Motivator Ben Stokes may rue lack of mystical powers in England struggle | England cricket team

There is a shamanistic mystery to the reading of a wicket. Many experienced players concede it is something they just aren’t good at, a mystical skill that never settled upon them, vaguely akin to the interpretation of tea leaves and the conjuring of visions from crystal balls. And Trent Bridge had produced a real puzzle.

The groundsman, knowing more about this wicket than most, warned before play that this would be a good toss to lose. With grass on the pitch and clouds in the sky the obvious decision was to bowl – which is what Ben Stokes duly did – but there was no devilry there at all. England’s new-look leadership turned out to be all motivation and no divination.

“I think the toss is a really interesting thing in cricket – you make a decision but you shouldn’t expect things to happen, it’s just what you hope might happen,” Jon Lewis, the England bowling coach, said. “The most important thing was it was aggressive play: we were coming out to try and bowl New Zealand out. And I thought there was threat all day. I thought we could have easily bowled them out for 250 and we’d be in a very different position.”

A position different mainly by being completely untethered to reality, for all the chances England went on to miss. But Stokes’ decision was consistent with his very public intention to explore the wildest extremes of positivity.

Bowling always seems the more positive choice, while batting is necessarily reactive. Throw in the poor form of some members of New Zealand’s top order, the absence of the self-isolating Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls batting for the first time on the tour and bowling seemed a good idea whatever the state of the pitch.

For the Kiwis it proved, yes, a good toss to lose. “If we’d won the toss we’d probably have bowled first, because it looked a bit green on top,” Devon Conway said. “But we changed our mindset to say, let’s not think too much about the surface and just react to the bowling. The nature of the wicket wasn’t as bad as what it looked and we tried to put pressure back on the bowlers.”

This was swiftly achieved. The first 10 overs brought 25 careful runs and little evidence of any kind of pitch-related devilry; the next 10 yielded 51 and the first of several requests from England to change the ball. But then, in the space of two balls, the game changed. Stokes found Will Young’s edge and from second slip Zak Crawley dived to make a fine low catch, then Daryl Mitchell turned a very ordinary Jimmy Anderson delivery to Matt Potts at midwicket. Suddenly England had hope.

But these moments were to have consequences. Encouraged by that catch Crawley later dived across Joe Root only to drop Nicholls; perhaps discouraged by that moment he didn’t move at all when Tom Blundell edged between him and Jonny Bairstow towards the end of the day. “When you’re stood in the slips and a chance comes, I don’t think you’ve got time to think about whether you’re confident,” Lewis said. “You don’t really have time to ponder.”

England finally got the ball moving after lunch, a period of great excitement and optimism that ended when Mitchell lifted a Jack Leach delivery into the stands, where it landed in someone’s pint of cider. It never swung again, and from 206-4 New Zealand scored another 112 runs without loss.

“We were quite shocked they didn’t change the ball,” said Conway. “With all the protocols put in place these days we thought they might have looked to change it. After that it didn’t swing as much. It was a funny passage of play.” And one that not even the most talented pitch-reader could have seen coming.

Source link