Shall we talk about the cricket for a bit, then? Let’s park the timeline mining and the urge to be outraged by every less-than-savoury comment ever committed to the Twittersphere, and focus on the reason why such remarks from England’s senior sports stars are held to a higher standard than the rest of the poisonous soup that swills around that fetid site.
England’s cricketers are public figures – a fact that might have been easy to overlook in the past 12 months of bio-secure bubbling, but at Edgbaston this week, they can expect to feel once again the full roar (or at least, a 70% roar) of the Hollies Stand, as the sport continues its tiptoe back to normality with cricket’s largest crowd since the T20 Blast final in September 2019, when Edgbaston was once again the host with the most.
This year in the UK, only Leicester City’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea last month has been witnessed by more spectators than the 17,000 a day that will be permitted in Birmingham, and the euphoria of that occasion was palpable, even while the gaps in the stands remained gaping. All things being equal, this Test promises to be a celebration of cricket’s resilience and rebirth. But as we have been reminded over the course of the last few days, all things are far from equal right now.
They would doubtless have liked to cap their dominance with a victory, but England chose not to engage with a teasingly weighted declaration on the final afternoon. It looked, to the uninitiated, like an opportunity squandered, but was more likely an accident waiting to happen – especially for a callow batting line-up that served up four ducks in their flaccid first innings.
“I still feel we made the right decision,” Joe Root said on the eve of the second Test, after reflecting on the criticism his side had received for their go-slow approach. “We turn up here, and we’ve got a chance to win the series.”
If that is to happen, however, improvements are a must for England, who at least showed a greater willingness to hunker down in their door second innings, thanks to Dom Sibley, who shut up shop for another of his puritanically grim half-centuries. But first time out, Dan Lawrence and Zak Crawley both fell to the sort of impetuous drives that will have Jasprit Bumrah and Co. licking their lips (let alone Josh Hazlewood and friends) while James Bracey’s six-ball duck and cartwheeling off stump made for an uncompromisingly tough baptism.
England: DLLLW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
New Zealand: DWWWW
In the spotlight
Tom Latham has some massive shoes to fill as Kane Williamson’s captaincy stand-in, but at the age of 29, and with nearly 4000 runs at a very healthy average of 41.97, there’s no time like the present for New Zealand’s vice-captain to step up to the higher role. Latham’s unassuming methods mask a steely temperament, although he hasn’t quite returned to the heights he reached in 2018-19, when he racked up five hundreds in eight Tests including a career-best 264 not out against Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the last of those hundreds was against England at Hamilton, meaning that each of New Zealand’s openers has reached three figures in their last two encounters with Root’s men. If Conway can pick up where he left off with his debut double-century at Lord’s, the new skipper will have all the more space to grow into his new responsibilities.
England (possible): 1 Rory Burns, 2 Dom Sibley, 3 Zak Crawley, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Ollie Pope, 6 Dan Lawrence, 7 James Bracey (wk), 8 Craig Overton, 9 Jack Leach, 10 Stuart Broad, 11 James Anderson
New Zealand (possible): 1 Tom Latham (capt), 2 Devon Conway, 3 Will Young, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Matt Henry, 9 Kyle Jamieson, 10 Ajaz Patel / Ruchin Ravindra, 11 Trent Boult.
Pitch and conditions
It’s taken a while to splutter into life, but the English summer is now properly upon us, with temperatures in the mid-20s forecast all week. The Edgbaston pitch is habitually a sound one, and Chris Silverwood, England’s head coach, has requested a typically true deck with good carry for the seamers. There hasn’t been a whole lot of spin in evidence at the venue this summer – even that notorious fourth-innings assassin Simon Harmer was thwarted when Warwickshire saw off the champions Essex earlier in the season – but the high temperatures may help the pitch to dry and turn on days four and five.
Stats and trivia
“It’s well documented that Kane’s personality and calm nature is vital to this group. He’s very relaxed, he doesn’t get too high or too low, he’s a wonderful leader, which we’ve seen throughout his captaincy career, but especially in the last couple of years, and he certainly will be missed.”
Tom Latham, New Zealand’s stand-in captain, hails the man who will be missing out.
“I see it as an opportunity for them to go out and score Test-match runs for their country, and I hope they see it like that. They have a responsibility to go and play the situation to the best of their ability and try and eradicate any other thoughts.”
Joe Root calls on his young players to embrace the opportunity of playing for England, rather than worry about losing their places when Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are available again.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket