Ben Stokes facing uphill task after chastening day for England

MARTIN SAMUEL: Grim reality hits home for England’s new Test captain Ben Stokes… as his honeymoon period is brought to an abrupt end after another batting collapse leaves England’s bowlers badly exposed

  • England bowled New Zealand out for just 132 on Thursday at Lord’s
  • This gave Ben Stokes the dream start to his time as England captain
  • However, England were only able to make 141 with the bat themselves
  • Having hardly been able to rest, England’s bowlers were made to toil on Friday
  • New Zealand took advantage, batting themselves into a strong position 

Ben Stokes was yesterday introduced to the truly painful reality of being England captain. One ordinary session with the ball. That is all is takes. Those are the margins.

England cannot afford a single passage of play in which the bowlers do not take wickets, wickets, wickets. If that happens the total the batsmen have left them defending will come into play and it is invariably not enough.

Welcome to English cricket, too, Matthew Potts. The young man was enjoying one of the great Test debuts with the ball but by mid-afternoon was in a team fighting for its life.

Ben Stokes’s England endured a difficult second day as England captain at Lord’s on Friday

Maybe James Anderson and Stuart Broad had a quiet word and steeled him to get used to it. This is their world, more often than not.

Broad, Anderson and Potts had been brilliant in favourable conditions across much of the first two days, but the first time New Zealand batted to their potential, the first time the balance in a session swung away from England’s bowlers, it became instantly apparent that here was another castle built on sand.

Potts had taken the wicket of Kane Williamson, one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world, twice before lunch on day two. Yet by tea his team was odds-on to lose the first Test. One partnership.

That’s all it required. Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell steered New Zealand deep into three figures for the fifth wicket and all confidence in the home side ebbed away.

Matthew Potts has enjoyed a very strong debut, taking six wickets across the first two days

However, England are now struggling after a partnership between Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell took the game away from them

A new era has to be about more than a change in personnel. Stokes’ captaincy has looked fresh and the change necessary these last two days, but the frailty in the batting line-up cannot be corrected with a click of the fingers or a new name on the door.

Equally, no bowling line-up can expect to dominate every session. Even the greatest Caribbean pace attacks, or the Shane Warne-era Australians, could not do that.

Broad and Anderson, at their best, in English spring conditions are a match for anyone.

But they cannot consistently defend scores that wouldn’t past muster in the Hundred.

With Matt Parkinson a battlefield promotion at last, questions will no doubt be asked about the pace of his leg breaks. They look rather slow for Test cricket, which was always the fear. Yet this is so far from the problem for England as to be almost an irrelevance.

Matt Parkinson bowled slowly on debut, and was picked off easily by Mitchell and Blundell

It doesn’t matter what Parkinson bowls — or any of his colleagues — if the task is to turn a score of less than 150 into a match-winner.

There seems a fundamental disconnect between the way Test matches are won and the arsenal at the captain’s disposal. It was why the scapegoating of Broad and Anderson in the winter was so disrespectful.

These men had held English cricket together across several decades. They deserved better than to have it intimated that they were the problem.

They certainly haven’t been these last two days. They did their job and should have been able to rest. Instead, Broad was in to bat before close on Thursday and both men were haring in again long before lunch on Friday.

No wonder they sometimes appear grumpy to those not in the bowlers club.

England’s batting line-up fell apart on Thursday, allowing New Zealand back into the game

Despite bowling New Zealand out for 132 on day one, they only managed to get a nine-run lead

No doubt there will be those who say England’s bowlers lost their way after lunch when a partnership of 180 formed. Yet that happens.

Batsmen are allowed to bat. Sometimes they make scores. It cannot be that when this happens, if it happens, even once, it is viewed as game over. That is a purely English problem.

Given a significant first innings total, England’s bowlers might have fancied a little dart at New Zealand just before close. That is how Test series are won. Instead they were in action again, super early, bowling flat out with a lead of just nine. And that’s how and why it falls apart.

Kevin Pietersen was being interviewed before play commenced on Friday morning, and was asked about his 12-year-old son, Dylan. Pietersen had recently shared a film of him practicing in a garden net.

Mike Atherton asked what advice he was getting from dad, if any. No one was imagining KP as the just-have-fun type, but Atherton seemed taken aback by the answer.

Kevin Pietersen thinks England’s batters need to be able to trust their defence to succeed

‘A strong forward defensive,’ was Pietersen’s lesson. Not just for that day, but every day apparently.

Atherton, who possessed one of those himself, seemed bemused. The most aggressive, positive stroke player of the modern era, coaching defence? Yet Pietersen’s logic was beyond reproach. Positive batting wasn’t just about having a swing, he said. It was knowing you had the shot to block the bowlers’ best ball. Once you had that, once you could see off the bowling plan, the rest followed.

That was true aggression, he said. Making the bowler change what he had prepared, making him realise he was going to have to find an alternate strategy.

That’s when you could start playing your shots. You earned that right with a strong forward defence. And if that sounds simple, it’s because it is. The greatest batsmen, the greatest Test top orders, invariably built from solid defence, the way many good football teams are constructed from the back.

If England’s first innings had been forged on the principles now being passed to Dylan Pietersen, every run of that fifth-wicket New Zealand partnership might not have felt like a stone in the shoe for England’s bowlers.

Instead, it is fair to say, the honeymoon period for Stokes, for Potts and for the comeback kids is well and truly over. It lasted a full four sessions. And we’re back to the future, again.

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