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England v New Zealand: Joe Root’s costly drop summed up failings in the field

The opportunity came for Joe Root as in slow motion, low and catchable on the first slip. After his exploits at Lord’s, he had talked about repaying Ben Stokes for all he’d done during his own time in charge. Now Stokes was the bowler – and Root certainly seemed to be doing another favor in return.

But somehow a man with 153 Test catches to his name – behind only Alastair Cook among England’s non-wicketkeepers – let the ball slip from his hands and fall onto the turf.

Sympathetic ex-pros in the comment field wondered if it had submerged late. Most thought it was a dolly. Anyway, Stokes had been robbed of a third wicket, and New Zealand had avoided sliding to 170 for five, just before that it was 161 for two.

Joe Root guilty of costly drop as England remained frustrated with New Zealand beating

Joe Root guilty of costly drop as England remained frustrated with New Zealand beating

The batter was Daryl Mitchell, who then had three. He walked away at stumps 19, short of a second century in this LV= Insurance series, and with the tourists an imposing 318 for four. It was the kind of moment that can decide a test, and possibly more.

Earlier in the day Zak Crawley had dived optimistically from the second slip looking for a lead over Henry Nicholls at Stuart Broad – but only managed to take an easier chance from Root at first.

Later on, neither Crawley flinched—perhaps now placing caution over courage—nor Jonny Bairstow flinched as Tom Blundell pushed Broad past second and third. Broad looked furious. Up in the pavilion, Brendon McCullum looked impassive behind his awnings.

A few instances of slip catchers would normally barely deserve a mention, but the mistakes were careless

A few instances of slip catchers would normally barely deserve a mention, but the mistakes were careless

Under normal circumstances, a few instances of slip catches by the England Test team would hardly deserve a mention. But this is the era of Stokes and McCullum, who both take in-field sharpness as a fact.

It had started so well at Lord’s, too, that Bairstow set the tone on the first morning with a world-class grab on the third slip to chase Will Young away. England caught everything that moved.

Sky Sports treated viewers to an image showing how England’s slip catch had initially improved under each of McCullum’s four predecessors – Chris Silverwood, Trevor Bayliss, Peter Moores and Andy Flower – only to bounce back once the honeymoon faded.

Under their newest coach, it looks like England have come full circle, from sparkling to sloppy, in just over four days. As of 2018, their pass rate of 75 percent is lower than all test teams in Ireland, which barely play the format, and Bangladesh. New Zealand, on the other hand, is at the top with 89.

Now the side seems to have gone from sparkly to sloppy in just four days

Now the side seems to have gone from sparkly to sloppy in just four days

It wasn’t just their fallibility in the cordon that made England fans happy to reminisce about the good old days of last week. Time and again, fielders who had leapt like gazelles around Lord’s suddenly ducked over the ball or turned it around the corner for an extra run. If it wasn’t a butter finger, it was a ham fist.

There were none of the direct hits that embellished their performance in the first Test, with the bowlers overshooting five times a day, having done so for Lord four times in total.

This does not mean, of course, that England are destined to repeat old habits, just as their excellence in the first Test did not mean an immediate revolution.

But it was a reminder that they had to be at their peak to harass a strong New Zealand team who brushed aside Kane Williamson’s Covid-induced absence with an ease that could have been proven outside of England had they hadn’t had Root’s runs.

If Brendon McCullum (C) didn't know ahead of time, now he knows - life as the coach won't be boring

If Brendon McCullum (C) didn’t know ahead of time, now he knows – life as the coach won’t be boring

Remember, it took England the first fourth century of Root’s long career at Lord’s to see them at home. They also needed luck: if Ben Stokes hadn’t been saved by a no-ball from Colin de Grandhomme in the second inning, New Zealand would certainly have won.

On Friday, armed with a ball swung in front of both Anderson and Stokes, England watched Mitchell launch Jack Leach into the member’s space in front of the pavilion and straight into a pint of cider. After that it barely moved from the straight and narrow path.

If McCullum didn’t know beforehand, he now knows: Life as an England coach will rarely be dull.

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