At the start of this England tour most New Zealanders would have probably taken a couple of 2-1 defeats in the shorter forms of the game. These are very good England sides, and they have become the first country to master the art of different squads and coaching set-ups for the various forms of the game. The luxury of depth.
As is customary for New Zealand cricket series it was that perfect mix of frustratingly varied performances, split into the typical three categories.
Brendon McCullum. So maligned in the last few months the skipper put in consistently dominating batting performances not seen since Martin Crowe in the 1992 World Cup. Each time he scored fifty, and each innings at a strike rate of well over 100. Don’t forget he also played a match-winning innings in the T20. The move down the order is turning out to be a masterstroke.
At least he will get the standing ovation he deserves when he goes out to bat in Dunedin.
Honourable mentions to Mitch McClenaghan who showed enough in his nine overs, along with the T20 performances, to show he is a bit special But his fitness needs to very carefully managed, as Australia are trying to do with Pattinson.
Time Southee made a return sooner than people would have liked but showed in Auckland that he is clearly NZ’s bowling spearhead.
A bit of both
This is always the biggest category after a series. And no player personified it better than Ross Taylor. It took the former captain a while to get going, but the 100 in Napier reminded us of how he could bat. But that innings stood alone although he was never far from the action, including the confusion around what Hot Spot is about in Auckland. Then there were all those dropped catches…
Williamson also blew hot and cold; he was cut short with the run out in the first match, but did not offer a lot after that. Coming in after a couple of overs did not help.
For the majority of the series Nathan McCullum outbowled Graeme Swann. Not afraid to bowl in the opening Power Play when things were not going so well he was never collared. Yet he went throughout the series without taking a wicket; that is why he is not in the test squad. He would also be disappointed he did not contribute more with the bat when he had time to bat himself in.
Kyle Mills remains a strangely polarising figure. People still refer to a bad over in 2004 when saying he should not be picked while overlooking his high rankings ever since. When bowling first he was at his miserly best; in the last two matches when searching for wickets he was out of his comfort zone.
After having been New Zealand’s most consistent batsman over the last year, things came crashing down pretty quickly for BJ Watling. Batting against two new balls and a quality attack is not easy and Watling appeared out of his depth. On the positive side at least all that nonsense talk of getting him to open in the tests was put to bed, and he returns to the more comfortable slot of number 7 for those.
Rutherford looked the part in the T20s, without ever going on, but was more reminiscent of his father on debut in the ODIs. The tests will be a huge challenge for him.
Then there was the Wellington bit-part all-rounders in the middle order. Elliott’s job seemed to be to run down the clock until it was the right time for Brendon McCullum to make his entrance. Although he got going in all games, and was unlucky to be run out in Auckland, he never kicked on so that the load got spread around. And he is not offering enough with the ball.
Conversely, James Franklin bowled more in this series than he has for years, but only really in a half-a-fifth bowler kind of way. But it was the drop-off of his batting that really hurt. The fast bowlers roughed him up with short bowling with the result that he lost his confidence to such an extent that he lobbed a catch back to Swann in the final match.
And Canterbury’s Andrew Ellis (the cricketing one) highlighted the gap between domestic and international cricket. That bowling action is a hard watch too.
So now we move onto the test series and the arrival of the likes of Peterson, Prior and Panesar. Despite the encouraging win the “A” team in Queenstown, things do not get easier from here. Another 2-1 loss would be an achievement.