England secured the convincing victory over New Zealand they demanded in the first Test at Lord’s, but question marks remain over the makeup of their team for the Ashes series against Australia starting in July.
The fast bowling of James Anderson and Stuart Broad was largely responsible for the 170-run win over New Zealand, who more than held their own for three days of the match against a team ranked six places above them.
England openers Alastair Cook and Nick Compton failed to score above 32 in their two innings, and with the reliable, but limited Jonathan Trott at No. 3, there is a growing feeling the top order may struggle to lay a solid platform and score quickly enough to put opponents under pressure.
One solution might be to promote Joe Root to open, the 22-year-old enhancing his burgeoning reputation with scores of 40 and 71 against New Zealand, made with a blend of careful defense and ruthless attacking strokes.
Opening with Root would also free up a place in the middle order for Kevin Pietersen if the powerful right-hander recovers from injury in time to face Australia.
Former England opener Geoffrey Boycott believes Compton, despite his two Test centuries in the recent series in New Zealand, is struggling.
“Nick Compton is under pressure for his place because of the ways he got out at Lord’s,” Boycott wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. “His strength is patience, concentration, good defence and the ability to bat for long periods and give England the platform for the stroke players later on.”
Compton made 16 in the first innings at Lord’s, but, frustrated by the accuracy of the New Zealand bowling, he charged down the wicket to spinner Bruce Martin and sliced a catch into the covers.
“It was not smart, did not look good and cost him his wicket,” Boycott said. “We were all thinking what the hell did he do that for?”
Then in the second innings, Compton was comprehensively bowled by left-armer Neil Wagner.
“He was late on an 80mph delivery with a gap between bat and pad you could drive a bus through,” Boycott said. “Nick bats with such intensity, expending so much mental energy, and there is a rigidity and stiffness to his batting.”
Cook, as the captain and with more than 7,000 Test runs to his name and 24 centuries, is in no danger of being dropped, but Boycott thinks he has a weakness against left-arm fast bowlers.
He was dismissed by Trent Boult in both innings at Lord’s, caught by the wicketkeeper and at third slip.
“Cook has a problem with left-arm over-the-wicket seamers,” Boycott said. “He does not judge the line of what to play and what to leave very well.”
Australia have Mitchell Starc in their squad, a quicker bowler than Boult and one of the best left-arm fast bowlers in the world.
“Good footwork is nearly always the key to good batting, so he needs to make a bigger stride forward,” Boycott said. “As captain, if the Aussies find a chink in his batting and start getting him out cheaply, he will lose confidence. So he needs to sort it out.”
Cook was heartened by the form of Anderson and Broad, who took 15 wickets between them and bowled New Zealand out for just 68 in the tourists’ second innings.
“Broad has done it on numerous occasions now,” Cook told reporters. “He bowls in the high 80s and from a great height. With the ball swinging it is very hard. I know as an opening batter that if you challenge off-stump as much as he does it is very hard. That hour of Jimmy and Broady bowling was as good as I have seen as an opening spell.”
The second Test starts at Headingley in Leeds on Friday and England may consider playing Tim Bresnan on his home ground in place of Steven Finn, who took four wickets in the first innings at Lord’s, but struggled for rhythm.
Bresnan’s inclusion would also strengthen the lower-order batting, which failed miserably at Lord’s, with Broad’s unbeaten 26 in the second innings the only double-figure score contributed by seven to 11 in the England batting lineup.