England completed their four days of preparation in Hamilton with a far more convincing batting display than against the pink ball. Captain Joe Root led the way with a century as only James Vince missed out on the final day when he was trapped lbw. There remain question marks over the balance of the side for the first Test which are largely centred around the bowling fitness of Ben Stokes and will be clearer next week.
Stokes ends six-month wait
It had been a long time since Stokes faced the red ball – September 8, when he made 60 against West Indies at Lord’s. He strode out at an almost deserted Seddon Park, Root allowing others a chance ahead of him, at No. 5 which could yet be the position he takes up at Eden Park if he is unable to bowl or has a reduced workload capability. Stokes looked in good order, striking five boundaries in his 32-ball stay, until top-edging a pull and being superbly caught by Glenn Phillips who ran in from deep square-leg. He also had a gentle run through his action on the outfield before play and will bowl at higher intensity in the nets on Monday.
Everyone gets something
England got better over the four days and just about took what they could from the fixtures. The lowest combined return over the multiple innings was Vince’s 50 runs and at various time each of the top order showed encouraging signs. Mark Stoneman responded to his twin failures against the pink with a positive 48 before getting a sharp lifter from Scott Kuggeleijn, Alastair Cook was finding the middle of the bat and Dawid Malan was at ease before chipping a full toss to midwicket.
After a brief stay in his first knock against the pink ball, Root has looked especially at ease with the bat. He made a half-century after he came back in under the lights and followed that with 115 off 150 deliveries against the red ball. He looked set to bat to the close until another fantastic catch by Phillips, this time at point. Root ended his wait for an ODI century in Dunedin; it has been 12 Test innings since he has reached three figures (which was in the day-night Test at Edgbaston) and in that time he has failed to convert six half-centuries – not including when he was ill at Sydney. His last red-ball century was against South Africa, at Lord’s, last July. If England do go with the extra bowler in Auckland there will another debate over whether Root should move to No. 3.
On to Auckland
It has been a low-key week in Hamilton and England will need to make sure they quickly find the higher intensity needed for a Test match. It makes the lead-up days in Auckland important – Monday is set to be an optional training day, although Stokes will bowl, before the session two days out from the Test which will be most full-on. The New Zealand squad have had a two-day camp in Mount Maunganui to step up their preparations. The main decision for them is which of Colin de Grandhomme, Todd Astle and Matt Henry misses out.