The England captain Joe Root hopes his team can “turn a corner” overseas after a dreadful run in Test cricket away from home, when they take on New Zealand over two Tests, starting in Auckland on Thursday.
England have lost nine of their last 12 Tests overseas with 4-0 defeats in both India and Australia. When they last toured New Zealand in 2012-13 it came on the back of one of their greatest victories on opposition soil after they overturned India, but since then there has been just one series win in eight on their travels – when they beat South Africa in 2015-16.
“It is one of the biggest challenges within that format to try to make sure you can go overseas and adapt well to the conditions and make sure you can get something from the series,” Root said. “I suppose there will be a lot of similarities in terms of the conditions and certain aspects of the cricket here in New Zealand to home. So I think it is a good opportunity for us to try to turn the corner in that respect and make sure we change our recent history outside England.”
England are not alone in their travails when they travel, a point Root himself made, but believes that a few new ideas are needed to buck the trend. The first sign of that could come with a change in new-ball partnership with all the indications being that Stuart Broad will move, at least on some occasions, to be first-change having dominated the new-ball role with James Anderson since 2010.
“Over the last couple of years our form outside the UK has been quite disappointing so we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to put that right and change things slightly to give us a better chance of being more consistent on different surfaces,” Root said.
“You don’t want to detract from your strengths as a team but if we keep doing things as we have done, we’re not necessarily going to get different results. I think it’s just making sure that there’s nothing too radical and so extreme that no-one understands it or gets it within the group, but trying to maximise everyone’s skills in the conditions.”
While Root did not completely nail his colours to the mast over Broad’s role – as with the bowler himself, the word ‘flexible’ was used often – it is clearly at the forefront of his mind as he looks to solutions to England’s slipping Test fortunes on the road.
“I think this is where we’re looking at doing things slightly differently away from home, and if it is going to swing then we need to maximise that. Having continued pressure from both ends for a longer period of time is something which will definitely be brought to the table if Stuart is first change.
“If we keep doing things exactly the same way then we might get exactly the same results. This is one small thing that might make a difference, it might not.”
Another difference for Root compared to the Ashes will be the availability of Ben Stokes. Quite how much bowling he will be able to do remains uncertain, but he came through a five-over spell outdoors at Eden Park on Tuesday to follow his indoor stint the day before as he builds up his workload. He is due another five overs on Wednesday.
Regardless, he will be back in some capacity and his batting and fielding alone will lift England. “You get three players with Ben and certainly on his day probably the best three players within the side all in one. It is a huge boost to have him coming back into the team,” Root said. “He is such a good character around the dressing-room. When he speaks about the game, he gets everyone’s attention and people listen.”
Stokes has been around the team for the best part of a month now and seemed at ease during the one-day series. That was under Eoin Morgan’s captaincy, so this Test series is the first time Root has had him under his charge since the West Indies home series, which was also Stokes’ last first-class cricket at the start of September. Part of Root’s challenge could be knowing how far to stretch Stokes’ workload with the ball.
“There’s only so much you can stop him doing. He’s just desperate to play. It’s been a while since he’s had the chance to play red-ball cricket, he’s just so excited and you don’t want to take that out of him. Also, it is really good to see players with that attitude and so desperate to come back in and prove a point and do well.”
For Root this is his third series as captain. With Stokes back and the discussions over Broad’s role, there is a sense of him edging the team in a new direction although he was reluctant to paint it as a personal mission.
“With the amount of injuries and Ben in the Ashes it has restricted a little bit how I wanted to do things,” he said. “This is the first opportunity I’ve had to do that away from home.
“I wouldn’t say I’m using Stuart as an example, I’m just trying to find the best way of making us successful here and maximising our chance of winning. I would hate to go into any series and say this is about me putting my stamp on things. This is about us winning and if we can find a way of doing that then I will have put my stamp on things.”