March 21, 2018
England’s longest tour for more than half a century enters its final phase in Auckland on Thursday afternoon. Admittedly all the players have flitted back home at some point to reunite with their families, a luxury not permitted Ted Dexter and his team on the 1962-63 tour of the antipodes. But there may be some tired minds, if not limbs, among those English cricketers who play in both white and red-ball cricket.
Back in 1962 a trip to New Zealand was regarded as a gentle holiday after the rigours of Australia, as well as a chance to restore ailing Test averages. England won all three Tests comfortably, two by an innings, against modest opposition. That has all changed. New Zealand is no longer a sinecure with victory more or less assured. A tour here is now a severe challenge; nothing is guaranteed and Joe Root knows it.
Any win away from home is a minor triumph, especially for a team who have lost nine of their last 12 Tests outside England. “Looking around world cricket it is very hard for any side to win away from home‚“ Root says. As a relatively new Test captain he is desperate to salvage something from this expedition. “It has been a tough winter but we have two Tests to put a different stamp on this trip and change our momentum going into the summer.”
Root hinted at changes in the pattern if not the personnel of England’s bowling attack, with the possibility of Stuart Broad no longer being given the new ball. In fact, Root spoke more of flexibility than change; he would not guarantee that Broad would bowl first change. “It really depends on the conditions,” he kept stressing. “But if we keep doing things exactly the same way we might get exactly the same results. This is one small thing that might make a difference. It might not.”
There is obviously one larger thing that Root believes might make a bigger difference. Ben Stokes is back and the England camp are optimistic he will be fit enough to bowl as well as bat. Root spoke about Stokes in a manner that he could never do in Australia when his key all-rounder was unavailable. Perhaps unwittingly he was explaining away the emphatic Ashes defeat, such was his glowing analysis of Stokes’s contribution to his team.
“You get three players with Ben and on his day probably the best three players within the side all in one. It is a huge boost to have him coming back. It gives us a really good balance,” Root said. “We have to be quite careful and make sure that he is absolutely ready, and be flexible how we use him, especially in the first Test.”