Brendon McCullum behind the wheel of the New Zealand batting
Alastair Cook (16, 162, 75, 56) – Back to something near his grinding best, keeping batting simple, waiting for the balls he can hit square of the wicket and only punching down the ground when absolutely sure and absolutely set. A less attacking opposition captain would have bottled him up, denied him obvious run-scoring opportunities and played on his anxiety – but that’s not The McCullum Way. As is the case with all captains, he is limited by the strength of his bowlers, but he surely allowed too many easy singles whenever the Kiwis started to look for the boundaries – too often, he did too little to stop the fours or the ones, as the scoreboard clicked over ever more rapidly.
Adam Lyth (7, 12, 107, 24) – Showed real application on his home ground after his debut double failure, getting a bit of luck, but using it to post a maiden Test century that looked better with every wicket in the subsequent collapses. Has plenty of shots and a willingness to play them – as is the way with Test openers post-Sehwag – but the most important stroke against the new ball remains the leave, something that demands an absolute confidence in knowing the location of one’s off-stump. There were signs that he was getting it right at Headingley but the real examination will come against the McGrath de nos jours, Ryan Harris. Keep his new ball spell out and England will have the successor to Andrew Strauss at long last.
Gary Ballance (1, 0, 29, 6) – He can bat – nobody who has converted 25 of 55 first class fifties into centuries can’t bat – but the trouble with a quirky technique is that small problems become magnified, especially in one’s own mind. Number 3’s just cannot be clean bowled five times in four Test matches and expect to point to their figures and survive indefinitely with the selectors. Needs to go back to first class cricket and line the ball up properly so that his back foot technique looks like an asset again instead of a liability. If he does that, he certainly deserves to hold on to his place for a while yet. Few players come into Test cricket and avoid a crisis: it’s how they react to it that shows if they have what it takes.
Ian Bell (1, 29, 12, 1) – Will the real Ian Bell please stand up? Or is this the real Ian Bell? It’s certainly not the Hammer of the Aussies of just two years ago, a run of poor scores and some very fallible catching setting all the old hares running about soft cricket and cheap hundreds. How can he be such an enigma, 11 years on from his debut and after 22 centuries? He will probably keep his place for The Ashes (while they are live at least) but a middle order of Hales, Root, Buttler, Stokes and Bairstow (wk) begins to look more and more suited to the way cricket is played these days. In the absence of Ceefax, he is well advised to have his Twitter account notifications switched on for the announcement of the squad for the First Test.
Joe Root (98, 84, 1, 0; 0-6, 1-7, 0-23) – He was due a failure and so, like buses, two turned up together at Headingley, but only after a couple of superb knocks at Lord’s that stood between England and a pair of collapses that could have seen the brave new dawn of English cricket fizzle out before the new coach met his team. The vice-captain is only 24, but he’s a big presence in the field and, increasingly off it (though the McGrathian bullishness with the predictions does have to be earned Young Joe). He is the batsman who makes the difference between scores that set up wins and scores that invite defeats – and will remain so until Numbers 3 and 4 deliver. He will, like his near-contemporary, Steven Smith, be permanent captain one day and perhaps that’ll come to him just as soon as it’ll come to his fellow fair-haired batsman too.
Ben Stokes (92, 101, 6, 29; 0-105, 3-38, 1-70, 0-61) – Played a match for the ages at Lord’s, backing up a brilliant first innings with an astonishing second, both played under pressure in critical match situations. Then he castled the Kiwi skipper first ball for good measure! Inevitably, there was a bit of an emotional comedown at Headingley, where he looked a bit of a bunny for the swinging ball and could summon neither the hostility of Lord’s nor much accuracy when curiously given the ball ahead of Anderson when the New Zealand tail needed to be dismissed. Of course, he can’t do miracles all the time, but he’ll need to develop stock bowling and stock batting for days when the magic isn’t quite there. He’s a hero though, so he’ll be cut slack that others won’t enjoy – and rightly so.
Jos Buttler (67, 14, 10, 73; 2ct, 1ct, 2ct, 3ct) – Showed more glimpses of his gigantic talent, the ball simply speeding off his bat with barely any apparent effort at all – the best English timer of a ball since Alec Stewart (maybe even since David Gower). To realise all that potential, he will have to avoid crazy shot selection’s like the one that saw him suckered by Trent Boult off the last ball of the first day at Lord’s and watch the ball more carefully, the better to leave it when swinging and tight to the stumps. His keeping standing back is improving all the time, but there is still work to do standing up where he can appear to be caught by surprise too often for comfort. Is he really a Number 7? Sangakkara and Stewart gave up the gloves to explore their batting potential and he might have to soon too.
Moeen Ali (58, 43, 1, 2; 3-94, 1-35, 0-48, 1-73) – Did a decent job as spinner at Lord’s (and more than a decent job as Number 8), but could offer his captain neither wickets nor control at Headingley as the batsmen stroked and slogged so positively. The on-screen rev counter still goes into the red zone, but the rip that last year produced drift, dip and turn is now only producing spin. With Ben Stokes locking down the Number 6 slot for the foreseeable future, he’ll have to force his way into the top five as a second spinner (and Joe Root is not the worst in that role at the moment) or show he can bowl long spells at under 3 runs per over. Perhaps the need for a spinner – any spinner – and the lack of credible rivals in county cricket will keep him in the XI, but the long term Test future of this popular and talented cricketer looks a little bleak just now.
Stuart Broad (3, 10, 46, 23; 3-77, 3-50, 5-109, 2-94) – Kept taking wickets, but often seemed down on pace until he caught a break and lifted his game. Not yet 29, but he has the wear and tear of 79 Tests and 175 white ball appearances in his legs and there are times when it shows. At Headingley, with the New Zealanders facing an awkward four overs before lunch and a new ball in hand, he was off target and down at about 80mph – that it was no surprise is what will worry Trevor Bayliss. Still lacking any sound technique with the bat after the grilling from Varon Aaron last summer, he did middle a few making 46 in the first innings of the second Test and showed some discipline in a lost cause on the fifth afternoon, but there’s only so far batting talent can get you when your feet move away from the ball instead of towards it.
Mark Wood (8*, 4*, 19, 17; 3-93, 1-47, 2-62, 3-97) – A breath of fresh air, a natural talent and a man who showed the kind of joy we hope to see in those wearing the Three Lions (but, recently, they so seldom have). The short straight run leads to a big, back-bending shoulder turn at the crease and a naturally tight line that makes the batsman play at balls that may swing and seam just enough and, at close the 90mph, bounce too. The Durham man went for a few, but he made things happen too and no batsman in world cricket will look forward to facing him. Whether his action will need to be compromised to deal with back-to-back Tests remains to be seen, but, for now, he looks likely to play all the Tests his body will allow.
Jimmy Anderson (11, 0, 10*, 8*; 1-88, 1-31, 2-43, 2-96) – The newest member of Test cricket’s 400 Club can look back on a fine career, but, perhaps, not a fine series. His mantle as the most skilful bowler in world cricket was certainly challenged by Trent Boult, who doesn’t have all Jimmy’s variations, but swung the ball more consistently at a generally higher pace. Deserves to be able to bowl some spells at less than full throttle, but the trouble is that his new ball partner is doing the same thing for the same reason. Might need to tighten his line to “off and fourth” from “fourth and fifth” stump and pitch the ball up a little further to present his full wicket-taking threat in The Ashes – and he might go for as many as Mark Wood then. Who said this game was easy though?