The build-up to the second Test should have been focused on just one man: the remarkable James Anderson, who was lining up to play his 162nd Test for England, breaking the record number of appearances set by Sir Alastair Cook. It was more than 18 years since the Burnley-born paceman had made his debut, against Zimbabwe at Lord’s in May 2003. Four of that team – Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Rob Key and Michael Vaughan – now ply their trade in the commentary box, one (Marcus Trescothick) is the England batting coach, while another (Ashley Giles) is managing director of England cricket, and two more (Anthony McGrath and Alec Stewart) hold senior positions in the county game. It took Anderson just three overs to pick up his maiden Test wicket, that of Mark Vermeulen, whose career would have more downs than ups. Since then, Anderson has gone on to take a total of 616 Test wickets, and he went into the game six short of 1000 first-class wickets.
Sadly, the aftermath of the Ollie Robinson Twitter story meant that the days between the Tests were filled with yet more revelations about errant social media comments from various England personnel – one of them from Anderson himself – as well as an unnamed player who fell foul of the inquisition for something he had posted at the age of 15. Unsurprisingly, two players, Dom Bess and Rory Burns, decided the whole thing wasn’t worth it and deleted their social media accounts.
But at Edgbaston all focus returned to the cricket, especially with a much larger crowd allowed into the ground. England made just the one change, with Robinson suspended from playing for his country, pending the outcome of the investigation into his tweets, and local star Olly Stone came into the side in his place. This swap would almost certainly have happened anyway. Once again, there was no room for a frontline spinner in the side. There were no changes to England’s batting line-up, despite its apparent fragility in the first Test.
For New Zealand, there were wholesale changes. Most significantly, Kane Williamson withdrew from the side, because of an injury to his elbow, so he could be fit to play against India in the World Test Championship final, due to start on 18 June. Tom Latham stepped up as captain, while Will Young replaced Williamson at No 3 in the order. Also coming in were wicket-keeper Tom Blundell, all-rounder Daryl Mitchell, pacemen Matt Henry and Trent Boult, and spinner Ajaz Patel.
Joe Root won the toss and chose to bat on a pitch he described as a ‘good surface’, but with cloud cover there was an opportunity for the bowlers. Before the game got under way, there was a huge ovation from the crowd for Anderson, who looked visibly moved by it all, so it was probably just as well he was able to retire to the dressing room and watch events unfold. The morning session was attritional, with runs coming at little more than two per over, but at least Rory Burns and Dom Sibley made it through to lunch, with the score on 67.
The first session had been chanceless, but not comfortable. That quickly changed. Boult bowled a great line to Sibley, who couldn’t quite take his bat away in time and edged it through to the keeper. Zak Crawley looked in all sorts of confusion before he was out fourth ball, edging one he should have left. Root soon edged Henry behind when on 4. England had slipped from 73 without loss to 85 for three. Fortunately, Burns was still there and reached his fifty after 141 balls. Ollie Pope was furious with himself when he got a faint edge while trying to cut Patel and was out for 19. Dan Lawrence survived a DRS appeal for LBW early in his innings, and England got through to tea on 152 for four.
Lawrence’s technique continued to look slightly vulnerable to the pace of the New Zealand attack, but it was Burns, who looked set for a second century of the series, who fell first, reaching for a slightly wide one from Boult and he was out for 81. James Bracey, having made a duck in his only innings at Lord’s, edged his first ball to the slips, another victim of Boult, when he could and should have left it well alone: 175 for six. Stone had to face the hat-trick ball, and he too reached for one he could have left, but wasn’t good enough to get an edge. He went on to make 20 before being LBW trying to sweep Patel. Not long after Lawrence reached his fifty off 75 balls, and almost immediately the second new ball was taken but it brought no more wickets. England closed the day on 258 for seven, with Lawrence unbeaten on 67. New Zealand also did something England rarely achieve: bowling all 90 overs in the day.
Mark Wood started the second day unleashing some fine shots, suggesting that this wicket had plenty of runs in it, as the pair went past fifty for the eighth wicket. Wood fell for 41, inside edging Henry onto his stumps. Sadly, there was no cameo for Stuart Broad, who edged behind for his 37th Test duck – only Courtney Walsh (43) now has more. Anderson came out to a huge reception and stuck around long enough for Lawrence to take England past 300 before he was LBW and England were all out for 303, with Lawrence unbeaten on 81. The general feeling was that England were at least 50 runs short of a par score.
Anderson would have been hoping to make an early impact on this momentous occasion, but it wasn’t to be. Imstead, it was Broad who picked up the first wicket to dismiss Latham LBW for 6. Otherwise, Devon Conway brought his Lord’s form to Birmingham, though an edge off Broad was adjudged not quite to have carried to Crawley, and the Black Caps reached lunch on 43 for one.
Stone nearly had a wicket at his home ground when Young edged him to slip on 7, but a fairly routine chance was dropped by Root. Conway reached his fifty off 85 balls, as he and Young ate into the England total as the pair went past the hundred partnership in 200 balls. With nothing happening, at 126 for one, the England bowlers persuaded the umpires to change the ball, and it suddenly looked more likely for them. At tea it was 130 for one, and England were right up against it.
Early in the evening session, Conway flicked Broad towards the legside boundary, only to pick out Crawley, falling for 80. It was a significant moment for Broad as it took him to 520 wickets – one more than Walsh – only Anderson and Glenn McGrath (563), among the pace bowlers, have taken more wickets. With Ross Taylor looking out of touch, there was a brief moment where England’s hopes rose, but the batsmen gritted it out and Young reached fifty in 132 balls. Once Anderson and Broad came off, the runs began to flow more easily. In near-desperation Root turned to Lawrence, who had Young caught at short square leg for 82 at the close for his maiden Test Wicket, to leave New Zealand on 229 for three.
The tourists started busily, with Taylor going to fifty in 101 balls. The second new ball was taken on 249 for three, and Broad then nearly had Taylor caught at fine leg, but another catch went down, and soon the partnership went past fifty. After the drinks break, Stone found the edge of Taylor, out for 80 – the fifth player of the match to reach that mark, none going beyond 82. Almost immediately, Bracey could have had another catch off Stone, when new man Blundell edged it, but he failed to hold on to the chance, continuing his and England’s moderate performance in the field. With almost half an hour to go till lunch, New Zealand went past England’s total, with six wickets in hand and a total of 450 looked on the cards. Wood then strangled Nicholls down the leg side, Bracey taking the catch, but that was the end of England’s morning success, the tourists going in at the break on 326 for five.
Early in the afternoon, Mitchell pulled one from Stone to mid-wicket, then a few minutes later Neil Wagner was bowled for a duck – Anderson’s first wicket coming after 24.3 overs. Suddenly the game began to move forward at pace, as Henry was LBW to Wood and Blundell edged Broad to Root for 34. The final wicket came when Broad persuaded Root to go to DRS – he’s not always the most reliable in these circumstances – and showed that Patel was indeed LBW. New Zealand were all out for 388 and, despite a late flurry, a lead of 85 was far fewer than might have been feared. Broad finished with four for 48.
England were left with 25 minutes to bat till tea, as they sought to knock off the deficit; the mood should have been positive – but it quickly turned when Burns reached out for one going across him and edged his second ball into the slips off Henry. Then Henry squared up Sibley, who also edged into the slips. So Root found himself at the crease, and it was 18 for two at tea.
It quickly got much worse. Crawley, having played a couple of nice drives, was late and played across the line to a straight one and he was LBW to Henry for 17, having scored just 21 in four innings in the series. Pope’s breezy attitude and positive strokeplay have their virtues, but perhaps a sound defence is an equally vital attribute. He was trapped in front on 23 – all four of his innings this series were between 19 and 23 – to a good ball from Wagner, swinging in. England were in a mess, which got far worse when Wagner caught the edge of Lawrence second ball: 58 for five.
Meanwhile, Root was becalmed, scoring 5 in 49 balls, showing the defensive application that was missing elsewhere. Bracey tried to sweep Patel, but his foot was way outside off, for a ball heading towards middle stump and he was bowled. In the end, Root fell to Patel, trying his favourite late cut but got a fine edge to a ball that was probably too straight and maybe bounced a bit more than expected: 76 for seven. Wood launched Patel into the stands to give England the lead and played his shots until he skied one that went straight up in the air, Blundell catching it almost on top of the stumps. Boult removed Broad with the simple tactic of bowling full and straight, and England closed the day on 122 for nine.
It took just one ball on the fourth day to wrap up the innings, England all out for 122, their lowest-ever score against New Zealand in England. Chasing 38 for victory, there were wickets for Broad and Stone, but an eight-wicket win was the least New Zealand deserved. They had outperformed England in all three aspects of the game, especially in batting and fielding. What’s more, for all that England were missing two or three players, they had done it while rotating their squad and using 17 players across the two Tests. Matt Henry was the Man of the Match, and Devon Conway and Rory Burns were the Men of the Series.
For England, the inquests began, as they suffered their first home defeat in seven years. With India and an Ashes tour to come, it is clear that the focus on the Test side has been nothing like as intense as it has been on the white-ball team, Root having gone 11 Tests without being able to select from a full-strength side as players have been rested. Questions will inevitably be asked about the batting, and the influence of one-day cricket, but only Root of the top seven has played international white-ball cricket; the rest were supposedly red-ball specialists. Outside of Root, none of them had played a 50-over game since 2019 and only Lawrence had played any T20 cricket since last summer. England’s bowling attack performed well, but looked one-dimensional, with no frontline spinner and no left-arm variation. Finally, and it is harsh to single him out, the decision to bring in Bracey as keeper was clearly flawed, as he is only a part-time keeper at county level and there are so many excellent keepers in the county game, such as Ben Cox, who should surely have been picked ahead of him. England fans will look to Eoin Morgan’s side to restore spirits; significantly, he will be able to pick from a full-strength range of options, fitness permitting. Again