All to Play For
Last week England’s weaknesses were exposed by New Zealand. Lack of new ball penetration on day 1 highlighted just how much England's momentum relies on their senior bowlers striking early; whilst the 1st innings batting, or lack of, was the fundamental reason as to why England were forever behind the 8 ball in the game. England have a chance this week to right some wrongs and the signs from both the second bowling and batting innings are encouraging.
Rory Burns’ first innings ton (his 3rd at test level) and Sibleys 60* were both massively encouraging from an England perspective. Both openers proved that they can occupy the crease for a long period of time and nullify the threat served to them by New Zealand's bowlers. Sibley's lack of scoring in the 2nd dig may have come as a disappointment to some but this is a man playing himself back into form. Cricviz's expected runs collum highlighted this as it showed that he underperformed by -39.8 xR or in other words, you would have expected an average batsman to score 39 more runs than Sibley did, and whilst this indicative of his style of play this vast gap in his xR and actual runs will be closed sooner rather than later. Sibley will be playing his first test at his home ground whilst Burns is returning to the scene of his maiden test hundred. Given the instructions to produce flatter wickets this summer if these two can play themselves in there is the chance for big runs.
Englands batting order feels fairly settled through a finger injury to James Bracey could be a quite frankly absurd test debut being given to Sam Billings. Everything I would say on Billings has already been said by the ever-brilliant Tom on the Inside Edge Cricket podcasts preview of the test series (linked below) and I would highly recommend going and listening to that. However, as a brief summary, the fact that a man who has barely faced a red ball in two years and doesn’t keep wicket for his county will be batting for England at 7 is a kick in the teeth to the likes of Sussex’s Ben Brown who not only has a superior record but has been doing it on a far more consistent basis than Billings. However, if Billings does play I wish him nothing but the best.
In terms of bowling England will have necessary changes to their attack. Ollie Robinson will, rather ironically, be replaced with Craig Overton at number 8 whilst you feel Mark Wood will be replaced with Jack Leach at number 9. The instructions from the ECB appear to have been for the groundsman to create much flatter wickets and on these tracks, especially during a hot week in Edgbaston, a spinner is needed. Then England are left with the choice of Stone vs Anderson. Of course, Anderson is Anderson however resting him after such a short turnaround from the last game ahead of the long summer and winter isn’t an awful idea. Not only this but Edgbaston is Stones's home ground and his early-season championship form shows he is maintaining his same levels of pace and raw wicket-taking ability. Broad and Overton can both bowl long spells and even Stone himself grows into a spell getting quicker as the game goes on. England have a real kerfuffle on their hands here that is just crying out for a batting all-rounder at 5 (or for Dan Lawrence to bowl more).
For the Kiwis, the lineup is fairly simple. Mitchell Santner will miss out in this game with a finger injury whilst Trent Boult is back in the mix. The left-armer may not play this game with the visitors having both eyes firmly set on the World Test Championship final and him lacking fitness and overs. This means that one of Daryll Mithcell or Matt Henry may play (though it is still very likely the Kiwis use their number 1 bowler). Henry has good experience in England and would be an excellent new-ball partner with Southee whilst Mitchell would boost the batting order demonstrably whilst offering something with the ball. Without Santner do expect to see De Grandhomme bowl more operating in an almost pseudo spinner role keeping it tight hitting the perfect length ball after ball. For the batting, the top 6 will almost certainly remain unchanged though an elbow injury to Kane Williamson could present an issue with his elbow flaring up again. Without Williamson, one would expect one of Will Young or Tom Blundell to step in at number 3 with the former impressing in the County Championship so far.
Overall the game should be a good one with England's batting lineup having a point to prove and a good wicket to do so. Furthermore, the bowling attacks on each side remain as strong as ever with the seam bowling stocks being the main strength of the two teams. England will fancy their chances but the inexperienced lower order does need to fire and if they do then England can post their truly big totals with the likes of James Bracey being able to occupy the crease for long periods and construct an innings to good effect.
For me, I do think this game will go England's way, and only because history has shown recently that England are the kings of bouncebackability with them having it almost flowing through their veins after the first test of a series. Broad didn’t get the wickets he deserved in the last game; Cricviz’s expected wickets (xW) model had him down as underperforming his xW by -3.2 meaning his bowling was worthy of 3 more wickets and this level of underperformance isn’t sustainable so you would expect him to pick more up in the next game. England have a chance to retain their superb home record whilst New Zealand will be hoping to cause a major upset to the hosts. Everythings to play for and it’s going to be a good one.