because of England producing some fantastic cricket while having their backs against the wall. For the most part, New Zealand dominated and were unlucky not to come away with a famous victory. A test series in which no-one wins even one test don’t usually get remembered but I have a feeling this one might. I have a feeling this one will prove to be a good omen for cricket.
In recent years, Test cricket has threatened to divide into a two tier system. Teams such as West Indies and Sri Lanka have decided to focus on improving their one day sides (a system that has worked for both with final appearances and a trophy for WI) while Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand have been obviously out of their depth against the bigger teams. The remaining teams have proven time and time again that they are a class above the opposition and have swapped the world number one ranking between Australia, India, England and South Africa. Pakistan, like they always do, blow hot and cold but have given the “Big 4” (to use a horrible football term) a scare in more than one series (and in fact bamboozled England in the UAE). I’m not saying that the other teams haven’t had their moments, Sri Lanka managed to draw with England in Sri Lanka and West Indies will feel that a 2-0 loss in England wasn’t the worst result but the point remains that England still got something from those series. Plus, England in Sri Lanka was never likely to be a series which England won.
New Zealand, on the other hand, is where England should excel. It has the most swing bowler friendly conditions outside of England while still allowing tracks which the batsmen like. We had just beaten India in India, Cook was scoring runs, Pietersen was back in the side and Broad had just managed to find some bowling form. A bowling attack of Broad, Finn and, the key man, Anderson should have been more than enough to see off the inexperienced Kiwi’s batting line up. Add that to a batting line up that consisted of 2 of England’s greatest Test century scorers, the best wicket-keeper batsman in the world and a new star finding his feet in a troubled position and the omens were good. Oh, how differently it has transpired. We nearly lost the series, mostly down to our first innings batting but the bowlers need to take some stick here too – they didn’t bowl enough balls in the right areas to ask questions, especially of the openers. New Zealand can build on the success they very nearly had in this series if done in the right way and if they can then it might well inspire the smaller nations to follow suit and start taking Test match cricket seriously.
It’s going too far to say it will bring about a change in the world order but it will definitely make the other countries believe. In an ideal world, Test cricket will be a competitive 10 team competition where all 10 teams could win series at home and have a chance away from home. We don’t want to see whitewashes in every series that gets played against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and New Zealand – we want to see these nations pushing the bigger nations to the limit. We want to see England, Australia and India (SA are miles ahead at the top right now) sweating under constant pressure from “smaller” teams – make them produce their best cricket in those situations, just like England did today. Wins in series like those will give these teams confidence and losses will make the bigger teams buck their ideas up. There shouldn’t be such a thing as an easy Test series, and I’m glad New Zealand have gone some way to removing that idea. As an England fan, the series in New Zealand felt somewhat pointless to me a few months ago – of course we were going to win 3-0 and have a few innings victories. Even people in New Zealand felt that was the case, and so it’s been a massive, possibly even nice, surprise for us all just how well NZ have fared. I’m not saying it’s been fun to follow, because it really hasn’t been, but it is nice to see teams fighting against the odds. More than that, it feels important for both teams. England know what to work on in preparation for the Ashes and I think and hope this will install some believe into New Zealand. From what I’ve seen and heard, McCullum has captained NZ fantastically well and given that I think he is a wonderful player, I’m chuffed for him. They were in disarray after the whole debacle with Ross Taylor and South Africa so it’s even nicer to see them fighting back when you consider that.
I’m not saying this series will be the start of an era which Bangladesh and New Zealand conquer, far from it. In fact, I’m not even sure that any of what I’ve said in this article will happen. Bangladesh, West Indies and Sri Lanka may not be inspired to take Test cricket more seriously, they may not get a boost – it may take a series victory for them against a big nation for that to happen but this victory could set the ball rolling for that, and I believe it might. Like I said in the opening paragraph, 0-0 doesn’t seem like a groundbreaking series but New Zealand deserved more than a draw in the first test match and completely outplayed us in the third. This is for all intense and purposes a walloping. England will be walking back to England with red faces and deservedly so. Despite the draw in Auckland, it’s bad for England (although maybe we’ll see a backlash in the summer) but it isn’t bad for cricket. Nobody (excluding Ireland) wants a two tier system and the way this series has panned out proves that Test cricket isn’t as irretrievable from that destiny as we all thought.