England head coach Chris Silverwood will return home from the tour of New Zealand after a family bereavement. Silverwood will leave after the second day of the second Test in Hamilton, which begins on Friday (November 29), with his assistants Paul Collingwood and Graham Thorpe taking charge of the team for the rest of the match alongside captain Joe Root.
Unfortunately, it is yet another issue on a tour that, despite its brevity, has already had its fair share of them. England have had to deal with the racist abuse directed at Jofra Archer on the final day of the first Test in Mount Maunganui as well as try and formulate a plan to level the series after a chastening innings defeat at Bay Oval. To add to all that, there are concerns over the form of their captain and best batsman.
After two failures in the opening Test, Root’s average as captain has now dipped below 40 and he is averaging 27.40 this calendar year. Although talk of him being removed from the captaincy is premature, England and Root himself acknowledge that his form is a concern. “Joe is our captain and he takes us forward,” Ashley Giles, managing director of England men’s cricket, said. “The stats would say the captaincy has affected his batting. You can’t hide from that.
“So we’ve got to work with him to make sure his game is in the best shape and he’s got time to work on it away from the pressures of captaincy. We want to help him get back to averaging 50-plus and if he’s doing that we are going to win games of Test cricket. I am very confident that [pressure] on Joe has changed and Chris is picking up a lot of the slack. I feel their relationship is going very well.”
Some runs for Root in the second Test would be welcome as England look to improve on their showing in Mount Maunganui. Despite being marginally on top after the first two days, the tourists fell away badly as New Zealand dominated the final three days to wrap up the victory just after tea on the final afternoon. It was yet another disappointing performance from England away from home.
Despite the defeat, Giles emphasised that given the ECB’s focus on white-ball cricket over the past four years – one which contributed to inconsistent Test performances – England are not going to turn into Test world beaters overnight even if they have recalibrated their priorities. “There is a renewed focus on Test cricket and there are some young players in this team. We are going to make mistakes,” he said.
“But it’s important that while we have a long-term vision in mind, we are looking at the short-term measures and reflecting and reviewing: do we need to change; how do we get better? We can’t just get to the Ashes and see how we go. We’ve got to keep learning and keep getting better.”
With that in mind, one of the areas for Giles to consider is how county pitches might be bettered. The surface at Bay Oval was flat and there was little movement through the air for the bowlers. It required a very different sort of cricket from the game which is played in England, at both Test and county level, where the surfaces and atmospherics provide plenty of assistance for the bowlers and plenty of problems for the batsmen.
It tends to lead to fast-forward cricket in England. Away from home, it is a slower, more attritional game and as such, different skills are required. “Having played quite a lot of first-class cricket, certainly the last few years it has been very tough as a top-order batter,” England batsman Joe Denly said. “Going back to when I first started my career, the benchmark for runs in a season would be 1,200-plus. Some players were scoring 1,500 or 1,600. You don’t see that any more. I think 1,000 runs is a pretty good season.
“That, I think, is down to the pitches we play on. It’s hard work. Very rarely do you come across flat surfaces where you can almost book yourself in for 100, 200 runs. You work hard for every single run. Hopefully, we can start produce batter-friendly wickets. A bit in it for both bowler and batter.
“Making big scores becomes a habit. It’s all very well saying we need to go on and get these big scores. But if it is not something you’re used to doing, then it’s not quite as easy as that. Hopefully, we can help these young batters by producing some better wickets for them to go on and get those big scores.”