First Test: England v New Zealand
Venue: Lord’s. Dates: 21-25 May. Start time: 11:00 BST. Coverage: Ball-by-ball Test Match Special commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW, online, tablets, mobiles, BBC Sport app & BBC iPlayer Radio app; live text commentary on BBC Sport website & mobile devices
In lots of ways, England had a decent time on day three of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s.
They took eight wickets for 220 runs and then recovered from the early losses of Adam Lyth and Gary Ballance to reach the close on 74-2, 60 behind.
It was certainly not a bad performance, but they were playing catch-up because of the mistakes I highlighted on day two.
And there remains the problem of when James Anderson does not take wickets, who else is going to?
Anderson, England’s leading Test wicket-taker of all time, took 1-88 and, while the rest of the attack bowled perfectly well and honestly, they lack a cutting edge.
I cannot criticise them. Stuart Broad continued to move back towards being his old self, debutant Mark Wood impressed with his pace and Ben Stokes was unlucky to have two catches dropped.
Moeen Ali bowled well with his off-spin, taking the first wicket on Friday then two in three balls on day three.
They made it difficult to score, albeit in helpful conditions. Kane Williamson made a century then added only another 32 runs in 115 balls.
Ex-England batsman Geoffrey Boycott on Test Match Special
“I was thinking by the end of the third day we’d have a clear idea of a potential winner. I’m not so sure now. It is still indecisive. It could be decisive on someone having a great spell of bowling or someone scoring a hundred.”
Yet, despite the England attack all putting in decent individual performances, New Zealand still posted 523.
The home bowlers are missing something, which can sometimes happen to all bowling units and was certainly something that I experienced in my playing career.
On reading this, some may point the finger at the captain and I am sure that some will be criticising Alastair Cook.
We know he is not the most adventurous skipper, but there was no more he could have done. Taking eight wickets for 220 runs is a pretty decent return.
The opposition are allowed to play well – which New Zealand did – and there is nothing you can do about that. But when they make a score of 500, the finger is pointed at you.
It is important to emphasise the quality of the New Zealand batting, a display full of character.
Ross Taylor was horribly out of form but still registered a half-century, while Williamson battled hard after he passed 100 in conditions helpful to the bowlers.
With BJ Watling, nursing a knee injury that has prevented him from keeping wicket, also making an unbeaten 61, New Zealand got into a position where they could put England’s batsmen under real pressure.
Lyth looked to be made of the right stuff for a Test opener before he got out, while Gary Ballance’s big stride backwards was exploited by a wonderful delivery from Tim Southee. Australia will have noted that.
At 25-2, England were in real trouble, but Cook and Ian Bell played very well until the close, even if some airy drives from Bell caused some concern when he first arrived at the crease.
England have won six and drawn four of the previous 10 Test matches against NZ
England conceded 67 extras in the NZ innings, the fifth highest in Tests
England’s 67 extras included 34 leg byes, one short of the Test record
After play, Wood said he believes England can still win the match. Yes, there is a scenario where they could give New Zealand a tricky last day, but they are lots and lots of batting away from that.
It is a long journey that will have to last all of Sunday and most, if not all, of Monday morning.
No-one can afford to give their wicket away, it’s as simple as that.
One other thing we learned today is that Yorkshire’s Jason Gillespie would take the vacant coach’s job if it is offered to him, an offer that is yet to come.
Gillespie’s previous stance was that he would need “persuasion” to leave Yorkshire, persuasion that must have come from Andrew Strauss.
If he does go on to become coach, Gillespie could be well suited because England are not in need of a teacher, but someone to give them belief.
The ability is there, but they are bumping along at the bottom of no confidence. He might just be the man who finds that cutting edge.
Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.
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