Having chopped and changed so much – who is to open, and who is the spinner, and will Jonny Bairstow keep wicket or bat or play at all? – England have decided on their Test team after only two days of middle practice, and before their single first-class warm-up game over this weekend.
Except for one position. Will the more senior Chris Woakes, or the 21 year-old Sam Curran, be England’s number eight and third seamer – or swinger – to go with the new attack-leader Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Ben Stokes and Jack Leach?
England’s captain Joe Root staged a play-off by giving the new ball yesterday, not to Broad and Archer, but to Woakes and Curran. Neither had been given a bat: seven other England players had a go and made some runs before Root decided to bowl from an hour before lunch for the rest of the second and final day of their opening warm-up.
Neither Curran nor Woakes made a persuasive case on what rolled out as a flat pitch. The young Kiwi batsmen acquitted themselves well – the century by the tall 20 year-old Finn Allen was every bit as accomplished as those by Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley on day one – and only Jofra Archer gave them a hurry-up.
Archer began as though he had not bowled since mid-September, which ought to have been the case. But as his second spell wore on, he found some rhythm and the short balls zipped through to Jos Buttler, the new – or rather returning – wicketkeeper.
None of the other six bowlers threatened much. Broad knows how to ease himself in, Matt Parkinson bowled too many long-hops, while Saqib Mahmood was confined to the team hotel (or motor inn) with a migraine – yet one of Curran or Woakes still has to be selected.
England know what Woakes can do, which is a great deal in England – 70 Test wickets at 23 each – but not so much abroad with a Kookaburra in his hand. He was accurate here with the new ball but he did not make it swing. He found more seam movement by using “wobble-seam” which he admits he is still learning. His record abroad of 18 wickets at 61 each reflects a struggle.
In the case of Curran there is no knowing what he can do. It is a great start for a young allrounder to have a Test batting average higher than his bowling average already, and he is a resourceful bowler, and as a lefthander able to bowl over and round the wicket against righthanders. His wicket came from round the wicket when he bowled the well-organised opener, 19 year-old Jakob Bhula, but it was simply angled in to hit offstump, not pitching then jagging away.
The first Test pitch at Mount Maunganui is predicted to be flat, whereas Seddon Park in Hamilton will offer more to bowlers. Without a Dukes ball to dart around, England look as though they will need Archer’s extra pace if they are to win the opening Test.