Dismal England spiral down familiar path

It was a horror first session for England. 58 all out before the first dinner break. Their sixth lowest Test score ever. And it could have been worse. At one stage, England were 27-9 and had it not been for a cameo from number nine Craig Overton, they might have registered their lowest ever Test score, beating the 45 they made against Australia in 1886-87. It was, frankly, a shambles.
Did the ball swing around corners? No, although there was certainly some movement for Trent Boult and Tim Southee who bowled unchanged throughout England’s innings. Was the pitch a minefield? Certainly not as New Zealand’s 175-3 by the close proved. Were the tourists underprepared? Possibly, but few of the home side’s players have had recent first-class action either. Excuses are few and far between.
Firstly, let’s give credit to the class of Boult and Southee. The pair bowled all 20.4 overs in the first session, bowling a full length and importantly making the batsmen play. Short balls were few and far between until Overton had a swing, and there weren’t many deliveries for the batsmen to leave either. This was different to the barrage of quick, short bowling England faced in the Ashes but no less problematic.
Boult, who bowled beautifully, had five wickets for nine runs within the first hour and finished with 6-32 in all, his best Test return. Southee gave him excellent support at the other end, picking up 4-25 and the pair were backed up brilliantly in the field with every chance taken. Kane Williamson took a stunning one-handed diving catch in the gully to dismiss Stuart Broad which put the cherry on top of a hugely impressive display.
Boult’s dismissal of Ben Stokes, on the England all-rounder’s return to Test cricket, was the best of the innings. The left-armer had bowled a number of outswingers to Stokes who was getting forward nicely – far further forward than some of his teammates – and defending or leaving the ball well. Then Boult bowled the one which went straight on with the angle – it may have even nipped back – which Stokes went to leave, thinking it was another outswinger, before realising too late that it wasn’t. Stokes tried in vain to jam his bat down in time but couldn’t and was bowled. Magnificent from the New Zealander.
So while credit must be given to the home team’s new ball bowlers, England were exceedingly poor on what looks to be a decent drop-in surface at Eden Park. Eight of the batsmen were out either caught behind the wicket or bowled when stuck on the crease, pushing at the ball. That’s a recipe for disaster when the ball is moving around and the bowlers are on the money.
Alastair Cook’s front foot barely moved and he pushed well away from his body to be caught behind – a carbon copy of his first dismissal in the Ashes against Mitchell Starc in Brisbane – while Joe Root, who was bowled by an inswinger from Boult, got himself into a poor, stiff-legged position to aim a full-blooded drive at a full ball.Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan nicked off playing defensively with their weight stuck on the back foot while Jonny Bairstow found himself in the same sort of position – weight back, head not into the ball – when driving straight back to Southee to be caught and bowled. Moeen Ali missed a full toss by simply jabbing his bat at the ball without moving – was he expecting a short delivery? – and Chris Woakes was bowled in similar fashion to Root. Finally, Broad had both feet within the crease when he was dismissed to another full ball.