Not many times things can fall into place as well as they did for England going into the Test, with New Zealand missing many key players. However, after a great start, English batsmen continued to shine in the art of floundering as the batters put up a mediocre show against a fighting Kiwi attack.
Sibley and Burns' solidity
One thing that's been ever-persistent with the England side has been their awful opening partnerships. Things have been on the fall ever since Andrew Strauss called it quits from the whites and the reliable partnership between him and Alastair Cook got broken. In fact, since the start of the last summer against West Indies, the English openers have averaged a meagre 31.27, which is only better than Afghanistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Ireland, something which paints a bleak picture about the frailties of England's top two.
However, after impressing on individual levels in the last Test, English openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns, on day one today, finally came to the party together and delivered. To put things into perspective, when England went into lunch unscathed at 67/0, it was the first time since 2011 that they had done so on the first day of a home Test without losing a wicket. Furthermore, it was the longest opening stand in the first innings of a home Test since 2009.
Now, nothing came easy for England. In fact, with cloud cover around, New Zealand found 1.87° of swing in the morning session, the most ever in the first 20 overs of an Edgbaston Test match since 2006, as per CricViz. But, it was a classical Test match display from old-school Sibley and Burns. They were ready to defend, leave, get the hits and misses out of their heads, and continue batting in face of every challenge thrown at them, before cutting loose, when things turned easier. Sibley would be infuriated for not cashing in on the start, but the display today is certainly something that bodes well for the future.
'Diffident' Zak Crawley's horror run
It is one thing to get out cheaply, but for someone as talented as Zak Crawley, to get out the way he did today was embarrassing. Just bowl an inswinger or a few of them, follow it up with an outswinger, and the right-hander will either get sucked into playing a loose drive (Lord's dismissals) or poke hard at a delivery (today) that he shouldn't even be bothered about playing, forget touching or coming close to it. It has not happened once, twice but three times in a row. All it needs is as simple a trap as this to get arguably one of the most talented young English batters out.
0, 2, 2, 5, 9, 0, 53, 13, 5, 8, 9 - this is how Crawley's numbers read this year. 11 innings, 106 runs, and a shoddy average of 9.63. One of the worst aspects about Crawley is that he doesn't face enough deliveries in the middle or shows any kind of fight in the middle. In 2021, he has survived 23.6 balls on an average before getting dismissed. Furthermore, in just six innings, a certain Dom Bess (281) has faced more deliveries than Crawley (260) while Jack Leach has faced 231 deliveries in 10 innings this year. If not for his 267 against Pakistan, Crawley's average in Tests falls to 20, as the knock accounts for 39% of his career runs.
As my colleague Anirudh had pointed out the other day, time's running out for the prodigal talent, and his duck today is only going to further the damage. Given his troublesome nature of dismissals, a lack of application, and a diffident approach, if he doesn't turn a leaf in the second innings, this Test can become his last appearance in international cricket for quite some time.
New Zealand's stomach for fight
Of all the cricket grounds in England, if there's one ground that New Zealand simply doesn't fancy playing, it has to be Edgbaston given England have a 100% winning record against them after playing four games. Furthermore, with seasoned campaigners Kane Williamson and BJ Watling bowing out to injuries, key players Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson getting rested, and as many as six changes to the side, New Zealand had a mountain to climb. And they faced a calamity in the first session itself when Trent Boult didn't get much support from the other bowlers and England went into the lunch in a position of ascendency.
But one of the core elements of New Zealand cricket remains their ability to fight, with whatever they have got. After all, that's how a small island country from the South Pacific Ocean carved a place of its own on the cricketing map. Limited on resources, but high on spirit. And that's what they symbolized in the afternoon session of day one. And the show was orchestrated by not Boult, but Matt Henry, who had a shaky start but then took out big fishes Dom Sibley and Joe Root. Neil Wagner also did his bid as they both went on a rampaging attack against the Three Lions.
And that was not it. Following the mantra of ''Teamwork makes the dream work", a non-threatening Ajaz Patel joined the carnival, to send back Ollie Pope, who glittered to fail yet again. New Zealand accounted for four wickets in the second session, which turned the tide. Notably, the ball swung the least in the second session (1.7°) in comparison to the first (1.9°) and the third session (2.2°) respectively. The day showcased their fighting spirit, which remains unperturbed by any adverse events as New Zealand cricket is all about making the most of every inch that they have got.