England Head Coach Trevor Bayliss admitted his side had batted like “rabbits in the headlights” as they were bowled out for 58 on Thursday (March 22) at Eden Park, their sixth lowest score ever in Test cricket.
It could have been far worse for England without Craig Overton smashing 33 not out from 25 balls from number nine to move them past their lowest ever Test score of 45, registered against Australia in 1887. At one stage, they were 23-8 and in danger of recording the lowest score in Test match history, beating New Zealand’s 26 all out against England in Auckland in 1955.
To compound matters, the home side finished on 175 for 3 by the close, a lead of 117 with Kane Williamson still at the crease just nine runs short of a century, making this one of England’s poorest days of Test cricket in recent years. “It’s one of the more difficult ones, that’s for sure,” Bayliss told Sky Sports after the day’s play. “We certainly didn’t bat very well. They bowled extremely well but we batted extremely poorly.
“I think it must have been a mental thing. Our feet looked like they had lead in them and we didn’t make too many right decisions with our footwork. We certainly got caught behind the crease to fairly fully balls, which allowed the ball to swing. We looked a little bit like rabbits in the headlights. Today we were not just off a little bit, we were off a long way. It just wasn’t good enough.”
After the 4-0 Ashes defeat, questions about Bayliss’ position grew louder and he looked a shaken man during interviews at the end of today’s play. England have stagnated as a Test team under him – although their limited overs cricket has soared – but it is hard to see what he could have done to address the team’s failings with the bat today. These were not tactical missteps but ones of technique and composure.
A contributing factor was perhaps England’s preparation for this series which was far from ideal. They had just two two-day matches in Hamilton last week, neither of which had first-class status. England batted for two whole days and bowled for two whole days which saw some batsmen batting twice in one day and an overall lack of intensity to proceedings.
England’s preparation ahead of the Ashes series was also hindered although then it was by the lack of quality in the Western Australian and Cricket Australia XIs selected rather than a lack of matchplay time. The lack of quality preparation may account for the apparent rustiness of some of the batsmen like Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman although others have been playing regular cricket during the limited overs series.
Preparation is something that the ECB need to look closely at for future tours but such is the packed schedule, it is difficult to see how they can add in more warm-up matches. “Those practice games, it’s always a little bit difficult sometimes,” admitted Bayliss. “It doesn’t matter how hard you try to play the game, there’s always that lack of intensity. In that first match we were very rusty, in the second we were much better.”
Perhaps other solutions need to be found such as sending the Test specialists out earlier for training camps or placing them with local domestic teams for a short period before tours as some Indian players are doing in county cricket this summer ahead of their five Test match series. Although, as Bayliss cautions, there is a balance to be had between preparation and burnout, particularly for those players who play all formats.
“If they play everything, they’re probably mentally fatigued now,” said Bayliss. “Certainly the guys who’ve had a long four or five months. What can you do when you’ve got so many games on? What’s the answer? I’m not sure if anyone’s got the answer. We’re trying to give them a rest when it’s possible.”
Bayliss admitted that England’s bowlers didn’t find the same sort of swing that Trent Boult and Tim Southee were able to earlier in the day although he couldn’t offer any reasons as to why that was, just as he couldn’t explain England’s feeble batting. Once again, the tourists’ attack lacked variation and bite on a pitch which is flattening out although Stuart Broad looked back to somewhere near his best after a difficult Ashes series. The decision not to pick the extra pace of Mark Wood here looks to have been a blunder.