An affirmation of Kane’s leadership

In the Test series against New Zealand, England, full of scars from the Ashes defeat and away from home for long, blinked first. Yet it only yielded after it had completely exhausted itself.

Remarkable triumph: The New Zealand team players pose with the trophy after defeating England 1-0 in the two-Test series. New Zealand won the first Test in Auckland by an innings and 49 runs and drew the second in Christchurch.   -  AP

Ish Sodhi’s beaming smile after his rearguard effort in Christchurch marked a fruitful fortnight for New Zealand, and perhaps a perfectly sweet end to the Test season of Oceania. On pitches and conditions suited for a variety of players to excel, two teams of quality and similarly equipped fought evenly for a kaleidoscopic narrative. One team had to go down, however, and it was the visiting team, full of scars from the Ashes defeat and away from home for long, that blinked first.

Yet England only yielded after it had completely exhausted itself. Needing just four wickets to level the two-match series, Anderson & Co. ran into a wall in Sodhi, who was backed sufficiently well by Colin de Grandhomme and Neil Wagner. As captain Joe Root stated, “We threw everything at them.” But their combined vigil was enough to prevent New Zealand from capitulating in the stipulated time, and consigned a deflated England to its first series defeat to the Kiwis since 1999.

England seemed to have paid the price for a dramatic batting collapse on the first day of the first Test. Having been bowled out for 58 on Day One in Auckland, England’s effort to salvage anything out of that Test was slim; despite having showcased its capabilities well for the rest of the nine days, the damage was done. A counter-balancing act provided an unpredictability to make it a treat for the spectators and impartial followers, but didn’t rescue the series.

The architects of England’s revival were seamers Stuart Broad and James Anderson, a world-class pair who have stood the test of time, and Jonny Bairstow and Mark Stoneman with the bat. Batting at No. 7 in the first innings of the second Test, Bairstow scored a gritty century that laid the foundation for England’s final assault on the final day. Emboldened, the top order collectively ensured New Zealand had a steep total to climb in its final dig. Eventually, it was just some tough nuts in the middle who prevented what would have been a brilliant comeback.

The 1-0 series win validated the steady progress that Kane Williamson’s side always looks to be making in its endeavours. Today’s New Zealand has consolidated into a more recognisable outfit after the tumultuous and epiphanic era of Brendon McCullum. The culture inspired by the captain, one of the best batsmen in the world, and coach Mike Hesson reflects maturity and staidness in an era of ubiquitous vanity.

Trent Boult and Tim Southee, the old warhorses, scripted the team’s win with an expertise with the ball that one has come to expect from them. The two accounted for 27 of the 39 English wickets to fall in the Tests. Besides Williamson, some cushion with the bat was provided by unheralded participants like Colin de Grandhomme, now proving to be a useful all-rounder for the Kiwis, and Henry Nicholls.

New Zealand completed a task it left unfinished since March 2013. In a corresponding three-Test series then, the side had fallen one wicket short of consigning England to a series defeat. Matt Prior had been the thorn in the Kiwi’s flesh then; this time, Sodhi, with a similar role, closed the door on England.

Sodhi’s vigil also provided evidence of the good health of the New Zealand team and a promising future under the current leadership.