Why is it whenever these two sides face each other we get treated to some phenomenal cricket and great excitement? All you have to do is look at the 2019 ODI World Cup final and the subsequent T20 series in 2019 that both contained Super overs. The tests had everything, lots of runs, five-fers, fantastic catching, an incredible atmosphere and most importantly the England series win, finally!
This series had an extra element to evaluate with the arrival of New Zealand legend, Brendon McCullum, as England Head Coach and New Zealand-born Ben Stokes leading the England side in his first series as permanent test captain. With England’s abysmal form (1 test win in their last 17 tests!) and a top-order that looked short of runs (apart from the imperious Joe Root), this series was one many England fans would have to look to with dread, particularly as New Zealand are the World Test Championship holders, winning it in June 2021 against India.
With that being said, England took New Zealand to the sword with a 3-0 whitewash, with three consecutive chases of 250+. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that England was so devoid of confidence after the West Indies series. Also this time last year, England turned the opportunity to chase 273 in the First Test at Lords against New Zealand in more overs that the chases they have been successful in. It is also the first time in Test history that a side has chased 250+ in three consecutive test matches. Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes have changed this team from a timid and cautious side who have top order collapses and relies too heavily on the magic of one or two players to a side with great depth and fearlessness, this is much like the revolution Eoin Morgan had in the ODI side.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Eoin Morgan on a fantastic career as I went into in a previous article, as today it was announced he would be retiring from international Cricket. It is a shame that his last two innings were ducks against the Netherlands and that his form in his last year as an international player has been very poor because it is not how it should have ended for him. Morgan should have been lifting that World Cup in India and leaving out on top. Instead, I believe it will be Jos Buttler who will get the chance to lead England in the T20 World Cup this year, a just reward for an excellent cricketer in the form of his life.
Back to the test side, England has been fantastic but questions do have to be asked of New Zealand. Their top order was bettered by what was perceived as a fragile top four of England. Their bowlers were not consistent enough. bowling well for one day but poor the next and the team selection was average at best. To have Michael Bracewell over Ajaz Patel should be unforgivable. One is a spinner with 43 wickets, 2.85 economy and 27.6 averages in 12 matches, the other was making his debut in this series as a part-time spinner who did almost make a half-century but then faltered with the bat. Even though the series was lost by Headingly, the impact of Jack Leach showed the importance of a decent spinner in this test and New Zealand picked the wrong man.
Furthermore, the treatment of Neil Wagner was very poor, this is a bowler with 244 test wickets at an average of 26.5 and Williamson treated him like a part-timer. He may be 36 but that is no excuse for why he only bowled 20 overs in the series and only played once the series was lost. Adding insult to injury, he was put on by his captain when England needed ten to win, granted he bowled a brilliant maiden but it just seemed in poor taste as he was never going to make a real difference so late on. Williamson stuck with Bracewell despite him going for 109 in 15.2 overs (economy rate of 7.11) and only gave Wagner 7 overs and one pity over at the end of the innings. I am not saying Kane Williamson isn’t a great captain but he was hopeless in this test and New Zealand became hopeless every fourth innings as they allowed England to cruise to victory by two five-wicket wins and then a seven-wicket victory today.
That being said, England and their fans must not get carried away by this revolution because there were moments in which it looked frail, had Joe Root not batted so brilliantly at Lords or Jonny Bairstow and Jamie Overton in the first innings at Headingly we may have been talking about a different result. Also, New Zealand should not be too disheartened, although it is key to note that since their WTC final win they have only won two out of 12 test matches, including a 4-0 and one draw against India, a loss to South Africa and a famous 8 wicket defeat to Bangladesh, they still have the pieces of a great test side they just need to hope Williamson recovers his form to help the lower order of Mitchell and Blundell.
England – Overall rating 9/10Embed from Getty Images
Head Coach: Brendon McCullum – 10/10Embed from Getty Images
Whatever McCullum has instilled into the Test side it is working, they are playing with freedom and without fear and look capable of beating anyone in the world. On Test Match Special today, a large number of comments were being made about this being the first time any test side had played with so much aggression and been so attack-minded that comes from the philosophy of the coach and McCullum has played on the strengths of England, their white-ball side. The three key cogs of the batting line-up (Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes) are excellent white ball players and by allowing them to embrace this side of their batting he has got England firing again. England scored the same amount of runs as New Zealand (3rd test) in 100 fewer overs, which is insane. He also got team selection perfect, the introduction of Matt Potts has been a revelation, giving Ben Foakes the gloves was a wise choice and keeping faith in Jack Leach paid dividends. Also, the introduction of Jamie Overton worked wonders. My only concern would be that Harry Brook did not get a chance bit with the only weaknesses of the line-up being the openers, he was very unlikely to be able to fit in.
McCullum may be a New Zealand legend but should he keep the cricket to the same standard he may just become an England great, the next test is India, which will be another fascinating game and then a series against South Africa, these will be key to see if this style of cricket is sustainable at the Test level.
Ben Stokes (C) – 9/10 (Batting: 194 runs @48.5, Bowling: 3 Wickets @75)Embed from Getty Images
The only thing that knocked him down was his Bowling because an average of 75 is pretty poor, but considering the options on his side, he could afford to be the best bowler who took spells in order to help rotate the bowling line-up.
His Captaincy was fantastic, enticing the New Zealand batsmen into shots with his aggressive fields and keeping faith in players who needed the support. Ollie Pope is a prime example, under fire for his lack of runs and inconsistency, he got bumped up to three and was excellent. Jack Leach was also one who may have been dropped for Matt Parkinson but the fact Ben Stokes trusted him with the new ball shows his faith in the England hero, who once again shone at the Headingly stage with his 10 wickets for the match.
His personality is infectious and he is a born leader and born-winner to come out and say that the second test was the greatest win of his career, particularly after his fantastic 2019 season with the World Cup final and 135* in the Headingly Test (Ashes), was have been a huge confidence boost to the side.
The highlight of the series: His second innings in the Second Test (75*)
It was a fantastic knock at over a run a ball with 10 fours and 4 sixes, in addition to this, he hit the winning runs Headingly 2019 style with a cut through the covers for four, a perfect moment to seal the series.
Zak Crawley – 2/10 (87 runs @14.5)
He is saved from a 1 out of 10 because of his innings in the first test in which he helped England into a narrow nine-run lead by top-scoring with 43, in fact, it was only New Zealand’s Mitchell and Blundell (Nos 5 and 6) who got more than that before Joe Root and Ben Stokes passed it to help England to a five-wicket victory.
The issue with Zak Crawley is that of his six dismissals, four were edges and his last one was a terrible shot when he had a platform of 25 to make some respectable runs. He remains in the side for India because of the lack of options, it is key to note that his Ashes opening partner Haseeb Hameed scored a century for Nottinghamshire this week and Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and possibly Keaton Jennings will all be eyeing up that loose spot in the England batting line-up.
Zak Crawley has potential and real skill as shown by his 267 against Pakistan in 2020 but including his innings in the 2021-2022 Ashes, when he was recalled for Rory Burns, he has scored 437 runs in his last 18 innings (average of 24.3) if you take out his century in the West Indies and his well made but unfortunate 77 in Australia, that average drops to just 14.9.
Opening the batting at Test level is not easy, since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012, England has had 22 different openers, including that wacky test when Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes opened, only three have averaged above 32 (Cook, Root and Jack Leach!) with only four more (Nick Compton, Joe Denly, Rory Burns and Sam Robson) above 30. Only Rory Burns has 50+ innings opening (other than Cook) as the rotation has been so heavy. If England can solve that problem, even having openers who can average 30 is better than what they currently have then there is a chance that England will have something really special.
The highlight of the series: 43 in first innings at Lords
Not a lot to choose from, so easy choice.
Alex Lees – 5/10 (169 runs @28.2)Embed from Getty Images
Had this been a two-match series he would be looking at a six or a seven but in the third test he scored two single digits scores including a farcical run-out in the second innings (I never understand how you can get run out in Test Cricket). A very average first test with a 20 and 25 was followed up with a decent 67 and 44. He is yet to score a century in his 12 test innings but if he can play with the intent that he did in the second innings at Trent Bridge then he will surely get one. Looks promising, with an average of 24.6 from his 12 innings so this summer will be crucial for his test future.
Highlight: Whilst his 44 was very good and his 67 showed class, something must be said of his awareness to have Henry Nicholls caught out in the first innings at Headingly.
Ollie Pope: 9/10 (267 runs @44.5)Embed from Getty Images
A breath of fresh air at three, a spot that he will have as his own for at least the rest of the Test summer but hopefully for years to come. A poor first test made him look overwhelmed but his 145 runs in the first innings at Trent Bridge not only allowed England to be only 14 runs behind New Zealand’s mammoth 553 all out but cemented his place at three.
His excellence in the third test was saved for the second innings, his 82 off 102 balls was brilliant with 12 fours and was unlucky to receive a peach of a delivery from Tim Southee in the first over of day 5. Still with an average of 44.5, just short of his captain, and the fact he has never batted at three in first-class cricket, the 24-year-old played in a way that England fans have been crying out for since his 135* against South Africa in 2020.
The highlight of the Series: He took a fine short leg catch off the bowling of Joe Root in New Zealand’s second innings at Headingly, this removed the dangerous Devon Conway and helped England on their way to a famous win. That being said, it is hard to ignore his magnificent innings at Trent Bridge, which was one of the highlights of the whole series let alone his personal highlight.
Joe Root – 10/10 (396 runs @99, bowling: 1 wicket @79)Embed from Getty Images
I am running out of words to describe this man, had he not been batting with Bairstow for as long as he did in the final innings of the series he would have averaged over 100, this is despite him scoring an 11, 3 and a 5. The fact he was unbeaten twice in two massive run chases is a testament to his ability and character and it would have been perfect for the man of the series to end the series with a third hundred but it was not to be.
He even chipped in with the important wicket of Devon Conway and was useful to eat up overs or help rest the seam bowlers for the next spell. Considering this was his first series without being captain since 2017 just shows his professionalism to bat in this way and to continue his incredible form this year, averaging 68.5 since the end of the Ashes. The world’s number one batsman passed 10,000 test runs, equalling Sir Alistair Cook as the youngest man to do so.
Should he continue in this vein of form, he is capable of smashing the records and going down as one of the all-time greats, even so, Joe Root is regarded as one of England’s greatest batsmen and probably the best across all formats of the game.
The highlight of the series: He has played three excellent innings, highlights include his reverse ramp sixes, his excellent 88 and his phenomenal 176 at Trent Bridge but for the context of the match and the confidence it brought the side, his unbeaten 115 at Lords helped England over the line and really set the ball rolling for the brilliance in the next two tests. When a man is capable of making a century every other innings then you have something special and had it not been for Jonny Bairstow in the final innings of the series, Root would have a century in all of the tests.
Jonny Bairstow: 9.5/10 (394 runs @78.8)Embed from Getty Images
What a turnaround! The batsman who was dropped in 2019 after a miserable Ashes campaign with only one 50 and a famous pair against Ireland, allowing people to give him the name Jonny ‘Pairstow’. He then was brought back in for the 2021-2022 iteration of the Ashes in the third test (Boxing day). He only played the third and fourth test as injury ruled him out of the final test (he was the lucky one!) but scored 154 runs at an average of 38.5 with a brilliant century, England’s only of the series in the fourth test.
Bairstow followed this up with another century (140) in the first innings of the West Indies series, at one point he was averaging 155, after a 15* in the second innings of the first test. His average fell to 45.2 (226) not bad and only bettered in the England side by Joe Root. With the number five spot becoming Bairstow’s after Ben Stokes became captain, he was given greater responsibility.
It looked to be classic Jonny Bairstow (in test cricket) looks really promising then have a huge dip in form that sees him out of the side, after his first three innings of the series (1, 16 and 8) he was averaging 8.3. His dismissal in the first innings of the second test was particularly poor as he had the foundations to get a big score after Pope and Root’s 187-run partnership.
Then the turning point. England was rocking in the second innings at Trent Bridge, 56-3 chasing 297 with Crawley out for a duck and England’s two heroes and centurions from the first innings (Ollie Pope and Joe Root) back in the shed, England needed someone to step up. The Yorkshireman did not disappoint, scoring 136 off 92 balls and only being dismissed when England only needed 25 to win. His partnership with Captain Ben Stokes was worth 179 runs and was off just 20 overs (that would be a relatively competitive target to set in a T20 match), meaning they scored at around 9 an over.
Bairstow was then the hero again at his home ground, Headingly. Once again England was rocking, responding to 329, they were 17/3 when he arrived at the crease. After seeing his ex-captain, Root, go for 5 and then-current captain Stokes, go for 18, he was joined by Ben Foakes. Foakes had been in decent nick but was given lbw to Wagner for a three-ball duck. Next was the debutant, Jamie Overton. England was 55/6 and in danger of having to follow on. Not only did the two in the middle avoid the follow-on but they did so in style by combining for England’s highest seventh-wicket partnership (241 runs) bringing England to within 33 of New Zealand’s total. Broad continued the match and by the time he and Bairstow were dismissed England was ahead by 22 runs.
The knock helped England to take a 31-run lead into the second innings which proved vital in making the chase a little easier.
That chase was once again a fine knock for Bairstow, coming in to bat in the first over of day five after Ollie Pope was dismissed for 82 he corrected the wrongs of the previous test match by not getting out cheaply after a brilliant third-wicket partnership. Not only that but he scored a rapid 71 off 44, with 8 fours and 3 sixes. He also hit the second-fastest test 50 for an Englishman (30 balls bettered only by Ian Botham (28 balls against India in 1981) and level with his new coach’s fastest test 50.
After his poor dismissal in the first innings at Trent Bridge, Bairstow has scored 369 runs at an average of 184.5 and a strike rate of 125.94, this is exceptional and just shows the player England and English fans have known that Jonny is. The only frustration is that this type of form or anywhere close to it has been hard to come by but should he continue his purple patch his test career is well and truly alive.
The highlight of the series: Like Joe Root, he has had three excellent innings but his century in the first innings at Headingly would be his finest. A home ground ton after the dire situation England were in before the partnership, one of the great test innings.
Ben Foakes: 7/10 (107 Runs @35.7 and 12 dismissals)Embed from Getty Images
Was unfortunate to have an injury and then test positive for Covid-19 in the third test which meant he could not add to his duck from the first innings which left a bit of a disappointing end to what had been a good series. Without said duck, his average would be 53.5. Important to this was his part in the first two-run chases being there with Joe Root at Lords (32*) and Ben Stokes at Trent Bridge (12*). He was Mr dependable in this series but was impressive in his partnership with Joe Root in the first innings at Trent Bridge and looked set for a higher score but was run out trying to help Matt Potts to get his first test run (ironically Potts got a duck in that innings).
His glovework was great with one small mistake when he dove in front of Root at first slip when England number four should have been the one to take the catch. He will take great confidence from the faith put in him by his captain and coach, particularly after a rather poor series in the West Indies and will look to push on and cement that Wicketkeeper spot.
The highlight of the Series: Whilst his 56 was impressive, the maturity of his 32* off 92 in a rare sign of patience from an English batsman this series will have impressed the coaching staff more as he proved he can be trusted to close out a run chase.
Matthew Potts – 8/10 (14 Wickets @23.3, 4 runs @2)Embed from Getty Images
For a man making his Test debut, life could not have gotten off to a better start ripping through the top/middle order. Williamson being his first test wicket, with the two best New Zealand batsmen of the series, Mitchell and Blundell being his next two before finishing the innings with Patel (lbw), 4-13.
He took another three in the test and was largely impressive (we will just ignore the batting!) He consistently took wickets and got Williamson three out of four times (not a bad bunny to have) whilst he only averaged 2 with the bat, his emergence on the test scene at only 23 is remarkable. He was not dropped for the third test for Craig Overton which shows the faith the coaching staff had in him and how impressed they were with his bowling performances.
The highlight of the series: Has to be the first morning, it shocked me to see a debutant so quick out of the blocks with wickets and to take 4-13 in your first innings is exceptional. If he stays fit and healthy, England has a real player on their hands.
Stuart Broad: 6.5/10 (12 Wickets @35.25, 60 runs @20)
Either blame Jack Leach or Broad’s inability to take a wicket in the second innings at Headingly which massively damaged his average and dampened his rating. When he was the premier bowler he took the least amount of wickets (per test) there were times he was unlucky, Root dropped a catch off his bowling but that is part of the game.
He wasn’t terrible and had these been Potts’ stats I would have given him a higher rating it is just that Stuart Broad is an experienced and quality bowler so the standard should be higher for him.
With that being said, his innings at Headingly were exciting and just what you want from Stuart Broad (42 off 36) and he helped push England into a lead.
The highlight of the series: No bowling performance sticks out, getting Williamson out would be a highlight but his innings of 42 was a blast from the past from a very capable batsman and something England needs more of. Dismissing Mitchell for 108 in the first test was also critical though.
James Anderson: 9/10 (11 Wickets @18.64, 16 runs @16)Embed from Getty Images
England’s greatest ever bowler continues to age like a fine wine, just over a month away from his 40th Birthday and he is averaging under 20 with the ball against the number one Test side in the world, it defies belief.
He was also handy with the bat adding a few tail-ender runs to put pressure on Trent Boult for the highest scoring number 11 in Test History, he took two wickets or more in the four innings he bowled and would have been up for the Headingly test had it not been for the injury he suffered.
I am in the strong belief that had James Anderson been fit in the 2019 Ashes, England would have won that series in the same way that had he played in the West Indies, despite the condition not being as favourable as England, they would have won at least one test. This is just to show the value of James Anderson, his wicket of Tom Latham in New Zealand’s second innings at Trent Bridge was his 650th and you would think only him and the decisions about his future and fitness would stop him from reaching 700.
The highlight of the Series: Has to be his 4-66, his most expensive innings but the one that said that he is back and means business. He dismissed both openers in his first spell (second and third overs), both for one (Tom Latham and Will Young) before dislodging Kyle Jamieson and the stubborn Tim Southee who had put on 41 with Colin De Grandhomme.
Matt Parkinson: N/A ( 1 wicket at an average of 47, 8 runs at an average of 8)Embed from Getty Images
I wanted to give him a mention but felt it was unfair to rate him of what was effectively half a test for him. Bowled economically (3.03) and took the last wicket of the second innings, Tim Southee, to help set up the chase. If he never plays Test Cricket again, I do think he will play again, then the 25-year-old from Bolton will always have at least one Test wicket to his name.
Also, he will be on the ever-increasing list of concussion substitutes in Cricket after he replaced Jack Leach, which gave him his first Test Cap after the spinner suffered a concussion in diving for the ball.
The highlight of the series: His first test wicket but a notable achievement of the first test runs as well.
Second Test (Trent Bridge)
Jack Leach: (13 Wickets @30.15, 8 Runs @8)
The hero of Headingly (twice!), the spinner missed the first test with a concussion and was not very effective in the second finishing with match figures of 3-226. There would have been calls for Parkinson to return but Stokes and McCullum stuck with Leachy and were repaid handsomely.
The first innings had Leach at the first change and he struck early, with his first ball of the match, Will Young (LBW), he then got Nicholls in the most bizarre dismissal with a drive hitting the middle of Mitchell’s bat and being caught by an alert Alex Lees. Leach then proceeded to take the final three wickets of the innings including the key breakthrough of Mitchell for 109. Southee was caught by Stokes and Leach then got Wagner with the next ball as Jonny Bairstow pulled off a blinder of a catch.
He finished 5-100 off 38.3 (economy rate of 2.60, only bettered by Matthew Potts). He then collected eight runs at the end of England’s innings to slightly extend the lead.
Leach’s first wicket of the second innings was Henry Nicholls (caught and bowled) before he cleaned up the tail in a crucial spell with Southee and Wagner being dismissed in the same over yet again before he bowled Trent Boult to get his second fifer of the match and first 10-for in Tests.
He was clapped off the pitch and then got a well-deserved rest as England comfortably brought it home without the need for a classic jack Leach 1*.
The highlight of the Series: Clearly his 10-fer. To take five wickets in an innings is special but to do that twice in a row in the sam match, particularly when there were questions over your position in the team, there is no doubt that Leachy is England’s spinner for the test summer.
Third Test (Headingly)
Jamie Overton: 8.5/10 (2 wickets @73, 97 runs @97)
I am torn by this, on the one hand, he was not too effective with the ball only taking the one wicket with the ball in each innings (how much is that down to the brilliance of Jack Leach) but on the other, he played probably the best innings I have seen from a debutant in Test Cricket, let alone someone who is more of a bowling all-rounder.
It is clear to see why Overton is averaging 53.00 this season with the bat and his form with the ball (21 wickets @21.62) has also been rewarded with a test debut. He remains in the squad for the India Test but it will be difficult to see where he fits in the team, Anderson will return and Potts has been too good to drop, Leach may be needed as the spin option and that leaves a shootout between the vastly experienced Stuart Broad or the single capped Jamie Overton.
On form, Overton should get the nod but England will likely reverse the change they made for the Headingly test and pick Anderson over Overton, that being said with him being 28 years old there is still plenty of time for the Devonshire lad to make a name for himself on the test stage.
The highlight of the series: His first test wicket (Devon Conway, clean bowled as well) would have been the obvious choice had he not made his first test 50 and got so agonisingly close to his first test century, that being said he currently has the highest test average in history so I would not be too upset if I was him.
If he keeps to his average England will have one heck of a player! (Obviously, he will not do that but we can dream).
Sam Billings: N/A (1 dismissal)
His second test cap and his second as a replacement. He didn’t get the chance to bat because of the excellence of Pope, Root and Bairstow but he did have one of the highlights of the series his unorthodox catch of the bowling of Leach to remove Neil Wagner.
He has been rewarded for his commitment with a Test call-up for the India test and may be in line for a first planned test match if Ben Foakes has not recovered, granted Bairstow could keep and Brook could bat at five.
The highlight of the Series: I will not describe it, i will just show it.