England v New Zealand: five things we learned from the first Test | Tanya Aldred
1) Ben Foakes is the real thing
After slipping in his socks in the Oval dressing room last summer and ruling himself out for three months with a torn left hamstring, Ben Foakes might have been forgiven for thinking a prolonged Test career was not to be. Over the course of three-and-a-half years, before last Thursday, he had played just 11 Tests, all of them abroad, as England threw the gloves between Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow like an undecided suitor. But at Lord’s, Foakes finally got to play a Test at home, and he was quietly excellent. He let just one bye whistle past, organised his slip cordon efficiently, snaffled five catches in typically unobtrusive style, and helped usher England to victory with the bat, happy to play second fiddle to Joe Root. And all this despite an at-times iffy tour of the West Indies over the winter, a dubious average of 16 in his past eight Tests, plus hints from new Rob Key that he quite fancies Buttler back in the Test team.
2) Joe Root is still world class
So, we all had a hunch that Joe Root was a team man, that he would still have an appetite for run-scoring after stepping down as captain, but it was great to get that itch scratched so early into his return to the ranks. His first fourth-innings Test century, his 26th in all, not only made him just the second England batter after Alastair Cook to reach 10,000 Test runs, but also won England the match. A glance up to the balcony when he reached three figures showed just how appreciated he is by his new captain and great friend, his teammates, and Lord’s, who rose as one to England’s finest batsman. If only he could find a little more support in the middle order.
3) England still missing a bit of fizz
After all the bottles of prosecco drunk over the long Jubilee weekend, the country was awash with fizz. But on Friday afternoon, as Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell were compiling their partnership, even Ben Stokes looked a little flat. How he would have loved a Mark Wood, a Jofra Archer, or an Olly Stone to call upon – but all are injured, with return dates unknown, and Matt Parkinson’s leggies are too raw to judge yet in Test cricket. As superbly as Matt Potts bowled on debut (what a flag he flew for the second division of the County Championship) his future is as a replacement for Stuart Broad or Jimmy Anderson, rather than firing down Exocets on a threatening line. The search, for England, goes on.
4) The cost of living crisis will hit cricket
Despite the rumours beforehand, Lord’s was largely full for the first three days – and the punters got their money back on the fourth because England ushered things over the line at such a lick. But the fuss should be a warning to those in the egg-and-bacon ties who set the ticket prices. Lord’s has always been a playground for the rich, but if it continues that way during a financial crisis, it will price the future out of the game, and (possibly) itself out of a second summer Test. Even the MCC secretary Guy Lavender sounded contrite during a tea-time interview on TMS. Incidentally, the first three days are sold out for the second Test at Trent Bridge, but tickets for day four are available from £10.
5) Beware a wounded New Zealand
If Colin de Grandhomme hadn’t gone for a distracted amble out of his crease, if he hadn’t dismissed Ben Stokes off a no-ball, if the Black Cap batters had a little more preparation time, if they hadn’t largely arrived in England straight off the IPL roundabout, if Neil Wagner had been preferred to Ajaz Patel (two overs for 22) … there is plenty of opportunity for New Zealand to do their own red-ball reset before the final two Tests. Despite the retirements of Ross Taylor and BJ Watling, and an unimpressive Test record since securing the world championship at the Rose Bowl last year, New Zealand continue to be a good, underrated team – with understudies such as Mitchell performing when it matters. Kane Williamson has had a strangely unproductive year, and an underwhelming IPL but, like Root before him, that should only strike fear into the opposition. England’s trump card could be their new head coach, Brendon McCullum, who knows the opposition like the golf courses of South Island.