The last time New Zealand toured England in a Test series, in 2015, it was the start of a new era of English white-ball cricket. England, under Eoin Morgan, made no secret of the fact that Brendon McCullum’s style of brash, devil-may-care cricket was the template that they had copied. Successfully, as it turned out.?
Now, six years on, perhaps it is England’s red-ball side which should be taking notes. While England seem intent on throwing their young prodigies into the cauldron of Test cricket, New Zealand have settled for more mature, experienced newcomers.?
England should do too.
Dawid Malan, at 33 and nearing 200 first-class matches, is surely a prime candidate. On the back of 199 earlier this month for Yorkshire, and a Bob Willis Trophy season in which he topped the averages for anyone playing five innings or more, Malan’s 15 Tests averaging 28 feels less like a career done-and-dusted and more like one as yet unfulfilled.
That he has experienced the demands of Test cricket, both the highs – he has an Ashes century, in 2017 – and the lows, having been discarded for fresh blood, should serve in Malan’s favour. And England’s too; they sorely need someone other than Joe Root in the top five with a level head and battle-hardened approach. Root doesn’t like batting at No.3, we know that having discussed it ad nauseam two years back, so bung in Malan. What does he care, where he bats?
He doesn’t. And that seems part of the problem. Malan’s approach to cricket – a little aloof, showing few emotions either way, is misconstrued as nonchalance, an air of arrogance even. And it sits uncomfortably in Joe Root’s side, or so we’re told.?
Root needs to be careful. Beyond the cricket field, when a leadership regime settles in, a few years on, the biggest danger is often that the mindset becomes one of ‘we-know-best’. A hubris, if you will, with a tendency to surround oneself with ‘yes-men’, with faces that fit. Malan’s doesn’t. Nor it appears, does Jack Leach’s, eschewed as he was at Edgbaston on a pitch that always was going to turn.?
Whereas New Zealand appear to have many characters with leadership qualities but willing, even wanting, to give any formal credit to the next man along, England have the opposite: many people who want the title, or their voices heard, but with little substance to back it up. England’s is a side too comfortable in its own skin but unwilling to admit that this may not be the formula that works. Malan will make things uncomfortable and this, you suspect, is exactly what England needs.
The mature batters entering the fray, which in Adam Voges, Chris Rogers and Marcus North once worked for Australia, is now working for New Zealand. Devon Conway, at 29 and in his series debut, accumulated 306 runs across the two Tests and with it the Player of the Series. Will Young, a late substitute for Kane Williamson at three and playing in just his third Test aged 28, looked calm and assured in his first innings’ 82 against a bowling attack containing both Stuart Broad and James Anderson.?
England themselves have no qualms in allowing its bowlers to accrue experience before testing them at the highest level, Ollie Robinson’s accomplished Test debut at 27 last week testament to this method. So why not its batters too? Instead of the current method of prematurely testing, confidence battering and ultimately discarding before the age of 25, why not turn to that ?experience?
England must get over its obsession with blooding ’em young. Dawid Malan is the man for now and in another five, six years or so, I look forward to seeing the return of James Bracey once more: older, wiser, and ready for Test cricket.