England Lions v New Zealand: Four lessons as Joe Root impresses
England Lions v New Zealand: Ryan Bailey takes a look at the lessons learned from the warm-up match
Bad weather disrupts warm-up
England’s second string XI, Joe Root and the weather combined to deprive New Zealand of vital match practise in wet conditions ahead of the first Test match which starts in less than a week. Hopefully it’s not an indication of how the English weather will affect the upcoming series, as the tourists’ warm-up encounter with the England Lions at Grace Road ended in a stalemate. With the first Test match starting on Thursday, the Black Caps were hoping for a solid work-out to finalise their preparations for Lord’s. However, it was England’s rising star who stole the show and gained the first psychological advantage ahead of the two-game series. Joe Root continued his prolific run of form as he ground down the Kiwi bowling attack with a superb innings of 179 to once again underline his undoubted talent. Ashley Giles had asked his side of Test hopefuls to put the tourists on the back foot to set the tone for the series and the 22-year-old certainly did that as he brought his tally of runs to 646 from four first-class innings, raising the distant but tantalising possibility of him passing 1,000 before the end of May. Root’s fellow Yorkshireman also had a productive few days as he all but assured his place in the England middle-order to replace Kevin Pietersen with a brisk half-century. However, all the talk is about the form of New Zealand given their batsman got little or no time in the middle and their front-line seam attack was taken to the cleaners by the Lions’ top order and Root in particular. Captain Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor only jetted in from the Indian Premier League hours before the four-day game commenced while his centuries in Auckland apart, Peter Fulton’s struggles continued. Having said that, there are plenty of Kiwis heading into the first Test in fine fettle including batsmen Hamish Rutherford and BJ Watling as well as seamers Doug Bracewell and Trent Boult.
Root excels once again to enhance growing reputation
It’s been a whirlwind six months for England’s rising star as his meteoric rise from his local club in Sheffield to the international stage continues at rapid pace. Having made his debut for England in all three formats during the winter, Root has now cemented his place in the middle-order. The Yorkshire batsman didn’t let the role of captaincy affect him as he continued to pile on the runs at Grace Road and the underlying maturity of his make-up has already been one of the characteristics that has stood out. England’s management certainly believe the fresh-faced Root has leadership potential to add to his abundance of talent and if his early forays in international cricket are anything to go by, he certainly has the temperament to write himself into the history books. It is conceivable that Root could yet become the first Englishman in 75 years, and only the sixth ever, to pass 1,000 runs by the end of May. The last batsman to achieve the feat in an English season was Zimbabwe-born Graeme Hick in 1988, while current England Test opener Nick Compton came agonisingly close last year.
New Zealand will provide England with stern test
Despite their apparent lack of match practise, the Black Caps won’t be rolled over easily. The series may be conceived by many as a warm-up for bigger engagements to follow but Alistair Cook’s side cannot underestimate the tourists who will be eager to prove they can compete against the very best. All indications suggest that their management will stick with the same players who came so close to defeating England in March and it’s that consistency which they have lacked in recent times. Hamish Rutherford, Kane Williamson, BJ Watling and now Dean Brownlie have all become accustomed to English conditions on this tour so far and head to the Home of Cricket with runs under the belt. Meanwhile, the bowling attack, who exceeded all expectations in the winter will be confident of causing the English batsman problems in seamer friendly conditions. Often described as a more “workman like attack” rather than one full of cutting edge pace, Tim Southee and company will be out to prove their doubters wrong. With England apparently warned about simply going ‘through the motions’ by chief selector Geoff Miller and management, New Zealand will have to be on top of their game if they are to compete but there is no doubt that they have the ability, talent and players to do so.
England’s future is in safe hands
After a miserable tour of Australia during the winter which was typified by several off-field problems, England’s second string XI restored the faith of selectors and the general public with a dominant display against the country currently ranked eighth in the ICC Test rankings. Deprived of several of their bigger names down under including the likes of Root, Jonny Bairstow and Ravi Bopara, the Lions were thrashed by Australia “A” and cast doubts over the ability of the so-called next generation of international stars. The competition for places in all three formats is underlined by the strength of the side that took to the field in Leicester. The ECB selectors are blessed with an abundance of talent and different options to choose from and the Lions side continues to provide the perfect platform for these players to showcase their credentials on. Not many countries can boast a second string side which contains the international experience of the Lions who have bucket loads of players at their disposal. Only Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Wright, Simon Kerrigan and Varun Chopra have not earned a full England call-up, highlighting the depth of the resources given Middlesex’s Roland-Jones starred with the ball. There is no doubt that every player included in the various squads during the next twelve months or so will have to be in top form with plenty standing by to snap up any opportunity they’re given.