Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Cricket: VICTORY SMILES MASK FAILINGS IN THE RANKS; Batting Line-Up Needs Balance the Wisden CRICKETER

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Cricket: VICTORY SMILES MASK FAILINGS IN THE RANKS; Batting Line-Up Needs Balance the Wisden CRICKETER

Article excerpt

Byline: By JOHN STERN, Editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine

ENGLAND'S victory over New Zealand at Old Trafford might statistically have been one of the great Test wins but the result should not be allowed to mask a very shaky performance.

There is no denying that turning a Test match around from the perilous state England were in after the first innings (179 runs adrift) takes skill and a whole heap of character.

But New Zealand threw the game away as much as England won it.

Let us not forget that this is a very moderate New Zealand side, missing their most experienced batsman (Stephen Fleming, who retired in March) and their best fast bowler (Shane Bond, who is banned for playing in the rebel Indian Cricket League).

And for Michael Vaughan, statistically England's most successful captain, to hail the result as one of his best ever wins is to miss the point.

England have now won three Tests out of four against New Zealand and they have fielded the same XI in all those four matches - a level of selectorial consistency not seen since the first four Tests of the 2005 Ashes.

So, in theory, everything bodes well, doesn't it?

A youngish side, under Vaughan's astute direction, learning and developing nicely towards a full-throttled Ashes campaign in 2009 - sounds good, doesn't it?

But the reality is somewhat different.

The second-innings turnaround by Andrew Strauss, in particular, hides a worrying failure of batsmanship that is undermining England's ability to set the tone, to shape the game to their liking and force home an advantage.

In the first innings, the England batsmen looked collectively as though they playing for their place which, in some cases, they were.

They defended themselves into a standstill, allowing New Zealand to build increasing amounts of pressure that eventually forced a stunning collapse.

How that contrasted to the positive way in which England batted on the fourth day to pursue a daunting target of 297. …

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