Cow Corner

England’s tactical negativity is becoming a concern

Cow Corner

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At least it cannot be said that England did not give New Zealand the utmost respect in the second Test at Headingley - indeed, arguably the tourists were given far too much.

Having skittled the Black Caps out for a miserly 174 and established a commanding first-innings lead, England proceeded to plod along without any apparent intent or purpose with the bat, eventually amassing a ridiculously big 467-run lead.

To put this into some context, no side has ever reached more than 418 in the fourth innings to win a Test and only four sides have ever eclipsed 400 to win.

Captain Alastair Cook must think the world of the New Zealand batsmen given that he clearly believed that there was even a faint possibility of the visitors chasing such a huge total on a turning fourth-innings pitch at Headingley, despite what they had shown with the bat up until that point.

Again, to make the point very clearly, New Zealand's scores so far in the series on perfectly acceptable wickets have been 207, 68 and 174 - hardly totals to make the England management believe that a world record-breaking total could be imminent.

England's decision to not enforce the follow on, despite having a 180-run lead from the first innings, was baffling in itself after how comfortably the hosts had bowled out their opponents at Lord's, and again in Leeds; but the approach with the bat on days three and four rendered the call all the more baffling.

The England batsmen played without an obvious desire to get on with setting a big second-innings lead and declaring at the earliest opportunity; rather, they sought to occupy the crease and keep the runs ticking along slowly but steadily without any obvious urgency.

As a result, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum watched on happily as England used up valuable time in a match that lost its first day entirely as a result of persistent showers, and with day five also forecast to be washed out due to heavy rain.

Jonathan Trott and Nick Compton infuriated the home supporters, and possibly their team-mates, with their obdurate and circumspect knocks as England's run-rate did not in the slightest reflect what the hosts required of their batsmen in the context of the match.

A rather absurd situation ensued on day four as England were forced to bowl part-time spinner Joe Root in tandem with the inspired Graeme Swann for much of the final session of the day in fading light while New Zealand's batsmen set up camp in the middle, not remotely perturbed by the situation, safe in the knowledge of the final day forecast.

It all amounted to a hugely frustrating day for the England supporters as Cook astounded everyone by reappearing after the lunch break and waited until midway through the afternoon session to declare, before setting fields that were more suitable to his side attempting to limit the damage with an enormous deficit than trying to win the match.

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With New Zealand's batsmen utterly devoid of confidence in a one-sided series, it was a deeply alarming and unnecessary retreat from the England captain - all on a day that should have been most notable for his 25th Test century and 10,000th international run across all forms of the game.

England showed a distinct lack of initiative in chasing a victory that appeared to be theirs for the taking, while New Zealand may well have been let off the hook despite having been comprehensively outplayed for the majority of the two-match series.

If the hosts go on to win the match and the series 2-0 then it will still be regarded as a job well done - and rightly so - but the tactical approach demonstrated by Cook and Flower has been undeniably concerning with their dominance over New Zealand abundantly clear.

Throughout the final session of the day, with the lead still colossal, England employed no more than two slips with inexplicably defensive fields, even to new batsmen. With Swann almost single-handedly hauling his side towards victory, it could be all the more agonising if the forecast rain blights day five.

The argument has been put forward - rather unconvincingly, it has to be said - that this series amounts to little more than a warm-up for the Ashes; but even if that were the case, the manner in which England have approached going for two victories in the series has been alarmingly reserved.

Cook is still a relatively inexperienced captain, and his seven centuries in 11 Tests have demonstrated his ability to thrive with the bat while having the burden of leadership, but his opposite number McCullum gave a masterclass in the reverse series in how to be a proactive and positive skipper. The England talisman still has much to learn.

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