Off-field revelations overshadow the start of England’s cricketing summer


Devon Conway produced a record-breaking debut performance for New Zealand in the drawn first Test that was stunted by rain and overshadowed by off-field revelations, and ultimately the Kiwis will consider themselves unlucky not to win.

Having won the toss and chosen to bat first, opener and debutant Devon Conway capitalised in spectacular fashion as he made 200 off 347 balls – a Lords record for a debutant – before being run out without facing another ball as he fell just short of carrying his bat.

His total, alongside a dogged 61 from Henry Nicholls in a partnership of 174 for the fourth wicket, saw New Zealand to a strong position at 246-3 at stumps on day one.

The wicket of Nicholls, taken by Mark Wood, triggered a collapse in which the Kiwis lost their final seven wickets for just 90 runs as they were bowled out for 378, with Sussex pacer Ollie Robinson taking 4-75 on his Test debut as the pick of the bowlers for England.

The response from England was an all too familiar story of non-starts and collapses, with a dose of traditional British weather. Day three was completely wiped out by rain, which probably didn’t help England’s momentum through their innings.  

Devon Conway capitalised in spectacular fashion as he made 200 off 347 balls – a Lords record for a debutant

Dom Sibley got a duck, and Zak Crawley departed for single figures, while captain Joe Root and Ollie Pope both failed to build on promising starts. Pope’s dismissal saw England fall from 140-3 to 140-6 in four overs during an inspired spell from Kiwi quick Tim Southee, including James Bracey who suffered a nightmare six-ball duck on his Test debut.

The one silver lining for England was the performance of Rory Burns, who made 132 opening the batting, doggedly sticking around while his teammates lost their wickets around him. With the help of Root and Robinson, who both made 42, he dragged England to 275 all out, a lead of 103 for New Zealand who were in a commanding position.

After the loss of the third day, Kane Williamson was always going to have a difficult decision deciding when to ask England to bat again. To his credit, Williamson played for the declaration in an interesting innings that saw tail-ender Neil Wagner, who smashed 25 off just 21 balls in the first innings, appearing at number four in the batting order.

Ross Taylor hit an entertaining 33, but England, and especially Robinson, took wickets at regular intervals that ensured New Zealand never really ran away with their second innings. Williamson eventually chose to declare on 169-6, which set England 275 to win in 75 overs, a total which should have been seen as achievable by England given the totals they often post in the ODIs.

England managed to disappoint their fans one last time though, as they didn’t even attempt to chase the target down. Sibley’s 60 off 207 balls epitomised the attitude that England took towards their second innings, which left some fans booing the team when the two captains shook hands on a draw with England 170-3.

It seemed a missed opportunity for England to try a challenging chase

While it was a good exercise in batting out a draw, it seemed a missed opportunity for England to try a challenging chase, the likes of which could make all the difference in the Ashes coming up this winter.

Given Joe Root’s fighting talk in the press before the match, where he challenged England to win all seven test matches they play before their trip to Australia, and the fact that these two tests do not contribute to the World Test Championship, it becomes all the more lacklustre. One would imagine that Kane Williamson would be disappointed too after he went for a risky declaration in an attempt to force a result.

Sadly, after a show of anti-discrimination on t-shirts worn by England during the warm-up on day one, one of the main stories to come out of the first Test was the racist and sexist tweets posted by Ollie Robinson between 2012 and 2014. The decision to suspend Robinson from international cricket pending an investigation is absolutely correct.

Although England will miss him in the second test after his excellent debut performance, they must show zero tolerance towards any form of discrimination to ensure their message is taken seriously.

Image: Creative Commons

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